Camel Herding Librarians

Yesterday I came across a blog by Pamela Toler,  which referred to *Alberto Manguel’s book “A history of reading”. An intriguing title, which I immediately checked for in our catalogue. It was there, so I lost no time in requesting it.

What an amazing book, of interest to anyone who enjoys reading. An eclectic compilation of information pertaining to books, reading and authors. Beautifully written, cleverly constructed, taking the reader on Alberto’s personal journey.

In her post, Pamela talks about book hoarding – a sin many book lovers may be familiar with! [Will the advent of ebooks alter book collecting?] The following passage quoted by Pamela from Manguel, and which I am replicating, is fascinating and begged to be shared!

“The alphabet sometimes served as a key for retrieving volumes. In the tenth century, for instance, the Grand Vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, in order not to part with his collection of 117,000 volumes when travelling, had them carried by a caravan of four hundred camels trained to walk in alphabetical order.”

Apparently each camel herder was responsible for retrieving the volumes from his camel, effectively four hundred librarians!

I wonder what would be the collective noun for a group of librarians? A quick search revealed several suggestions, such as “shush” or “stack”. Then I found the following link: There may be some knowledgeable person out there with a definitive definition?

The image of an alphabetised train of camels, with the handlers being librarians, made me smile. At the same time I couldn’t help but wonder about the storage of the books. What about the heat, and the dust?  Or indeed,  as one of my colleagues pointed out ‘in hot countries, there would be the insects’.

Would the Grand Vizier have welcomed ebooks? What about the redundant camel herding librarians?

*Manguel, Alberto. A history of reading. London: Flamingo; 1996. p. 193.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. RDFallis
    May 02, 2014 @ 09:17:35

    Personally, I like the idea of a ‘camel library’, but I don’t think the reality of desert-living would suit me. The store here in QUB Medical Library, with journals dating back to the 1600s, is about as dusty as I can stand!

    Liked by 1 person


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