Saturday, July 31, 2004

Library Engineering


I completed an inspection walk-through at the Baghdad U. Dept. of Archaeology with our civil engineers. They had done a stunning job of masonry reconstruction, reglazing, security grills, insulation, air-conditioning montage, wiring, reading room tables, and cramming as many book cases as the rooms are ever likely to hold, but the librarian is clearly overwhelmed by the reconstruction.

She had not made ay orderly plan for transitioning books from old to new shelving. Rather, books were piled in haphazard mountains in the adjacent room, with hundreds of disbound pages scattered about the floor. Further, no effort had been made to clean the library area before re-sorting. Everything--shelving, books, desk surfaces--is covered with a thick layer of construction dust mixed with stirred-up ash and soot--of which she complained, showing her be-grimed hands. When I enquired after the vacuum cleaners, she realized that she was allowed to get one out of the stores and use it.

She seemed shocked to learn that new books were en route, and seemed uninformed of their nature or quantity. I promised to supply a copy of the list. I informed her that they would arrive with catalogue cards. That pleased her very much. She also surprised to learn that there was money for book-binding, though we discussed this at the last two meetings. She said that she would prefer to get books sorted into the new shelves before selecting books for binding.

She was dissatisfied with the new library shelving, disliking the color, shelf spacing (too few shelves per case, and not moveable), and construction material (she wanted steel; we custom-built wood in order to “buy Iraq”). I ordered that the supplied shelving be stabilized for safety by bolting to the walls or floors, and pledged that if shelf space proved insufficient we would have it reconstructed.

I am going to let them get on with it a bit, but I want to set up a meeting specifically deal with Library issues. Clearly she has prepared none of the promised reports, will not be ready to receive shipped books, and will not be ready for Fall classes--and this is without even addressing the issue of on-line cataloguing training for her. We need to appoint someone here that can provide close supervision of this, and give her the support she needs to do her job well. She is trying, but for her our gift imposes a tremendous burdon of work and responsibility.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Takeoffs and Landings

Any Takeoff

What makes a thing worth doing? An unpleasant thing; a thing of minimal import, a thing hardly guaranteed of success?

I start this, my third trip to Baghdad, with profoundly mixed feelings as always. Trepidation. Excitement. Ennui. Here at Marka Airport, Air Serv's operations are approaching the routine. Approaching. There is still a funny little pre-check stand out side, with a young clerk and clipboard verifying names—she then locked in long and serious negotiation with a missionary manager in sweat-stained suit, his Dutch sibilants excoriating poor communications between the back office and this operations shed. He has paid. No, he has not. Yes he has, and he can prove it. Sir, that is no receipt. It is a receipt, or what should pass for one. No. Yes. On and on this drones, a bizarre riff on a muzak background hum. I sip tea and contemplate the meager selection of snack foods: they are a crossroads mix of stale imports from around the world. I pass on Chinese salted fish and plums; contemplate Middle Eastern—are they cheese?—puffs; settle for baked Pringles in the mini-can: a reliable bit of anti-nausea salt and savory for the corkscrew landing to come.

Any Landing
The Beechcraft Air King wheels left, in a deft spiral anchored along its left wing tip. Like a gull, a large cheeky seagull, eyeing a tourist sandwich and oblivious to its own acrobatic feats, it flashes over ruined palaces; water gardens turned turquoise by a bloom of blue-green algae; oblong fields stretching from Tigris to Euphrates; heliports; tent cities; graveled lots shimmering white in the summer heat; green slashes of reed cane choking disused canals; bomb craters; tank traps; rows of military aircraft, ranks of armored vehicles; passing cross-wise to the runway in a blur of screaming propellers, to drop deftly onto the taxiway.

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