The Philosophy of Books & Libraries With Carleton’s Larry Thompson

Larry Thompson has had a home at Carleton University since he studied English Literature in an undergraduate degree between 1983-1987, that is, “Back when Dunton Tower was called the ‘Arts Tower’” (Thompson). On campus, Thompson’s worldviews were challenged by literary and Philosophical texts presented by his professors and the MacOdrum Library shelves. After this, he continued studies in engineering, and later found a passion in something that ties both of his academic subjects together in a sense: Printing. Today, Thompson finds himself back in MacOdrum Library, where his role is “Master Printer” as well as research specialist for the Philosophy Department, contributing to the library experience for the current generation of Carleton students.

In between studying and working at Carleton, Thompson ventured into the world of publication, where he started his own printing press company called Greyweathers Press in 2005. The first step of this process was falling in love with the pursuit of beauty that he found in the printing press and process. As a writer and editor, he created and contributed to a variety of political and artistic works, and still does to this day. As a teacher (since 2018), Thompson has taught a variety of courses in publication and printmaking at Carleton and other schools, all through a hands-on, real-life approach to experiential learning. With so much experience in printing and publication, and a passion for experiential learning, it is no wonder that Carleton English department called on Thompson for his expertise in the creation of MacOdrum Library’s new Books Arts Lab. 

Carleton’s New Books Arts Lab

There is a beautiful story behind MacOdrum Library’s new project, the Books Arts Lab. Michael Thompson (same last name, though not related) was an English professor at Carleton when Larry Thompson was a student, and kept a giant, vintage printing press in his office. This beautiful old press is the same press Carleton students have seen floating around the library over the past few years, and the same press Larry Thompson saw in Michael Thompson’s Dunton Tower office as a student. This press was donated to MacOdrum Library in 1988 is the foundation of the Books Arts Lab. After going to the MacOdrum Library since the 1980’s, the Books Arts Lab coming to life feels like a “miracle” for Thompson.

What are the Books Arts, anyway?

The Books Arts include the historical and philosophical study of books and libraries. The lab itself is intended to be a platform for experiential learning, coming to Carleton students in a time where such learning methods have been limited or suppressed due to the pandemic. For Thompson, the physicality of books and libraries will always be important for education despite technological advancement.

Students from any department or faculty can go to the new Books Arts Lab on campus for access to four printing presses, which each represent a different era of printing. It is a bright, airy space located in the center of the main floor of MacOdrum. All students can explore different generations of writing and reading through the use of quill pens, wood engraving, block cutting, paper decoration, and small batch paper. If students are interested in the Philosophy of books and the Books Arts, they can visit the new lab free of charge (that’s right!) or register in one of the English Literature courses focused on the publication, writing and editing – such as ENGL 3414: Introduction to Professional Writing, taught by Larry Thompson this upcoming Winter 2022 semester.

Thompson illustrates the important connection between Philosophy, History and Literature: Storytelling. Thompson’s idea is that storytelling is prehistoric, an ancient craft. Across generations and cultures, humanity has always found ways to tell stories. Our ancestors wrote on walls, and later used paper scrolls, and somehow, we have arrived at Ares reserves. The common factor throughout the generations of writings is that we, as humans, are the “vessels of storytelling”. It is safe to say that storytelling might be an aspect of our human nature, if there is human nature at all.

Since the 80’s, Thompson has watched MacOdrum Library’s collection of physical books on shelves slowly disappear over time. Despite evolving technological development, and online readings taking over our course syllabi, Thompson thinks there will always be a place for libraries and their stacks in education. He calls libraries a “community for scholars”, which will always be a luxurious and important platform for learning. The invention of the book did not bring us to immediately abandon the scroll (Thompson). Similarly, the physical experience of books and libraries will always offer something important to learning that technology cannot. Accordingly, I raise a Hegelian question: How can historic methods of storytelling impact how we tell stories in the contemporary world?

Note:

As Carleton’s Philosophy research specialist, one of Thompson’s major goals is to bridge the gap between Carleton’s Philosophy Department and the    MacOdrum library services. Philosophy students at any level are invited to reach out to Thompson for help and direction in our research. There is philosophical information on everything, and he is here to help us find it. Students can contact Thompson by simply booking a meeting with him on his page of the MacOdrum library website (linked below) or by email.

https://library.carleton.ca/contact/staff-directory/larry-thompson

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