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.

Not everything we store in our archives and libraries displays trustworthy information or reliably documents an event. There is, in our knowledge and memory repositories, a lot of information that is far from being "true".

And yet, even knowing it, we keep it. Because these documents reflect a very particular way of seeing, understanding and explaining the world. One that, while not always being "the truth," at least makes an effort to capture reality in a credible way.

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 "Station Beach". 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.

—We found a huge trunk under the stairs. Nobody remembers who put it there. It looks like it has videotapes in it. Shall we bring it to you?

It seems that one of the roles of the coordinator of an archive —like the one at CDF— is to receive this type of news. And questions.

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 their original scribes would be able to understand.

I remove the slide from the plastic sheet, which stores other nineteen, all in consecutive order. I take a look at the small notes crowded on the edges of the plastic (or cardboard, or glass, or metal) frame, sometimes scribbled directly onto the material, sometimes written on labels that barely hold there, sometimes typed on pieces of paper glued to the frame — and already showing a worrying brown color...

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

One goes over the spines of the documents that make up the collection of the CDF Library and comes across a small linguistic mixture. 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, going through French, Italian and 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 reading in the library's main 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 to it. I guess that, because of that lack of visibility, it managed to bypass my radars.

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The ‘Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands’, in French ‘Fondacion Charles Darwin  pour les Iles Galapagos’, Association Internationale sans but lucrative (AISBL), has its registered office at Avenue Louise 54, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Trade Registry # 0409.359.103

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