Readers of my first post will know that my trip to the archive yesterday was not without minor folly. Today was very much the same. I suppose even the Dr. Giesbergs of the world (sorry, Dr. Giesberg; I don’t mean to drop names here, but I guess this is a good way to see if you read the blog 😉 ) get the wry, “over the half-moon glasses” look from the guardian of the documents: the reading room archivist. This gate keeper, seated roughly three feet elevated above the researching hoi polloi, stands guard over their precious manuscripts and illuminated documents like new parents over a cradle, but perhaps even more so.
Since part of my research involves espionage and spy craft, I have been on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary with or on the documents that might indicate I was on to an earth-shattering, book deal type of find. Thus when I came across subtle but matching water marks in two separate and relatively unrelated folios, I became quite excited. So excited that I immediately removed the precious infant of a receipt ledger from the folio and held it up to the beautiful Irish sunlight beaming through the massive 15 foot windows of the reading room.
(As a short aside, I should mention I have been in Ireland for since Tuesday morning and have experienced only 6 minutes of rain).
No sooner did I have the ledger, my camera, and watermark positioned for the perfect shot than the talons of the archivist sank into my upper back. In a shrill brogue she demanded I put the document down immediately and, as if I were back in grade school, we reviewed the “Reader Handling Guidelines” which embarrassingly seemed to materialize in front of me.
Was I wrong? Well yes, of course! But the watermark! Was it the breakthrough I have been looking for? Probably not. But I have been sitting in this chair for so long, resizing and renaming photos that you begin to see things where they are not.
Needless to say the “help” from the “help desk” waned in the aftermath of this incident. On the bright side, I managed not to destroy any national treasures or mistakenly break into official government buildings, so I consider that a step in the right direction. I also managed to find the building in the recommended travel time of 11 minutes rather than the 3 hours it took yesterday. Baby steps, right?
As for the title, “Copyrights and Copywrongs,” I wanted to address the importance of understanding both institutional and national laws regarding copyright, especially pertaining to cultural heritage. The digitization of documents, even the signed meal receipts of a moderately famous dead guy from a century ago is, at present, a hotly debated issue in Ireland, the UK, and the European continent. Archivists, librarians, historians, and cultural conservators contest the digitization and sharing of these documents by organizations like Google Books. To these individuals, digitization through these outlets amounts to the theft of cultural heritage. CNN wrote a fantastic synopsis of this argument which can be found here. The copyright procedure at the National Library in Dublin, much like archives in the United States—the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for example—requires a list of all photos taken. The National Library of Ireland (NLI) then requires the researcher sign a waiver swearing his or her understanding of the rules of “self-service copying” and the illegality of the reproduction of images. I am glad I read the sheet very closely because I was going to include an image of one of the documents I was researching in this blog post. If you want to see one that badly, see me and I can show you on my computer. Or you could fly to Ireland and visit NLI (if you can find it). They would love to have you.
For the fire truck enthusiasts (hi, dad!) the hotel I am staying in was formerly a fire station. Part of one of its courtyards remains one of Dublin’s 13 full time fire brigades. The company, which has been at this location for 154 years, is still under the original fire look-out and hose draining tower. Being from Philadelphia, I couldn’t help but talk to the firefighters about our dear friend Benjamin Franklin and the first volunteer fire brigades established in our fine city. The kind firefighters obliged my history lesson.
Presently, I am learning the finer tasting points of aged Irish whiskey from an Irish-Romanian bartender named Alex. I am looking forward to tomorrow, but with only a few work days left and a hefty amount of documents remaining on my sheet of “must sees”, I have to sign off for today.
Cheers! Go dtí amárach!