the Bodleian, dulcimers, and Conchords…all in one day

Yesterday was terrific and I’m still weary and recovering. First, there was Alumni Day at GSLIS, a whole day of programming geared toward grads of the program. In the morning, the speaker was Sarah Thomas, a GSLIS graduate who is the librarian at the Bodley Library at the University of Oxford. She told us this story about a set of books gifted to the library by King Henry V (yes, a long time ago) and in the religious upheaval during the time of King Edward VI the library was destroyed (purged of Catholic content, in fact) and these books were dispersed. The pages of said books were used to wrap butter, or tailors used the vellum to line their clothing. Only a few books out of the collection remain, and they are all at the Bodleian. (For more details visit

As you can imagine, at this point in the talk the historical novelist in me said “Wha-wha-whaaat??? Medieval manuscripts used to wrap up butter? For reals?” Can’t you just imagine the sweaty kitchen of some dirt poor dairy farmer, far from London, with a pile of books and odd papers piled in a shadowy corner. The woman, when her thick worker arms, is tired from churning butter or milking ornery cows and whatnot, and she turns to the pages and tears them efficiently from the binding, to make them ready for use. What good are they to her as they are? But does she pause, if only for a moment, noting the precisely drawn letters, the flourishes of the text? A book fit for kings, perhaps…or nothing better than scraps of paper, good for wrapping blocks of butter, the pages turning translucent with fat.

But I digress. In the afternoon we had a tribute (NOT a memorium, no sir) for Professor Allen Smith who died last summer. I had the opportunity to work with Allen at GSLIS and I really liked his approach to things. For example, he thought there shouldn’t be any chairs in meetings – if people were standing, business would get done a lot faster. He also had very stringent rules about the use of exclamation points, which I remember whenever I am tempted to use one (and I generally avoid it, thanks to Allen’s sage advice). Aside from his career as a ridiculously beloved teacher at GSLIS, Allen was an expert on dulcimers, and he was a ferrier (he shoed horses). No, I’m not making this up. And on top of all of that…he was just a really cool, really funny guy.

After all of the Alumni Day festivities – including the honor society event that I planned in the late afternoon – I met up with Tom and we went to The Flight of the Conchords concert at the Agannis Arena. I do love a nice glockenspiel. And they sang “Bowie’s in Space” (complete with bizarre David Bowie impressions) which made me very happy.

Published in: on April 18, 2009 at 10:16 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. OMG – I had no idea about Allen! He was one of my favorite people there and his admission interview reports were always worth reading.

    I never heard the meeting thing – but that is totally Allen….

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