Monday, July 21
I was playing around a little today with scanning things and using the (very) basic image functions I once added to the works, and I decided that if I were going to post a lot of visual content, things around here would need some improvement. There is doubtless all kinds of good free code I could borrow, but I would want to integrate it with the existing system or maybe even build a new one from scratch.
That would mean a lot - relatively a lot - of work that I am not going to do right now, but I do have some other changes in mind. The wiki, for example, has been a mixed bag, but it seems like it has great potential for real-world use. I would like to see what it could become with a tighter connection to the rest of the site and a more stripped down interface.
I think it could be cool, in a bookish, scribbling-things-in-the-margins sort of way. I have always liked the idea of marginalia; there is a part of me that wants to be a monk in a library somewhere, the sort of library with many high, narrow windows designed to maximize all the available daylight, bending over a table piled deep with manuscript, a pen and inkpot close to hand, talking to myself in a mishmash of corrupted Latin and archaic English.
I have thought about spending vast amounts of time quietly and insidiously annotating the collections of the University library. My first scheme was simple enough - I would simply wander through the stacks, pen in hand, pulling random volumes from the shelves, and read them until I found something to which I could usefully add information. Really interesting books I might spend hours with. I could document my textual exploits as I went and create a kind of key to the whole thing, leave references to other books, hide copies of my index around the building - it would be a primitive kind of hypertext, just waiting for sympathetic minds to stumble across its threads. With any luck, others would begin quietly to participate, generations of students would eventually contribute to the hidden pool of our shared knowledge...
Then I thought, well, yeah, certain parties would probably frown on that. I could use a pencil for my notes, which might be less damaging than the ink - and I certainly find plenty of books littered with underlining and the like anyway. But pencil or no, eventually someone would notice what I was up to. And besides, pencil marks smudge and become illegible, which just isn't satisfactory.
So, ok, I could just check out half a dozen books every couple of days and work on them at home. It would be slower, sure, but I could be more thorough and no one would be looking over my shoulder. The only question is, do they actually check books for damages when they're returned? Would my additional text eventually become too obvious? Would some clever librarian or bored, student employee become suspicious and eventually lay a couple grand in library fines on me?
At some point I realized that it would be easy enough to insert loose sheets of paper in most books. I discover occasional pages of notes or bookmarks in the stuff I check out. This could hardly be called vandalism, since it wouldn't constitute physically altering the book. I only hit two problems - stuff would probably fall out too easily, and people might remove it even if it survived the return and shelving process. Besides that, wasn't there some risk of damaging books if the pH or whatever of the paper I used was wrong? I know cheap stuff degrades fast, and it'd be appalling to ruin pages of volumes that might otherwise last for decades.
Fortunately there has been a big boom in scrapbooking as a hobby market, or at least the people selling scrapbooking supplies would like you to believe there has. I know you can get paper that claims to be "archival quality", and art supply places should sell the kind of double-sided paper tape (you have to wet the adhesive, like you used to with a stamp, except that licking it is probably a bad idea) that I've used before to matte pictures. It would be pretty workable to cut and tape little inserts in most books with plenty of room for notes. Give me an electric typewriter or the patience to position things using an inkjet, and they would probably even look official enough to pass a casual page-flipping sort of inspection.