It's been my week for hallowed halls of academia.
Yesterday was my jet lag recovery day and I used the afternoon to walk a strip of this city of 1.4 million. The highlight was my 2nd tour of Trinity College, Ireland's top-rated University, where Jonathan Swift, Samuel Becket, Oscar Wilde and many other giants went to school.
First Harvard. Then Trinity. Had I applied for admission to either of these two schools the Admissions officers would have been rolling on the floor laughing.
I got to Trinity via a stroll through St. Stephen's Green a small but very attractive park; Grafton Street, a crowded, thriving shopping district and Temple Bar, an historic district of shops and pubs where I most enjoyed the organic market recommended to me on Twitter.
I took the irreverent, but informative walking tour of Trinity Campus, where a recent grad told us a few juicy anecdotes, including Chancellor Salmon, who rule Trinity for many years. In 1904, he was confronted with proponents of allowing women into Trinity. "Over my dead body," he declared, then three days later proceeded to die. Women started attending a few months later. Salmon was interred at the south entrance of the university and for several years women were directed to enter the school via that route literally stepping over the chancellor's dead body.
I had taken this tour before. But last time, time required that I had to drop off before a visit to Trinity's Old Library, where the Book of Kells is displayed under glass. Hand-inked onto stretched calfskin by monks more than 1300 years ago. It is a beautiful work with an amazing amount of detail and colors which remain vivid despite centuries of aging.
Equally jaw dropping was the Long Room, a single space, two stories high containing 200,000 volumes of books, the most recent of which is more than 300 years old. They are arranged, not by author, title or topic, but by physical size. It seems the library was set up before there was a Dewey Decimal System, not to mention Google.
Students are allowed to use the library, but none do. First they can't find anything specific because the books are arranged by physical dimension not topic and second, there's no Internet connection in the building.
I did all this touring through historic volumes with an iPhone in my pocket and an eBook on my wish list, feeling more than a little ambivalent. Something there is that loves an old book, a hand-etched illustration created with patience, passion and inspiration by people who lived so many centuries past.
I am of a time in which the printed word is on the wane and the electronic book is on a relentless ascent. The benefits are clear. Tomorrow's eBook might contain almost as many volumes and words as do the Long Room. The environment benefits, the costs to all parties is reduced.
But something remains that loves an old book and I hope the future generations will know and see how books first came into being and how recorded words and illustrations were born so many centuries ago.