I thought it was about time I bookporned the place I’ve become attached to (in both senses of the word): the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, in all its vasty, lofty glory.
Its glory is not confined to the mere aesthetic; it is a place where a Southeast Asian specialist can dissolve quietly into a very special brand of ecstasy. Many historians know this ecstasy; Southeast Asian historians can only know it in very few circumstances. This ecstasy, roughly speaking, arises when one is reading a particularly obscure book on, say, Javanese religious rituals, and comes across a wildly seductive reference in the footnotes (you know! the ones that say coyly to you, via their long, explicit titles: “I will tell you everything you want to know”). One leaps out of the chair with a feral look in one’s eyes and dashes to the library catalogue, and pounds the search keywords in with animal desperation, with shaking hands….
In most libraries, the Southeast Asian historian stares in tearful rage at the ‘Search revealed no results, nearest holding is 3 billion miles away’, and sinks to one’s knees, weeping uncontrollably. In ISEAS library, one saunters, at most, two or three shelves down, extracts the obscure little tome from its place, and saunters back to one’s table, with aforementioned ecstasy oozing from every pore.
A word of caution: given the multitudinous nature of footnotes and references, this can result in one’s table breaking under the weight of the books you have brought back for yourself to follow up on, and can also cause brain failure and chronic depression as a consequence of trying to read all of them and realizing that you can never finish. Small price to pay for an awesome library.