Saturday, April 11, 2009

Libraries I Would Like to Create

Libraries I Would Like to Create
By Ken St. Andre

Somebody send this on to Bill Gates for me, please. I need about ten million dollars a year, and none of it is for me, really. It’s for America.

Special libraries are those dedicated to a single topic. The topic may be broad like World Business, or narrow like Siamese Cats in Arizona, but what makes the library special is that it concentrates on a single topic.

There are some great special libraries in the world. I don’t know what they are, but I’m sure there must be some. If I had the money, I’d like to create several more.

So dream with me. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a comprehensive . . .

1. Gaming Library? Imagine, a library that had copies or facsimiles, or reconstructions of every game they could get. All the board games, card games, role-playing games, computer games. Some games exist as an idea—like poker. There are plenty of books about poker, but all you need to play it is a deck of cards and knowledge of the rules. A library that covered every game in the world would be huge. Heck, I’d be satisfied with a library that just covered all the games in English. I’d be satisfied with one that just covered all the role-playing games of the last forty years. I’d be happy with one that just covered computer space war games or mmorpgs. Such a library would be awesome, and very useful for all the game-ologists and game geeks in this country. It could explore related topics like gaming as training, gaming as therapy, gaming as strategic planning, simulation gaming to understand history—there are lots of topics related to gaming.

2. Comics Library? Imagine, all of D.C. and Marvel, and Image and Top Cow and Archie and Dell and Gold Key and Fantagraphics and . . .I’d want all the issues of the magazines as well as all the collections and graphic novels. I’d want a section devoted to comic strips and animated movies. And foreign comics. And comics magazines like Heavy Metal or Mad Magazine. What an incredibly happy library that would be!

3. Catalog Library? Imagine a library consisting of every product catalog ever issued. It sounds dull, but what a record of our civilization it would be. And what a resource for researchers. Some catalogs are just lists. Some have pictures. Some contain entertainment in the form of stories and poems. Some have reviews. Some are flimsy, but others are beautiful books. Catalogs exist for every manufactured item in the world. Some reference books are little better than catalogs, Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft, for example. And we don’t want just the latest catalogs, but all of them. The Landsend catalog of 1980 is just as useful as the one for 2009, maybe more so. How did people dress back then, and what did clothing really cost? A catalog library could turn out to be the most useful reference library in the world.

4. Software Library? Wouldn’t it be nice to save all the millions of programs ever created? Or even a fraction of them—just those that were really good, for example . . .
And then there’s the documentation necessary to explain them. What a resource such a library would be for the programmers of the world!

There’s an important caveat to be established here. We do not select the contents of these special libraries for “quality”. One man’s sow’s ear is another man’s silk purse. Let us select instead for completeness. If we mention quality, we’re talking about physical quality. Of course we want the best-looking items we can get for our libraries.

Ok, that’s four different special libraries. None of them exist, as far as I know. And it would take considerable resources to create any of them. The complete libraries that I evoke above are not feasible—there is just too much stuff out there. But, even incomplete ones could be of immeasurable worth to the scholars that would use them.
But . . . it’s just a dream, just a dream.



  1. There's Corning Museum of Glass library, which AFAIK is the world's most complete library on glass - history, technology, artwork. And Cornell University's Southeast Asia holdings, which contain the world's largest library of Indonesia-related works (its holdings especially rich in ephemera: theatre playbills, pamphlets, that sort of thing). But neither is as complete, I think, as what you envision here.

    I nominate Jess Nevins for chief research librarian of the comics library. I wonder if Paul Allen could be persuaded to set up a foundation for it - it's the sort of thing he'd love.

  2. Oddly enough, Toronto Public Library endeavors (as of a few years ago) to be as completist a gaming library as any I'm aware of in the world. There's an Aussie games-focused library too, but I'd have to dig up one of my university papers to tell you what city it is in.

  3. I think the gaming library is brilliant. Start it up! Get a grant writer on your side, find out how to start up a nonprofit, and go for it. Seems like there'd be a lot of game companies willing to donate unsold back stock as a tax write off too.

    The problems I see with it though, would be that potentially some of the games would be collectible and valuable (same problem with comics) - also, games esp., vs. books, get worn out and worn down quickly. Pieces get lost (chits etc.) and so forth, so making it a lending library might be out of the question - perhaps more of a game academic's (is there such a thing) library, thus located in a larger city for the most interest. It may seem daunting, but it's really not that hard to get something like this going on your own (I have some experience with it and helped create an online searchable database for a small library). Just read Liz's comment - very cool. Toronto, just another reason to love it!