Letters from the Library

"Letters from the Library" is a series of notes written by Edgardo Civallero, library coordinator, about the contents of the Charles Darwin Foundation library & archive.

These notes are inspired by what Edgardo finds among boxes, shelves and old documents: photographs, notebooks, artifacts, reports, slides, maps… All of them, even the smallest ones, are an essential part of the identity and social memory of the Charles Darwin Foundation. These notes give us a look at the history of science and society in the Galapagos Islands at the time they were written or photographed.

In the following articles, you will be able to enjoy a story built bit by bit, step by step.

One goes over the spines of the documents that make up the collection of the CDF Library and comes across a small linguistic kaleidoscope. In addition to English and Spanish, the stronger languages, many others have nested among the old wooden shelves: from Mandarin, Japanese and Korean to Russian, Swedish and German, passing through French, Italian and Spanish. Dutch.

And even a couple of indigenous languages.

The notebook was wrapped in a light blue cardboard, neatly folded for protection. There, inside that sort of box, it had been invisible for years. No one seemed to have requested it for consultation in the library's reading room, so its quietness had not been disturbed at all. It placidly slept in the corner of one of the library's wooden shelves, a corner that some friendly hand had assigned it. I guess that, because of that lack of visibility, it managed to bypass my radars.

The man, already aged but with a vitality that many twenty-somethings would want for themselves, walked with us the bunch of yards from the CDF library until the entrance to the "Playa de la Estación". We were interviewing him for our oral history program. Throughout the journey we were chatting about times gone by, about people who are no longer among us, about events that were recorded only in some corner of his head, about things said and done, about adventures and misadventures, and about other memories — some of them quite blurred, others not that much.

The CDF Archive has an audiovisual section that, while not extensive, is rich in content. It is a collection that includes hundreds of photographs, slides from all eras (with glass, metal, plastic and cardboard frames), negatives and negative prints, films and videos in all the formats produced by the industry —including a few rolls of the infamous cellulose nitrate—, audio cassettes, and the magnetic and optical media that are more familiar to the new generations: floppy disks, ZIP disks, CDs and DVDs.

Sometimes I find it difficult to understand what I read. I try to find fragments of my old knowledge of palaeography in the back of my memory, but to no use: Some of the handwritings that cover —like a tight carpet of scribbles— the pages of the manuscript I am transcribing resemble real hieroglyphs. Or some of those exotic writings still to be deciphered: those that only its scribes are able to understand.

The history of bathroom reading is a history still to be written.

I speak of "history" because I assume from that glorious moment in the past when humans invented the toilet or some similar device in which to sit down for, the need to read appeared. Simply to pass the time. I would like to add that, long before that (or perhaps in parallel), reading materials used as an entertainment during that natural physiological process had a complementary use as personal hygiene elements. Or, at least, that's what oral tradition says.

The figure of Charles Darwin —Darwin the scientist, scholar, believer, citizen— has attracted the attention of specialists and laymen alike for more than a century. Not in vain his ideas revolutionized the 19th-century academic thought, and even today they continue provoking debate, as well as inspiring studies and advances in countless fields and disciplines.

It was a postcard; it appeared inside one of several boxes of old papers that someone decided to discard at the CDF. Therefore, they came to my hands first to check if there was something useful or valuable for the archive. There was plenty of that. Virtually everything in the boxes was interesting material, although… humidity, dirt, insects and other living things (like the pair of geckoes that came out of the boxes as soon as I opened them) seriously damaged most of the documents.

The “Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands”, in French “Fondation Charles Darwin pour les îles Galapagos”, Association International sans but lucratif (“AISBL”), has its registered office located at Chaussée de la Hulpe 177 Bte 20 (rez) - 1170, Brussels, and is registered under the trade registry of Brussels under the number 0409.359.103.

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