Dysentery and crossbows
I was going to write something vaguely amusing about code browns in public libraries as a tribute to the #codebrown thread that a few of us have been contribution stories to over the past year or so on Twitter. I've found it fun and also feel that sharing stories creates a sense of comradeship with librarians around the world. However, most of the things I would have wanted to say have already been excellently summed up by Jerome Rivera and Matt Finch in a comprehensive blog.
One day I helpfully suggested that we could visit the Poo Museum, an institution wanting to break down the taboos about poo. This isn't terribly feasible at the moment, but it did get me thinking about the different ways in which the spectrum of GLAM organisations consider poo. Now, every institution that opens to the public will have lots of fun with public toilets and the mess they can encourage. But those organisations with a more scientific purpose are more likely to want to study and classify poo in order to understand the natural world or health issues. This is poo as specimen or collection item as opposed to a thing that needs cleaning up.
Stories of poo can also be held in GLAM organisation. Many years ago, in another life, I catalogued to large collection of published memoirs by Second World War Far East prisoners of war (FEPOWs). These accounts were difficult to read at times and extremely moving. They often had many things in common - being held at Changi, going up the line to work on the Burma-Thai railway, dysentery. Pretty much all the prisoners got dysentery, or cholera or some other horrible medical condition and reading about how such conditions were managed - or not - provided an intimate look at their everyday realities.
Going back even further to when I worked with archival collections I remember the pencil notes of a very senior air force officer who had also become a FEPOW. He had written out recipes for different dishes and cocktails, presumably a coping strategy for his time in confinement. Perhaps even more than published works, archives allow a truly intimate glimpse into people's lives. Indeed sometimes almost too intimate, which brings it's own set of questions around access and consent.
Archives, both personal and official, can provide those tiny details that bring the past to life, from a stray shopping list to a medical report of someone who broke their leg roller skating through Baghdad in the early 1920s via all sorts of other nuggets. I love meeting people in archival collections as well as in published items. I don't really get to play with archives any more but I still think of the people I came across and their stories.
I've drifted away from poo, which I think may well be a good thing, but I like how its been a (non-literal) lens through which to consider and ponder a range of GLAM issues from the exceedingly practical to the historic.
So where do crossbows come in? At the same time that I was finding out more about dysentery I also did a spot of research into crossbows during the Second World War, and so dubbed myself the departmental dysentery and crossbow expert.