Several years ago, someone once described a colleague of his to me by simply noting "he has a Hinman collator in his dining room." This implied incredible scholarly devotion, an ascetic impulse that would give up the space normally granted to consuming food to a huge beast of a machine, and a level of old-school bibliographic geekery unshared even by most English professors.
Today, I feel a fleeting sense of kinship with that bibliographer, since my current unattainable object of desire is this: the ImageMouse Plus microfilm scanner.
I spent the afternoon at the library of one of our branch campuses, because they have this piece of special equipment that our library on main campus, where I work, does not own. I had phoned to confirm this, and asked if I'd be able to use it, and they said no problem. So today I went. After finding my way around their campus, and locating the library, I talk to three different librarians, none of whom have ever used the machine. Luckily the user's manual was on the table where it was located, and I assured them that I could figure it out (and I was right). The highest-ranking guy, Grumpy Librarian, had to use some kind of secret access password for me to let me onto the computer hooked up to the ImageMouse, and kept grumbling that I wasn't really allowed, that this machine was too much trouble, that he wished they didn't even own it. (Some of my favorite people are librarians -- my ex best friend, a new dog park buddy, several bosses and workmates in my past-- but people skills aren't always their strong suit. ) I mean, I'm faculty at your university, if not on your campus -- there's a reciprocal agreement within our system. And besides, it's not like anyone else wanted to use the thing.
Microfilm is always a pain to work with, usually literally -- I usually get neck cricks and shoulder aches, and often feel kind of nauseous after doing a lot of work with film or fiche. You're sitting cramped in a horrible unergonomic chair doing the same repetitive motion a zillion times, and print is often moving past your eyes. In graduate school the microforms were housed down in the basement, which was always 30 degrees colder than the rest of the building -- just to add to the creepy discomfort of the experience. (Today's room was actually too warm. It's never right, said Goldilocks as she spun another roll of film.)
And the ImageMouse doesn't remove all the pain. But by allowing me to scan microfilm into digital files, it will let me use this material so much more easily for my research and my teaching. (Much better than using the microform printers and then xeroxing, which just degrades the image quality over and over.) It's slow going -- I've got to make a couple more trips next week. At least I do have access to this machine, although apparently it's only by the good graces of Grumpy Librarian. So I don't know how many more return visits I'll be able to do this summer, or in the years ahead. I'll try to persuade our campus librarians to get one of these, but I doubt I'll have much success since our library budget keeps getting cut.
But just think how awesome it would be to have one of these on your desk of your very own! I wish, I wish, I wish...