Bit of a library theme infiltrating the old blog these days…the next one also mentions the humble bookmark. Click here to listen to it on RTÉ’s Arena show or read on…


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There’s something of the old and the new when it comes to libraries. The blending of modern tools for hunting information with an age-old medium, advice on how to manage citations fused with doomsday-type warnings against online encyclopaedias. The staff are skilled at the silent walk and the unassuming observation, that ability to differentiate fine-dodger from genuine mistake, studious from chancer, the few students who think that wandering the carpeted floors constitutes as actual study time.

They have also gained a healthy knowledge of the substitute bookmark. Receipts are a fairly common one, pencils or takeaway leaflets, shopping lists with the usual student staples of pizza and beer, sometimes spaghetti, spelt with too many ‘g’s and not enough ‘t’s. Recently, I came across a photograph used as a marker, a graduation, academic gowns and shiny new shoes. Judging by the hairstyles it might have been a souvenir from the mid-to-late nineties or perhaps it was just taken on a very blustery day. The find made me consider how the reading of a book can coincide with so many different occasions in life and how these moments can often influence the way a person reacts to the subject matter. It’s as if a writer produces one single book, but after it’s unleashed, it has the opportunity to become so much more.

Imagine what it would be like to have something similar to a bookmark in a life, a particular moment in time a person can return to when things start to go a bit off-kilter. Think of those ‘choose-your-own-ending books’ read as a kid, where multiple-choice options dictate the path the story is going to take. Then again, maybe this would only work to highlight how similar one day is to the next, how most of them begin in the kitchen, puffy eyes and soggy cereal, making a decision that will have little to no impact on the direction your life is going to take. Relating to lunch, perhaps. The homemade or shop-bought sandwich conundrum.

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I suppose there’s a case in stating that most of us are bookmarked already, restricted by financial constraints, held in place by limitations imposed by traditions or law, or inequality. Or perhaps, for some this could be the era in which too many prominent figures seem to have a complete disregard for the humble things in life, such as the bookmark.  Leaders who own volumes with nice covers but weakened spines. Characters who go over the same pages with little intention of ever finding the right path or moving onto the new. Or even worse, the bend-the-corner sort, that type of person who would fold the world in half, rather than spend a moment seeking out a much simpler solution.


The latest essay on the RTÉ is about allergies and…(cue thunder and sinister music) THE DANGERS OF LIBRARIES!

Click here or read on…


It’s the time of year that we hay-fever sufferers tend to prefer. And for a brief time I did believe the sniffles were behind me, the red eyes and the congestion, that old familiar leaky-pipe kind of expression. But a recent project in work involved relocating thousands of books, most of them untouched in years. While everybody was swanning around the library with dirty hands and rolled up sleeves, I was wheezing from one bay to the next with a dust mask stuck to my mush. It slowly began to dawn on me that I might be one of those rare writers who are actually allergic to books.
I know there are some who laugh at the idea of a library being a hazardous place to work. But, are they really as safe as people might think? Of course there are the usual battles for seats around exam times to contend with. The murderous glances when the subject of a late fine pops up. Or even the time some old guy nearly throttled me for hitting the spacebar on my laptop too hard. But everyone should also be aware to the fact that paper is a combustible material and despite advances in modern technology, most library buildings are still crammed full of that stuff.

Another thing that doesn’t go unnoticed is how the library is always one of the first places to be hit when a regime decides to inflict some kind of culture shift on a nation. The Nazis were no stranger to this, destroying libraries in Germany, Serbia and Poland. While the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia destroyed 80% of the National library holdings. Nowadays, that very same library has recovered to hold over 100,000 works, including a special collection of palm manuscripts. These are strips of leaf etched in ornate calligraphy on folk tales or religious themes. And their survival is one which always makes me think of healthy green shoots, sprouting from vast fields of rubble.

Over the years there have been cases of libraries destroyed by flood or bomb, tales of collapsing shelves and falling books. But the biggest hazard is by far the smallest. Living in the mould that lurks between the pages of neglected volumes are multiple strains of bacteria, many of which can cause serious respiratory diseases. In the early nineties, a public library in New Mexico was forced to close down because of an unusual fungus outbreak in the reference section. In true ‘Day of the Triffids’ fashion, the fungus promptly spread to old history books before moving onto literary fiction. For all we know, it could be feeding on an George Eliot novel as we speak… So, for those who laugh in the face of library peril and the common allergy, this might be something worth thinking about when licking a finger to turn to the next page.