Tuesday, 18 February 2020



Philip Harvey

Dear Father Louis, TRAPPIST-1, not you
But the named nearby ultracool dwarf  star
Parents seven terrestrial planets oooh aaah!
Goldilocks hot and cold, but not too.
The most famous anonymous man alive
Who left his ego at the abbey door
Only to meet him inside more and more,
Lo the heavens were awesome and high five.
Novice master, paper chase hero,
You were the star wishing you were nameless:
A line of ink titled Trappist Zero.
It’s all over now, just words and silence
As the sun beats down and who is blameless,
Each name signing off its mortal compliance.

Footnote. Father Louis was the religious name of Thomas Merton, the prolific Cistercian. Here is further information about the star in question, which is about the size of Jupiter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRAPPIST-1  

Australian Indigenous Spirituality Collection at the Carmelite Library

In 2019 the Library was successful in its application for a grant from the local City of Port Phillip to build up the Indigenous Spirituality collection. Here is a window display of some of the titles.
Today we turned on morning tea to celebrate the completion of the project. Pictured is Rose Thomas, who organised the submission and worked with the Library on this marvellous addition to our collection.
Guest of honour was the new mayor of the City of Port Phillip, Bernardene Voss, pictured here with the librarian, Philip Harvey.
 Susan Southall took the photographs, including this one of some of the guests. To the right is Paul Cahill, the Carmelite Provincial, who gave an enlightening history of the Library.
A shelfie of some of the wonderful Indigenous Spirituality acquisitions purchased with funding from the City of Port Phillip. All titles can be found via the online catalogue.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Reveries of libraries, the thirty-first: Your Back-Up Brain

Where exactly all that learning goes at night and how it’s still there, apparently, the next morning, doesn’t bear thinking about.

Learning, as we find, is not loaded each morning via a chip in our temple, nor even via the classroom alone, but by every trick and trip that we are treated to by life.

It seems, in fact, that the more you try to think about all that learning, or retrieve it at will, the more it eludes your efforts, secure but unsummoned somewhere in the mind.

Even at this very moment the sounds we hear and tastes we test are being matched with a lifetime of similar sounds and tastes, so symphonic and so culinary, and that’s just the ear and mouth.

How memory can, at a simple word, suddenly trigger sullen learning to life, string without effort great lengths of information previously dormant in the upstairs front room, surprises us individually more than anyone else in the general vicinity.

How I remember the rain on the back beach is not how you or he or she or any of them remember the rain as it came down so thrillingly (or not), with no choice but to survive the interruption, though the pelting on the hood was delightful.

Or a whole speech, or the names of towns along the Australian coastline in order, or a family story embroidered over time, just at random are recalled at an instant, we know not how.

Who knows how much of all that learning can be summoned by a trigger or how much in fact is there all told, just waiting to return to words, much of it untold.

Even the other languages we learn seem to be a backup template, so that words of Italian and whole grammatical structures return fully to life after a few days back in Italy, language we thought forgotten, common idioms that hadn’t crossed the stage for a bow in how many years: dieci, venti, trenta.

Yet you would want a backup brain.

Perhaps true humanity is simply the gift of having our own memories coming and going, when they will, not just as an upload we must then interpret and synthesise, again, and why?

That our minds are not gigabyte cities that grow with each year seems perfectly obvious to most of us; are rather self-regulating mysteries that one second involve racking the brain, the next swapping yarns as if everything is one endless red thread running through the labyrinth up top.

You think that the quantities are uncontainable and you will improve the world by inventing machines to contain even more of all the learning you have gained.

Such questions as, can such a backup brain be sustainable, or do we really want to be flooded with a year of emails in one minute, or even will it work, seem peripheral to those on the track of backup.

In this we intuit the intention to edge ever more closely to an omniscience that, by its very definition, cannot be achieved.

It is difficult to think of omniscience as an ideal, given how much of everything we already know we’d rather forget.

Omniscience is the blockbuster that, in the shop window downtown, with a title like that, beseeches us to find a little more humility, a little more of something new, maybe.

And then there is the library, a backup brain that takes all the strain out of knowing everything, resting on its laurels yet hard at work, even as more learning is added.

The very selectivity of a library would, you’d think, be a sign that omniscience isn’t everything; lumber goes to the pulper or the antiquarian, while the fresh folios are added if they help us breathe.

As backup brains go, the library is preferable, given we can use it on our own terms, marvel at availability of its memory bank, and can get inside someone else’s thoughts, making them our own.

The library reminds us of the things we never knew about, sends us to the thousands of people who are not us and our fixed ideas, and survives the great outage of the month after next month.

Plus, the library sleeps at night, a backup brain with time on its hands and the special gift of downtime, where it can dream deep between such theories as fast forward, steady state, and entropy.

It’s down to us with our friendly mind, figuring out with the help of petitions, where a backup sounds like simple life-support, not a way of life.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Classifying a Book

Today on a library e-list a cataloguer sent a request to librarians for a classification number for a book she was working on by the Anglican bishop and scholar, Herbert Hensley Henson. Here is my reply to this request.

If I may, I wish to reply to Christine’s email by talking about some things I do in my approach to cataloguing.

I was taught to identify the main subject of a book when classifying it for inclusion in a collection. This means working with key words in the title, blurb, table of contents, and author introductions. On very rare occasions over nearly forty years now, I have had to actually start reading the book itself to understand what on earth is going on. With these key words in mind, the process of checking against schedules or indexes of your classification scheme takes me usually fairly quickly to the main number area of the book, if not in fact the precise subject number. When in doubt about refining the subject after the decimal point, I keep to the main number, which in Dewey means the three-digit number.

Collections evolve, such that even though we may all use the same classification system, our library develops individual clusters of subject material, all in the one sequence, on the shelf. These areas are unique to the individual library and we need to be conscious of them during classification. Christine’s book is a likely case in point. There is the general subject (spiritual healing), then there is the main subject under which this subject falls. A reasonable judgement is made as to where such material goes in our own collection, never mind anyone else’s. I also have to keep in mind author numbers. Herbert Hensley Henson, he himself, could have his own number allocated by a previous cataloguer; or I may simply think it best to put this book together with others by HHH on a similar subject. In this way the user will find all the books more easily and, even better, serendipitously.

Trove and our own catalogues provide a service unimaginable to our ancestors: they give classification numbers in the records. While this is time-saving it can also engender a reliance on those numbers that brings with it a corresponding  erosion or slackening of our own classification skills (see above). I tend to treat the numbers on Trove as a guide or suggestion, not always as the final word on the subject. When a Trove record doesn’t supply a number, as is often the case, we are thrown back on our resources. Online resources are not always going to come up with the goods, and when they do we cannot always be certain that they are correct. I can add here that Trove records frequently supply more than one number for a book in a single record. This is because libraries have found the need to shelve the book in different places, all of them valid within the terms of classification, which is why no two libraries in the world have exactly the same set of numbers on their collection.

Ditto our own catalogues. I would strenuously warn readers against using the Carmelite Library’s numbers as an authority, simply because of the amount of in-house numbering of certain subjects in spirituality devised to deal with the scale of the specialist material. These changes are described quaintly in our procedures manuals as ‘modified Dewey’. Even with theological libraries that are more religious about sticking to the literal Dewey, the same book by Henson will be found at different numbers, and for good reasons known best to the cataloguers of those institutions.

It is good to familiarise yourself with your collection, how subjects are ordered and how numbers have been allocated in the past. In this way you start to find that many books fit at one number and not another.

Philip Harvey
The Carmelite Library
Middle Park