Thanks for the goat

It’s my job to sit in a back room (or a secret lair?) and catalog all the new stuff that the library receives.  This hardly sounds glamorous, but it’s an important job.  If we didn’t have a cataloger, then we could just take everything the library owns and throw it in a giant bin – a bin the size of the building.  Then, when you need to do research, you could come over and root through the bin and pick out a few random things, and hope that you find something you can use.  There would be no organization to any of it.

That’s really the crux of my job.  I am also a philosopher by training, and I like to tell my former classmates that I am an applied metaphysician, since my job is to describe the things that exist and how they are related to each other.  (That might also sound as boring as the tax code, but there’s a pretty interesting popular book on the topic, called Everything is miscellaneous.  It’s about the new world order.  Or disorder, as the case may be.)

It all sounds coldly clinical, but sometimes it’s anything but.

Libraries receive gifts of books from the families of people who have passed away.  I think this is a wonderful gesture; it’s as though the intellectual life of the deceased continues to live on through his or her books.  We received a large gift of books a few weeks ago on behalf of a deceased person, and I’ve been adding them to the collection.  The books have many bookmarks, business cards, small scraps of paper, news clippings, and other items tucked in them.  The owner used to write notes about these books on these scraps, so each book has a number of his comments tucked inside.

The more I see these items, the more I feel sorry that I never had a chance to take this man out for a cup of coffee while he was alive.  I never knew him personally, but he sounds like he was an interesting, well-read person.  His books cover many subject areas, and I just think it would have been edifying to talk to him.  So each bookmark I find, each business card with notes scribbled on the back, makes me just a little sad because of what humanity loses whenever someone dies.

Yesterday, though, I was cataloging some of his books, and feeling blue because of it, and a news clipping fell out of one of them.  It’s just a picture, with no caption.  It’s a little girl at what appears to be a petting zoo.  The picture was composed such that the little girl is off to the side, and there is a goat front and center, with his head very close to the camera.  It’s a very silly picture, and it made me laugh.

So, I want to send a message across the cosmos:  That really brightened my day.  I never met you, and yet here you are, making me laugh. Thanks for the goat.


7 Responses to Thanks for the goat

  1. lori says:

    Thanks for the great story within a story, and for looking at your position as an applied metaphysician. To me, your job sounds like something someone who was very good in life would be rewarded with in heaven-:)

  2. Dawn says:

    Are you by any chance referencing “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”? or is that a stretch?

  3. Céline says:

    What a great summary of why what cataloguers do is important.

    And why libraries hold little treasures that are hard to quantify and measure but are in fact priceless.


  4. Library Web says:

    If I remember correctly wasn’t ontology originally the study of existence (a subject for philosophers).

    • Ontology is the study of being qua being, of being as a whole. The term was coined in the 17th century to delineate a particular part of what had previously been considered metaphysics. Ontology has also picked up other connotations in contemporary philosophical thought.

      Going back to its Aristotelian roots, metaphysics often involves categorizing what sort of things there are. In a sense, that is the nature of my job – to categorize what is.

      Of course, when I joke that I am an ‘applied metaphysician’, I am playing fast and loose with philosophical terminology. Part of the joke is that metaphysics is not often thought of as an ‘applied’ field, unlike, say, ‘applied ethics’.

      Besides, it would look cooler on a business card, I think.

      • Library Web says:

        “Ontology is about the exact description of things and their relationships.” W3Schools, Introduction to OWL (Web Ontology Language).

        It’s interesting that we are now doing this to the web, describing the resources on the web and the relationship between resources, attempting to understand and disentangle the web. [Bringing descriptions/qualities out that are useful to us.]

        I wrote a few poems a some years ago, one was published, but it was the poem that I wanted to write that I never could that was the best 🙂 I was standing on a railway platform somewhere in the North West of England, having decided to jump on a train and go to the funeral of Tim Field (author of Bully in Sight, the first major work on workplace bullying after Andrea Adams first published the term around 1992). There was a mountain in the distance (on its own, not a range), and in the mist. The poem was to be titled ‘Mountains in the Mist’, and the first line: ‘One day when we understand ourselves…’, the poem then going on to describe how things will be when we understood ourselves more fully in the future than we do now — what we do not now understand of ourselves that we maybe will do in the future, the difference it would make to our lives.

        My point anyway, there is still evidently some quite important ‘ontology’ to be done 😉 And I hope cataloguers fully appreciate the value of their work.

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