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international librarian of mystery

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Maps II: The Maps of Victory

Mr Assam - the Keeper of the Keys - showed me down to the room in the basement where the maps are kept. I have christened the basketball court sized room, naturally, the Dungeon. The concrete lined room is deep in the bowels of the building, and is where, as far as I can tell, every broken chair, surplus bit of shelving and defunct dot-matrix printer has come to await some unknown fate.

It is also the temporary home of the maps' drawers - half a dozen two metre wide, one metre high, one metre deep steel boxes, each with half a dozen sliding trays inside of which are contained several hundred maps of all different sorts and shapes. Well, rectangular or square shaped, but all different sorts, at least. Topographic, political, relief, a bewildering array of geologic and climatic maps, and, my favourites, the ones with lots of lines and numbers, but no reference anywhere on them as to what sort of map they actually are, or, in some cases, what part of the world they are actually representing. Say hello to my 'miscellaneous' category.

So, yes, I've taken the job. The Dungeon is great. For a big concrete room, it's amazingly warm, so much so that after about five minutes of exertion - pulling out maps and trying to arrange them on the two big tables I've also been supplied with to ease the workflow - I'm working up a decent sweat. I was positively whifftacular after a couple of hours of map-shuffling wearing my jeans and a long-sleeved T last week, so this week I'm going prepared with my favourite old summer frock. And that's the other great thing, I've got the place to myself, so not only can I wear what I want, I can sing along to my discman at top volume. Brilliant. The freedom to do so, that is, not the actual singing, which, despite being heavily reverbed thanks to the concrete walls, still fails the 'in-tune' test. Not that I have to listen to myself with my discman set to max volume. And they even put in a networked PC for me so I can access and update the catalogue, which also means, phew, I'm internet-connected.

If it wasn't for the maps themselves, which currently have no rhyme nor reason applied to their organisation, the situation would just about be perfect. As it is, there's two, and sometimes three copies of every map: a 'true original', the library copy, and a recently made copy. This was what kicked off the whole maps re-organisation, apparently. Someone decided the library needed to copy all the high-usage maps which were slowly disintegrating after years of use, laminate the copies so they'd have a longer lifespan, and store the older copies as masters should we ever need to do the copy/laminate process again. Except, of course, the 'originals' weren't always the original, with the real originals being stashed away in safe storage off-site somewhere. Once this was discovered, the real originals were pulled in from off-site and got added to the whole mass so they could make the copies from them, rather than the dog-eared public copies. But then it was discovered that the budget wasn't going to stretch to laminating all the maps we wanted to laminate, so someone had to figure out what the most high-usage maps were (these would be the ones, I imagine, that were falling apart the most), and to laminate just those. Anyway, it turns out most of the maps did get copied, and some of those copies got laminated, but then they all got dumped back into their current storage space without any thought to labeling the various versions for what they were. Or even keeping the copies and originals together. Enter Me.

And with all this copying going on, what of copyright? I asked Mrs Kambaa. She rolled her eyes. "Don't even ask," she said. I didn't want to be a silent partner in some shadowy Cataloguing Department conspiracy, so I bought it up with my boss, Mrs Liddesdale, who told me there had been some agreement with the map-makers of yore that they would allow a copy for library use so the publishers themselves could use the library archives as a kind of back-up for their own archiving purposes. Apparently this agreement has never been reviewed, and the current spate of copying got underway without anyone even considering the issue. Ahhh, bureaucracy. I do love being at the bottom of the chain in situations like this, flitting around the Dungeon barefoot in my summer dress, singing Björk tunes at the top of my voice, perusing the latest 'librarian style' fashions on the web. Bliss. The Maps of Victory are mine!

[thanks to Damian of Cracker for the title of this post]