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Classical Whines: Shoutout To The Libraries

I unironically love Butler

In a previous Classical Whine, we expressed our love for ReCAP, but this time we’re shouting out a hero closer to home: the Columbia University Library System. This Classics major just really appreciates Butler, what can we say?

Whenever I hear people say they have never checked out a book from a library, I pity them for how much they are missing out. In my post about ReCAP, I talked about the 7 million books in a New Jersey warehouse that you can get delivered, but we need to talk about the THIRTEEN MILLION volumes that the Columbia Libraries have. I can’t fathom how large a number that is, but I do know how it impacts me on a day-to-day basis.

Simply put, I’ve never needed a book that I couldn’t find at a Columbia library. I’ve written about some relatively niche topics during my time here (ex. talking animals in medieval French literature, how Thucydides relates to the collective memory of the topographical imagination of modern Greece, whether Sappho was in a cult that worshipped the Muses or not, etc.) and I’ve rarely even had to request anything on ReCAP. Granted, it was annoying that one time when this one specific book I needed about how Augustine thinks Vergil belongs in hell was all the way in Burke, but it’s still amazing that it was accessible to me. Other than textbooks, I’ve never had to buy a book during my time here, because it’s literally all in Butler. (And, being a Classics major, I’ve even found some textbooks in Butler.)

The breadth of the library system goes beyond physical books, however. Every academic article you could possibly find is available through Columbia as well. I’ve never yet come across a journal article that I couldn’t get through Columbia. Considering how expensive it is to pay money to look at these papers ($30 to loan it for a day? Really?), this is an incredible resource. I love when I’m trying to figure out what the difference in meaning between οἶκος and δόμος is in Aeolic Greek is and there is an article about this available through Clio. (The answer, according to Janett Morgan, is that there is none.) The other day, I was thinking about how I would actually have to pay for these things after I graduate from Columbia, and the thought was unbearably saddening.

I’m sure (I hope) you were aware that you can get a free New York Times subscription through Columbia, but did you know that you can also access most articles written by most other publications? For instance, you don’t get a free subscription to the Wall Street Journal, but you can view all of its articles post-1959 on Clio. That’s a very well-known, mainstream publication, but you can also access some weird, niche newspapers through Clio: some that I’ve used include the Oct 13, 1944 issue of Ce Soir and the Dec 8, 1821 issue of The Scotsman.

If you need help with your research or finding a resource from the library, research librarians are available for help. When I was looking for some of the aforementioned niche newspaper articles (I was looking for articles in French newspapers between 1944 and 1960, I believe), I went to the Digital Humanities Center in Butler 305 for a drop-in session (available weekdays 1 pm – 5 pm), where there happened to be a librarian who is an expert on archival newspaper research. I’m honestly constantly awed by these sorts of amazing resources that are available to us at this university.

signed first edition copy of The Mandarins, by Simone de Beauvoir, courtesy of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library

Speaking of amazing resources, I can’t leave out the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Did you know that they have a first edition copy of The Mandarins, signed by Simone de Beauvoir? Well, now you do. You can just make an appointment, walk in, and read this book. They also have copies of beautiful illuminated manuscripts, rare Bible manuscripts in Visigothic script, and more. Holding a handwritten copy of the Bible from the 9th century, painstakingly illustrated by hand, is a surreal experience. Looking at Visigothic script is also really cool because you can tell that it’s technically the Roman alphabet, but it’s nearly impossible to actually read what the text says. The manuscripts in this library are priceless, and I highly recommend that you take advantage of this. Some other rare-ish books in Butler are just chilling in reading rooms (there’s a lot in Butler 6—that’s why the floor closes early), but the collection in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library is actually one of a kind.

Here is one specific anecdote of how the libraries pulled through for me, just two days ago. I was writing a paper about Sappho’s fragment 44 and needed a copy of Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches, a copy of the Iliad and one of the Odyssey (English and Greek), and a copy of Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy; A History of Greek Epic, Lyric, and Prose to the Middle of the Fifth Century. I found and checked out a copy of Reading Sappho from Butler, and found the rest in Milstein, where I was working, so I didn’t even have to check them out. I just found them on the shelves, used them for the paper, and put them back on the reshelving cart when I was done.

I also referred to the abridged Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, which I checked out in September and have been using for my Greek class this entire semester. If I need a word that isn’t in the abridged lexicon, Butler has many copies of the full version. These books, especially the dictionaries, are really expensive. It’s really awesome that I can just borrow one for a whole semester and don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a dictionary.

I’m pretty sure you can also access every movie ever made through the libraries, but I don’t actually know how, so I’m gonna stop at the incredible collection of books and journals. My Italian wine recommendation for today is Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico Casi Riserva. It costs around $20 and is supposedly a “savory, classic” red according to online reviews. Remember to drink responsibly! Bwog does not endorse underage drinking, and this recommendation is only for people who are of age to drink!

Butler via Bwog Archives

The Mandarins via Youngweon Lee

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  • reader says:

    @reader pretty sure you just need an alumna card/account post grad to continue to access libraries and CLIO

  • Not a Classics Major says:

    @Not a Classics Major So you’re telling me that between Columbia’s 7 MILLION (largely untouched) books in a New Jersey warehouse, and Columbia 13 MILLION volumes, the FLIP library really can’t provide more than 1 copy of S&W’s Introduction to Econometrics? This is all great, and I’m glad you get to check out obscure texts on Sapphos, but couldn’t CLIO do something to ensure that students have better access to textbooks they actually need, as opposed to obscure, erudite books? Is that crazy? Are these resources underutilized due to a lack of student awareness, or simply due to a lack of student interest? I realize that this is a false dichotomy, but still, it’s a little troubling….

    1. Alum says:

      @Alum I hated that book. The content was fine, but whoever did the typesetting was autistic as fuck. It’s unreadable.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Columbia has one of the top five largest academic libraries in the world with priceless rare books and manuscripts. Together with Princeton and the New York Public Library in ReCAP, it may be the largest academic collection in the world.

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