That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
I suppose when librarians have nightmares about libraries, it looks something like the photo above. When I walked in on Thursday of last week and saw this, Shakespeare’s famous sonnet came to mind, or its first stanza.Yes, I know, it’s about love. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be about a love of books, of reading, of knowing. I’ve threatened to write a book called The Joys of Knowing, a la that other famous “Joy of” book. Somehow, I don’t think it would sell quite as well. But when you look at the photo of our empty building, bare ruin’d choirs comes to come to mind, doesn’t it? That’s what this looks like, and for a wizened librarian, it did have one of those nightmarish feels to it: you try to wake up but can’t. Sans, books, sans shelves, sans table and chairs, sans patrons … sans everything!
This empty room told me a lot about this place where I have worked for more than a decade. All about the room are traces of its four decades-old lifetime, the paint, a painful reminder of W. E. H Lecky’s admonition that you cannot judge the morals of past epoch by those of your own. Take teal, for example, and you can see it on the posts in the photo. What can you say about teal that you cannot also say about a bad illness? You’re just so thankful it’s gone.
As after sunset fadeth in the West
Which by and by black night doth take away
Death’s second self seals up all the rest.
This is the second week of renovations and we spent much of the week nailing down the timeline for construction, flooring, core drilling, carpet, colors schemes and furniture. Renovations, I’ve come to believe, are as likely as anything to bring out the worst in humans, this human especially included. When my wife and I redid a small bathroom a few years ago, we nearly divorced over a Kohler fixture. And one on sale, at that! Of course I eventually saw the error of my ways. But we spent the four weeks because, after all, we’re both experts and we’re both critics. I think renovations go that way because they are always about change and change makes us nervous, dreadfully nervous. Especially academics, the grand changemiesters–that is, for everyone else! And why not? Change has a way of leaving you, or what you know, or thought you knew, behind.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
For forty-plus years, we in Dacus have done things one way, and typically the best way. I think more than anything about change this is what we fear the most. We are certain we have done the best that can be done and now, suddenly, we’re faced with doing it another way, a different way. We don’t yet know if it will be worse, but we well anticipate that it must be. After all, we have being doing it the best way all along. The only other way to do it would be less than the best, half-baked, or half, well, you know, that other half-best way. Of course we know down in the recesses of our hearts that it doesn’t always work this way. Why? Because the way we began it forty-plus years ago was itself a change from what those who came before us had been doing the forty-plus before that. And that change was a change for the better, or rather we would argue for the best.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Doing a thing differently doesn’t mean you are not doing it well. It’s new, and we generally fear a thing we do not know so well. It’s amusing that we in a university would feel this way. A university, a vanguard for change and a new way forward. A place where you leave old dogmas behind only to create new ones that you follow with the same slavish devotion that others followed the ones you just jettisoned. It’s always easier for the one who jettisons; not the flotsam that gets left behind.
But as you can see, that flotsam, of what we call flotsam, may only be a matter of perspective: