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Librarium Part Four

24 June 2008 | Columns

Librarium #4:
The Library of Bee Keeping

Beekeeping, whether as a profession or a hobby must be an ultimate idler fantasy. Sit back and let the insects take care of things while you spread their honey on a bagel or dribble it lazily into your chamomile tea. The bees enjoy their work and you enjoy their product. It is a naturally occurring case of ‘supply and demand’ and for everyone a labour of love.

Imagine my surprise when I was told about the Moir collection: a library entirely devoted to bees and beekeeping. Housed in a specially designated room in a public library in Edinburgh, the library boasts an excess of 1800 volumes on apiaries, hobby hives, wild bees, famous beekeepers, swarming, queen bee cultivation and threats to the beekeeping community.

It all started with the collection of John W. Moir, who donated his private library to the Scottish Beekeepers Society.

Not just anyone can access the current collection. The Moir Library exists as a facility for members of the aforementioned Scottish Beekeeper’s Society and so requires private membership. When I heard that it was opening its doors to the public as part of Edinburgh’s Festival of Libraries, I leapt at the opportunity to have a look around.

Many of the books and journals within the collection are deliciously old and musty. But the library is kept up to date by its own in-house librarian so that the bee reader can retrieve information on current issues in beekeeping such as the spread and control of the evil Varoa virus. (It’s not a virus – it’s a tiny arachnid. I was learning within moments of arriving).

Here’s an interesting fact: without bees, the entire planet would perish within sixty years. Amazing no? Pollen gets dispersed by other flying insects, by the wind and by pervert scientists but the ultimate pollinator is the humble bumble. We literally owe them the Earth.

Every new bee fact makes me gasp in amazement. Bees keep their hives at an optimum temperature of 33 degrees all year round. Some bees don’t live in hives at all: many of them live underground. There are over twenty-thousand species of bee in the world. Honey bees have been present on Earth for thirty million years. I could go on all day.

The Moir Library is divided between the Fountainbridge Public Library and the National Library of Scotland, both in Edinburgh.