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08:37 am: Private Tour

Had a recent experience that demands documentation.

My brother graduated from Peabody conservatory this year, racking up the family record for most degrees per year: Two bachelor’s and a Masters in five years of study – guitar performance (Peabody), recording engineering (Hopkins), and acoustics (masters from Hopkins) – in case you’re keeping track.

In town for the festivities, I insisted that he get us into the Peabody library – a gorgeous architectural relic from the 1880′s, with cast iron tiers of old-school grandeur housing more than a century’s worth of eccentric and excellent collections of generations of librarians. He’d been telling me how awesome it is for the last five years. On this last opportunity I called his bluff, while his student ID was still valid. One fine afternoon, we wandered in and around the main level for a bit. Finally, on something of a whim, he and I walked into the office of the librarian and asked (somewhat cheekily): “We’ve heard you have awesome stuff in the private collection. Can we have a tour?”

The librarian was an absolute geek – which I mean in the most complementary possible way. The man loves his books, loves details, knows his stuff, and has a great job. He paused, looked at us, and said “sure, give me a sec to wrap up here.” In short order, he emerged from his office with a key and ushered us upstairs past a series of locked gates. Into the back room we went, which was a mind-bendingly classic room with 20 foot ceilings piled high with antiquities.

There was a central table, where the librarian went straight to a cloth wrapped bundle. “You want to see the oldest items in the collection. These are cuneiform tablets from approximately 2,200 BC.” He semi-casually laid these priceless artifacts out on the table and explained how they were basically receipts. Unbaked clay documenting temple gifts. In a very early sort of RSA coding, they would be baked into a clay box. In the event of controversy, one could break the box and read the (demonstrably) un-molested data.

He looked at us, warming to the task and our obvious enthusiasm. “You guys like science? How about a first edition Copernicus?” There, on the table in front of me, he opened up one of the books where Copernicus documented his observations of the elliptical orbits of the planets. A first edition Origin of the Species? No problem. My dad got to hold it for pictures.

I touched a piece of paper printed on Gutenberg’s press. I caressed calfskin vellum documenting nobility in pre-renaissance Italy. I ogled a French Enlightenment encyclopedia – whose frontispiece showed a group of men forcibly unveiling a rather delicate and feminine depiction of Truth, while stripping a crown from Faith to adorn Truth’s head.

After perhaps an hour, the Librarian glanced at his watch and with a somewhat staged “goodness, look at the time” ushered us back out and resumed his duties.

All I can say is: “Hell yes,” and “some days, it rocks to be me.”

Originally published at chris.dwan.org. You can comment here or there.

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