Monthly Archives: June 2022

Leabharlanna i mBaile Atha Cliath (Libraries in Dublin)


Author: Jim O’Donnell, Arizona State University

Ireland is a country that has worked very hard on building its brand around the world, as befits a small country with a rich tourism industry.  As IFLA prepares at last to bring the World Library and Information Congress to Dublin this summer, we should remember to appreciate the Irish tradition in librarianship.  I have a tiny fragment of that history to tell you.

The title to this blog entry is in both of the official languages of the Republic of Ireland.  I framed it that way to remind us of the distinctiveness of the culture and the challenges it has faced.  Colonized by England and long oppressed, emerging from that shadow only with huge and painful difficulties in the twentieth century, and still in a relationship with the UK marked by potentially explosive tensions (as I write, the UK government is working very hard to exacerbate those tensions for the benefit of their ruling party), Ireland stands now stronger than ever before as a unique and distinct nation with an outsize part to play in the affairs of the world.

Traditionally known as the land of saints and scholars (hmmph, we muttered into our beer when I was a student there decades ago, priests and pedants more like it!), Ireland had a rich cultural heritage before Roman and Christian influences were felt.  While WLIC participants are in Dublin, they will undoubtedly visit the Long Room in Trinity College Library, the most iconic library space in the world and home to fabulous treasures of medieval Irish culture – soon to close for three years of necessary renovation.

But I might encourage at least a few to walk a few blocks to the Royal Irish Academy in Dawson Street and ask to see the Cathach of Columcille.  I can’t tell whether it will be on display, but it’s worth the ask.  This is a Latin manuscript of the Psalms that scholarly experts date to the sixth century CE, and it comes with a story.  It was discovered in the 19th century inside an elaborate protective case where it had been kept for at least three hundred years since it was put into safekeeping by the family that owned it at the time Irish independence was collapsing and the great princely families were hunkering down.

The story about this manuscript is that it was copied in the hand of St. Columcille himself (St. Columba for the Latin spelling) from an original that belonged to another man.  When he had done copying, the owner of the original filed, yes, a copyright lawsuit, the first in history, against Columcille and the matter went to the local king for adjudication.  “As the calf belongs to the owner of the cow,” said the king, “so the copy belongs to the owner of the original book.”  You can sniff the whole future of copyright legislation and debates in those few words.

A page of the book:

The book’s case since the eleventh century:

Columcille harrumphed, and didn’t just harrumph.  He fought a war to keep the book and successfully preserved it for himself and his community.  Now, wars are not the sort of thing Saints and Psalm-copiers are supposed to engage in, so in consequence of his success, Columcille was given his penance for his sin:  to leave Ireland and never lay eyes on it again.  He sailed over the waters to the island of Iona and founded there a monastery that was a center of culture and learning for centuries after.  Behind him, Ireland flourished as a Latin-writing and -reading culture and the Catholic church, with all its strengths and all its faults, remained central to Irish culture from that day till this.

Eventually, well after Columcille himself had died, the book he copied was carefully protected in a bejeweled case that goes back to the eleventh century and given to Columcille’s family, who used to carry it into their wars as a good luck charm.  Cathach, the name for the manuscript now, is the Irish for “battler” or “fighter”.  The family flourished for most of a thousand years with that good luck charm and their military fortunes and those of Ireland only faded when the book was relegated to safekeeping.  The family held on to its keepsake fiercely but seems to have forgotten there was a book inside the lavish exterior.  That ignorance may have been bad luck for the family in its battles, but probably good luck for preserving this evidence of the first copyright lawsuit.

Which family was it, you ask, that owned and abused this precious manuscript, then forgot about it, then found it again?  Ah, that would be the O’Donnells, don’t you know?  Feicfidh mé i mBaile Átha Cliath thú (oh, try Google translate on that one) – and we can talk about other Irish library stories then.







Librarians from all over the world fly in to meet in Odense @LIBER2022

Author: Bertil F Dorch. Library Director, University Library of Southern Denmark; Associate Professor, Department Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy

Like the birds gathering around a pond in a story by poet Hans Christian Andersen – the ducks, chicken and swans of his fairytales – people from across the world of research libraries will gather around a library in the city of Odense, Denmark, in early July this year.

