PLEASE READ THIS DECLARATION ALOUD WHEN ASKED
I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library...
The Bodleian Library University of Oxford
These words along with about another half page of promises were part of the requirement to obtain a library card this summer and the Bodleian. The Bodleian is a 500+ year old library that contains some of the most prestigious collections in the world. It also has one of the most intimidating ways of getting a library card!
To obtain a card to the library begins with forms. Forms off the internet, a letter of recommendation from a person with academic standing, and ultimately showing up. You cannot get a card through the mail. Everyone must go through the process of being present. Here I am reminded of Woody Allen's 80% of life is just showing up. Well, in this case, if you don't show up you can't get in!
After what seemed like the whole morning of waiting in a nondescript 50s style office (if there is such a thing) I was invited into the "back". This was merely a cubicle that was separated by a partition from the waiting area, where a dozen of us held our forms, eagerly awaiting to get into the back. When my time arrived I sat across from the one person who held the rest of my week in Oxford in her hands. She looked at me, my credentials, me again, checked my i.d., looked back at the forms, filled in numerous boxes on a computer screen and asked me several questions of clarification. Finally it was time for me to read aloud my promise of appropriate conduct in the Library.
I proudly read the above statement, among others, out-loud, to the kind woman behind the desk, and she presented me with my card. Initially I thought the whole process was pretentious. But it didn't take long to figure out that it was a self-selecting process. Those who would endure to the end, would be rewarded. Those who weren't curious enough or diligent enough or ? took the tour with the rest of the tourists. (Which is well worth it by the way. The architecture is gorgeous.) This process wasn't about getting people in, but keeping people out.
What I really want to look at is the statement above. It's almost as old as the library itself. I was amused by the promise to not "kindle flame". Now I've had some thoughts about this. The pledge included not smoking. So what was the concern. Perhaps they were concerned that I might start a small fire if the heating system went out? Or the request not to bring into the library any fire, mightn't that be a reference to those villagers who went looking for Frankenstein with their torches? All of this might be a veiled way of saying that you are not to have any passionate encounters among the library stacks.
As daunting as it first appeared, the whole process was one of significance and I was proud to stand with the throngs who had gone before me and in similar fashion obtained their cards.
Mostly I thought you might enjoy the "creed". But I am sure that there are deeper insights to be had here. There is something in standing for something, promising before others your intentions, and living up to those promises. Whether it is the covenant of marriage or my baptismal vows or church membership, we might do well to stand up and be public about our commitments. It helps to keep them.