One afternoon in the National Museum of Damascus, I spotted through dusty glass those Ras Sharma artifacts, tiny cylinders, carved and ready to be rolled across clay. I later read that the cuneiform characters carved on those cylinders were the mother or our own alphabet. This cache discovered by archeologists in 1928 part of an ancient library’s collection changed the scholars’ view of words and language: Ras Sharma, Mediterranean coast, Syria.
I spend time every week in library stacks retrieving interlibrary loan requests. I haven’t retrieved a book on Ras Sharma or sent one in that exact direction yet. I mailed a book on Gertrude Stein to Turkey on Friday, pretty close. I mailed a book to South Africa on holocaust crimes the week before. That alphabet set up by scribes many millenniums past, the one from Ras Sharma, ancient Ugarit, has magically branched out.
The spiders in my basement apartment have branched out also, those daddy long legs stay to the baseboards and weave their webs. Ah, Ras Sharma and spiders an interesting mix! I am reminded of the Native American myth of the spider and the deer. Deer asked Spider why she wove such an intricate web with symbols; Spider said that Earth’s children needed those symbols to preserve knowledge from past to future. I wonder if the ancients in Ras Sharma inspected spiders’ webs? I have and I sweep those webs and my spiders out daily and they come back. I don’t kill daddy long legs: persistent, quiet creatures, kind of like librarians. They just go about their business.
An important business it is, because it takes more than symbols to keep our knowledge base intact these days, to protect and share it: From catalogers to shelvers; from circulation desk to reference; collections and weeding; IT to ILL. Sometimes I push my cart through the stacks and I want to stop and browse, but I don’t have the time because I am going to find information in a book for someone miles away who needed it yesterday. They can’t find what they need online or they wouldn’t be asking me; hundreds of requests get scanned and emailed or wrapped up and mailed on a weekly basis from my college. Imagine the web of information transfer going on worldwide on a daily basis made possible by all those librarians.
Sometimes I wonder, is it worth it, all this energy to move information? My spiders keep coming back to trap something along the baseboards. They weave their Ras Sharma symbols and wait. While much spinning made from my mailings may be for naught, I am steadfast that a few of my customers out there will puzzle together silk filaments and trap some gems.