A Library Fellow in Greece

By Frantz, Paul | Information Technology and Libraries, June 1996 | Go to article overview

A Library Fellow in Greece


Frantz, Paul, Information Technology and Libraries


Occasionally, as I sat at my desk in the main reading room of the Library of the Greek Parliament in Athens, I was reminded that it was not just another library. One mid-afternoon, when a colleague and I were the only people in the reading room, a man entered with a large golden retriever on a leash. The man was not carrying a white cane, so I assumed the two were out for a stroll and had somehow wandered into the Library of Parliament during their walk. The dog padded around the room, sniffing in all the corners, its claws scuttling on the wood floor.

"What is that dog doing?" I asked my colleague.

"He is finding bombs," she replied.

"Really?"

"Perhaps not finding them, but smelling them, if they are here."

"Is that necessary?" I asked.

"There are terrorist groups in Greece, you know." My coworker found my curiosity intriguing. "You do not have such dogs in your own library, where you work?"

I thought of the Knight Library at the University of Oregon, the silence of the ranges upon ranges of book shelves, the chatter of the computer stations in the reference area.

"Not yet," I replied.

"It is a lovely dog, isn't it?" my colleague said. "They are specially trained."

Since that fall afternoon, one or another of the cadre of bomb-sniffing dogs often returned to the library's reading room. It would be on a leash, its owner, whom I learned was a plain-clothes security agent, looking slightly bored, as if he were an ordinary citizen waiting in the park for his dog to find a lightpole. The dog would always ignore my corner of the room, my desk, my books, my papers, my briefcase. I must be lacking in sulphurous content, I thought, somewhat disappointed.

It was in this Library of the Greek Parliament in Athens, Greece, that I worked as an American Library Association Library Fellow during the 1993-94 academic year. And from a window of this reading room of the library, I could gaze out over Syndagma Square, over the Plaka district of Athens with its hotels, tavernas, and souvenir shops, to the glory of the city, the Acropolis and the ruins of the Parthenon.

Then I would return to my desk and wonder what to do next. I wondered often during my nine months at work in the library, and the reading room was a wonderful place in which to do it. A room of moderate dimensions, approximately sixty feet by forty, with two half-floors of shelving and a slim, elegant balcony giving access to the upper half-floor, it was given over to a collection of the Greek classics. Its shelves were filled with editions in most of the European languages of Plato, Aristotle, Homer, the Greek tragedians and historians. If I felt bored, I could reach for that supreme storyteller, Homer; if I needed background on classification, I could read the original cataloger, Aristotle.

"Do the members of Parliament ever read these classical authors?" I asked one of my coworkers at the library, after I had been at work several weeks and noticed that no one seemed to make any use of the reading room's collection.

"Occasionally."

"I have never seen them used," I persisted.

"Sometimes the members of Parliament, or a scholar, will consult them," said my colleague, patiently.

"Might I ask why they are here, if they are so seldom used?"

"They represent Greece," she said.

The project that I undertook for the Library of Parliament seemed a good fit for my public services experience. According to the official project description, I was to "advise the staff of the Parliamentary Library in Athens, Greece, on the development and use of an electronic research/reference service." I was also to work on "the development of networking and online linkages." On paper, the project looked manageable and appropriate to my skills. But it had a major problem, as I would soon learn.

One morning, I was discussing the reference project with a member of the staff, who had been assigned as my assistant. …

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