When I was a senior in college, way back in 1989-90, I was thrilled to participate in an exchange program between Santa Clara University in California and Donetsk University in Donetsk, Ukraine. Of course, back in 1989-90 Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Part of the exchange program involved my taking classes in Soviet History & Politics and Russian language for about a year prior to departing for the USSR. (Note to any of you planning to visit Russia in the future: one year of Russian language, which involves an entirely different alphabet from English, is not nearly enough for you to converse well with your Russian friends. Fortunately for me, all the students I met in Ukraine had studied English from about the age of 6 on, so we could communicate pretty well.)
I’ll never forget November 9, 1989, the night the Berlin Wall came down and people everywhere celebrated freedom. Having already spent a few months studying the Soviet system of government and its spread across Eastern Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany seemed to me an occasion very much worth celebrating. Those of us in the exchange program wondered how this event would affect the Soviet Union by time we visited a few months later, in March, 1990.
I’ll also never forget November 10, 1989. On that day, my Soviet History and Politics teacher, Dr. Curry, told us a story about a colleague of hers. He had spent a very long time, like 10 years, (I can’t remember exactly) writing a book about how the USSR was such a strong superpower that the spread of communism would never be halted or defeated. And, despite President Ronald Reagan calling for Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, the Berlin Wall, that symbol of separation between East and West, would remain a fixed mark on the geopolitical landscape. The day after my professor’s colleague submitted the book to his publisher, the Berlin Wall came down and everything changed.
I guess some revision of his thesis was needed. 😉
For some reason, I’ve always remembered that story. As you know, I recently finished writing my Dante catalogue and gave it to a graphic designer to get it ready for printing. The day after I turned the catalogue over to the graphic designer, I discovered a bibliography of Dante’s works translated into English about which I hadn’t previously known. Remembering the poor academic who had turned in his life’s work to his publisher only to have his thesis destroyed by reality the next day, I thought I had better check out the bibliography to substantiate my previous research. I would hate to inadvertently make an erroneous claim in my very first print catalogue. Time to double and triple-check all my facts, culled from various resources, with this bibliography.
The problem was, I couldn’t find the bibliography for sale anywhere. I was, however, able to track it down using the online library catalogue of my alma mater, Santa Clara University. They had one copy of the bibliography and it was available for my perusal. The university’s library, which was recently re-modeled (destroyed and re-built is actually a more accurate description), has a new Automated Retrieval System for books. Essentially, this means that one requests a title one needs via the internet, a message gets sent to the ARS, and a robot arm grabs the book off of unseen shelves where books are kept and delivers it (by conveyor belt perhaps? I have no idea) to the Circulation Desk. Requests take about 30 minutes to process. The Luddite in me thinks that in the old days I could have looked up the bibliography’s location in the card catalogue and gone to the basement stacks to pull the book in about 5 to 10 minutes. More effort, perhaps, but definitely more efficient.
Realizing that the era of how things were done when I was in school is now long past, I submitted my request for the bibliography to the ARS and made plans to drive down to Santa Clara yesterday while Tom and Huck were at school.
To be continued . . .