Key 23 and the Nth Degree, part III: Your words in the real world

This is the third part of a blog series giving a personal take on librarianship, archives, and the powers of words. Start here for the first post in the series.

Key 23 is something I only discovered because, working in Auckland for six months, I am using a public library like a regular reader for once – borrowing books simply because they interest or excite me.

A lot of the books I’m borrowing are comics – I love the economy of storytelling and really believe, as I was telling the State Library of New South Wales last year, that this medium might hold the future of space, word, and image. Among the comics I’ve been reading is Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which chronicles the adventures of a secret society battling extradimensional forces in the run up to the year 2000.

In The Invisibles, there’s a drug called Key 23 which makes the user experience whatever they read as real. It’s a lovely conceit, which Morrison also flips by adding the notion of a ‘fiction suit’ which (I may have got this wrong…) allows characters to travel through the world of discourse.

Panel from Grant Morrison, The Invisibles
Dream, reality, self and other are breaking down in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles

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Key 23 and the Nth Degree, part II: Libraries for kids

This is the second of three more personal blog posts reflecting on librarianship, archives, and the power of words. You can also read part one of Key 23 and the Nth degree here.

Captain Britain #1 Front Cover
Captain Britain – now with added Dalek Killer!

Training as an infant school teacher brought me back to public libraries for the first time in ages. I’d stopped using them since the Internet had supplanted the local library as my source for obscure music, and I guess before that my last memory of a library was being brutally mocked by some badass teenage girls drinking round the back of one, the first time me and my best friend tried to get served in a pub underage!

As a teacher, school trips to the library were pretty anodyne – the best bit was the forced march three blocks or so from the infant school, the kids’ faces full of wonder as they held hands in pairs and went on a five year old’s adventure into the Big World of grocer’s stores and banks and traffic lights…then, the library.

It was an old building in sore need of refurbishment, overlit within by fluorescent striplights, walls painted the blank cream colour of a hospital corridor, and fitted with that curious, bristly tiled carpet forever associated with Britain’s more dismal civic spaces – probably not even the same colour throughout, with a patch of grey lingering in one corner where the fitters had run out of brown.

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Key 23 and the Nth Degree, part I: My life in library archives

This is the first of a more personal series of blog posts reflecting on librarianship, archives, and the power of words.

My PhD was about the lives of refugees in their adopted countries. I learned a thing or two about libraries then – sending a mate to rummage around in the Library of Congress, visiting the archives of a working German mental hospital, and spending days amid the pungent must of London’s Senate House, where you could still find a corner to sit untroubled on the sixth floor on a November afternoon, walled in on three sides by shelves, books spread across your desk – only half of them really relevant to your topic, the others picked up on impulse or passing interest, looking down on a gloriously cold and lonely darkening winter London.

Senate House, London
Senate House, London – The inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, allegedly earmarked as Hitler’s headquarters in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain…

That intense sensory experience, synonymous with loneliness and hard work for me, is a memory so strong that for all its ambivalence it has taken on the quality of beauty. I can smell the vile rows of shelving which Senate House devoted to Hansard as I write this…and I kind of miss it. Read more