One of the nice things about the day job I currently occupy is that I get to float around a lot in the library world, visiting other libraries and their librarians for little purpose other than extending a professional handshake between our offices. Among other fun activities, this usually results in copeous amounts of tea being swigged.
Today I had the oportunity to visit the librarian of a local college. Having worked in some of this country’s mightiest academic biblioteques, these little repositories always strike me as being a little parochial and twee. The shabbiness of it all is magnified when the librarian inevitably comes out with something like “An absolute fortune was thrown at our fiction collection this year” when to me said fiction collection looks about as impressive and appetising as the coffee table of a dentist’s waiting room.
I don’t say anything of course. Unlike aforementioned libraries of academia which are contructed over the centuries by a thousand different librarians, these little collections are always somebody’s baby.
Today, our meeting was constantly interrupted by a nearby laser printer whirring into life. The librarian had deliberately positioned it near his office so that he could monitor what was being printed by the students.
The printer and its use seemed to be a passion of his.
Ever since the college had provided free printing to its students – the librarian tells me in detail – he has felt obliged to monitor the printed material so that the facility wouldn’t be abused. But this college, exclusively attended as it is by “sports” students and the occasional disinterested baker, the printer sees nothing but abuse.
The students, it seems, use the printer exclusively to annoy the librarian.
Today someone had decided to print an entire telephone directory.
“Right, that’s it!” he screams, “Who keeps doing this?! Ye’ll be banned for life when I get my hands on ye!”
Portly and outraged, he is the very embodiment of frustration. I can see why the kids do it.
Livid, he slams the substantial document into a nearby recycling bin, waves his fist and shouts “I mean it!”
There is more giggling. I stifle one myself.
“The worst thing of it,” he says to me back in the office, “is that I’m only here to monitor this 50% of the time. The library stays open long after I’ve gone home”.
I wonder if he lies awake at night worried about the printer output; whether his dreams are punctuated with the whirr of an imagined laserjet belching out page after infinite page of his own subconcsious.
I doubt very much that the kids abuse the system once the librarian has gone home. They clearly only do this for the sport of making him explode.
This evening I set about printing The New Escapologist. I have invested in a semi-nice laser printer for the sole purpose of doing this.
In my attic flat tonight I feel like one of the early zinesters or pamphleters – Thomas Paine or Hugo Gernsback – generating subversive material from my own “printing press” way above the masses in my drafty garret.
“They think I am mad! They say ‘what is to be done with that Robert Wringham and his unstoppable printing press?'”
I remember the printer at the college library today and wonder if those kids know what a gift such a thing is. I had to invest money in a printer and in ink and in paper to get this project going. They could have their own underground magazine running from this library – for free – if the idea entered their spotty little heads. But only after the librarian had gone home.