About a year before his public break-through, the famous Danish fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen applied for a job as a librarian at the King’s library in Copenhagen – the capitol of Denmark. In his application he argued that he wanted the job so that he might be “relieved of the burden of writing”. Luckily, he did not get the job and continued writing. Lucky for us, but perhaps sad for the library. Andersen would probably have made a wonderful librarian: Curious, well-read, hardworking, a creative mind, and a bit odd, too.

It is well known that Andersen’s fairytale about the ugly duckling is an autobiographic metamorphosis story built on his own life, and that the mean ducks and chicken represent the citizens of his birth town Odense, while the swans represent the nobility that he himself so desperately wanted to be accepted among.

Hans Christian Andersen left Odense as a teenager in 1819 for the capital of Copenhagen. If we could bring him back to life and Odense, there would still be many features that he would recognize: The lush stream where his mother used to wash clothes still traverses the city, and the parks alongside its shores remain a green oasis. The narrow, cobbled streets with hollyhocks and roses clinging to the small houses where he grew up are still there, and so is the church where he was baptized.

However, since he left Odense, the number of inhabitants has increased ten-fold from less than 15,000 to more than 150,000 today. The city is the home of a thriving robotic industry and a booming environment for drone developments. Facebook has an enormous data center here.  He would probably be very proud when he saw the newly opened Hans Christian Andersen Museum in the center of the city.  And last, but certainly not least, the city is the home of The University of Southern Denmark, a truly research-intensive university ranked among the 300 top universities in the world.  The University is the working-place of more than 2,000 faculty and staff and 32,000 students, and has the second largest research library in the kingdom.

With such a large student population, Odense has become a ‘young’ city with a vibrant student life with its own increasing demand for a modern and efficient infrastructure, nice restaurants and cafes, and an abundancy of cultural events; and in recent years the city has been almost reborn from a sleepy midsized provincial city to a vibrant student hub, rated among the top 100 of cities to visit in the world.

From July 6 to 8, 2022 Odense and the University Library of Southern Denmark is proud to host the annual 51st LIBER conference, which has not been held as a physical meeting for the last two years.

LIBER does not only mean “book” or “free”, but it is also an abbreviation of Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche – the Association of European Research Libraries.

Since the foundation of LIBER in 1971, the LIBER conference has visited Andersen’s country four times (in 1978, 1988 and 2000): Three times in the capital of Copenhagen at the Royal Library – Andersen’s King’s library – with themes related to Interlibrary Lending, Collection Development, and Libraries as Global Information Leaders. The previous LIBER conference in Denmark took place in the country’s second largest city Aarhus – at the State and University Library – and focused on Re-Inventing the Library. This year, the fifth LIBER conference in Denmark than takes place in Andersen’s birth town – the third largest city – with the theme: Libraries in the Research and Innovation landscape.

The conference brings together three keynote speakers who represent the span of theme in an excellent way:

 Darlene Cavalier is a professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.  Professor Cavalier is the founder of SciStarter and a founding board member of the Citizen Science Association.

 Karel Luyben is Rector Magnificus Emeritus of the Delft University of Technology. Luyben is National Coordinator for Open Science in the Netherlands and, among other things, President of the European Open Science Cloud Association.

 Oksana Brui is Ukrainian librarian, a public activist with a Ph.D. in social communication, Director of the Scientific and Technical Library of ‘Kyiv Igor Sikorsky Polytechnic Institute’ and the President of the Ukrainian Library Association, while also serving as member of the working group in the development of The National Plan of the Open Science in Ukraine.

We hope to see library people from all over the world attending the 2022 LIBER Annual Conference physically and in person! To quote Hans Christian Andersen: “To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, To gain all while you give, To roam the roads of lands remote, To travel is to live.” (Andersen, The Fairy Tale of My Life).

And incidentally, since 2022 also marks the 200th anniversary of Andersen’s first book, nothing could be more fitting than that we should be meeting in a library in Odense in July!

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