Sunday, April 25, 2010

I wanna know what Love is

I have the impression that the Institute’s librarian-bibliographer, Love, is a crazy person. It pains me to admit this because she always comes up with gems about how genius I am in the questions I ask, and how well I use their card catalogue… I hate to seal my ego away from such a font of compliments.

I’ve been suspecting that Love is off her rocker primarily because of said compliments. The final straw came yesterday – actually, before I start in on this story, I have to explain that there is no Dewey Decimal in Russia. There is a “systematic” catalogue, but its logic is beyond me. I end up having to search subject keywords in the thematic catalogue, and instead of following those cards’ links to the systematic catalogue, working directly from the alphabetical list (which can be by author’s last name or any of the first three words of the title).

It’d be too easy for me to take a potshot at the system in this case, so I’ll just return to my story. Yesterday I had a list of an organization’s plenary sessions. Before I went digging around in the archives (those same archives that are so far away), I checked the Institute’s stacks for any published materials. I found references to three of the sessions in the thematic catalogue and another in the alphabetic. (It was under neither author’s last name, nor any of the first three words of the session’s title. Sometimes one lucks out by looking under “Materials to” or “As to” or “The shiz that happened the other day.”)

I guess I’m taking potshots at the system.

I still only had 4 of 12, and not all four documents I’d found were primary. I looked at the systematic catalogue, and over my shoulder to Love, and back to the Beast, and then at Love again. I called her over. I asked, “Is there any possible location where I could find a list of all the materials the Institute has on these plenary sessions?”

“Ohhhhh, plenums are typically meetings of a group, you know,” she told me.

So often, I fight so hard and so in vain to control my expression. “Yes,” I replied, “right. These are the sessions of the All-Soviet Organization of Architects.”

She pulled down a drawer of the systematic catalogue. “Flip through here for ‘session’ and ‘meeting,’” she said, “and I’ll go speak to my girls.”

See the above comment on the hell that is the “systematic” catalogue. I found nothing. Love called me over.

She had gotten the main librarian out of her office and involved in a search for random materials on sessions (I hate – and this will be a different post, possibly – when this happens. Yes, archivists have a good knowledge of their stacks. They don’t have perfect knowledge. That’s why things like the Dewey Decimal are great - because then you don’t have to rely on whatever books come first to the batty old librarian’s mind. Sorry. More potshots.) The book the librarian had produced was from 1967. “Oh no,” I said, and presented the list again. “The sessions I’d like to see are 1937-1952.”

The librarian shrugged and said she’d come meet me at the catalogues to take a more thorough look. Love, meanwhile, had gotten A Look™ in her eye, and started muttering [like a crazy person] about “1937 – the most horrific year,” “Oh, do you think the materials are classified?” “The respected professor ---- ---- classified not just his research, but all materials,” “If an architect mentioned the Kremlin they’d classify the whole session,” “Oh, 1937 was the most horrific year.”

She didn’t stop on that topic until after the head librarian herself gave up. I said I would find what materials the museum and the archives had, that I had just wanted to check if I was missing something, and thanked her. She smiled and walked away. Love was still talking about the craziness of the year 1937.

So often, I fight so hard and so in vain to control my expression. I turned my back on her before I gave in to the temptation to lecture her on the architectural history of her own country. YES, 1937 saw the greatest number of repressed individuals, total. That didn’t mean that EVERYONE was repressed. And of ALL OF THE ARCHITECTS in the country, a grand total of 2 were repressed (in the literal, arrested and shot or imprisoned way. I’m not talking about people who weren’t given projects). To me a much scarier time period is post-war, when the aphorism “Socialist in content, nationalist in form” became “…Russian in form,” and the works of the Old Masters were taken off the walls of the Pushkin and the Hermitage, and theorists had to come up with reasons how it had been Russia, in fact, that initiated the Renaissance…

As I walked away, she said, “I’m sorry we couldn’t help you. But you know, you’re so good with our catalogues that if you couldn’t find it…”

Gah. Love! You make it so hard to be mad at you!


Justin said...

What does it say about me that of all your posts this is the one that makes me most envious of your situation?

Andrew said...

I think it just says that I didn't do a good enough job explaining how HORRIBLE IT IS when you have to BATTLE the system to find materials. I want to channel James Dean in my interpersonal contact, not when I'm confronting inanimate objects. ;)