A bit of a stink

image_proxySometimes in libraries we think about poo. Not necessarily because we want to but because our public toilets sometimes get blocked, sometimes books get Suspicious Stains on them, and sometimes we wonder how many royal toddler toilet training picture books there are…

And if you really think about it poo is quite important, and you certainly can’t escape it. So, I’ve been poking around a few of our resources to see what I can find about poo and sewage and other stinky things like that.

Searching on our catalogue the keyword ‘poo’ and the Official Subject Heading (we librarians do enjoy a good subject heading) ‘feces‘ finds a lot of children’s books – not unsuprisingly, but it also brings up entries from Access Video – an eResource featuring lots of fascinating documentaries – about sanitation in the developing world.

Sanitation has an interesting history in Christchurch. We’re all familiar with more recent issues in this area, which has been carefully documented by CEISMIC, however there’s a long history to explore.

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The Christchurch Drainage Board has a well documented history – so vital for a city built on a swamp – and according to John Wilson‘s Christchurch – Swamp to City Ōtautahi has ‘been the best drained and and most efficiently sewered city in the country’ (p11). The importance of pumping stations in the city has been recognised as part of the Architectural Heritage of Christchurch Series – reminding us that the functional doesn’t have to be ugly. Underground Overground Archaeology (I don’t think they employ any Wombles) has written a great overview of sanitation in Christchurch.

If you’ve ever wondered what the poo of our native wildlife looks like, then DigitalNZ is the website you need! Searching for ‘poo’ brings up a lot of helpful visuals to assist you in identifying that mystery turd, plus a positive plethora of poo-related media articles, research papers and videos.

I also had a look on Papers Past for poo related content. However the 19th century and first half of the 20th century were more conservative eras so ‘poo’ and ‘excrement’ don’t bring up a huge amounts of hits – although there is definitely content for those with an interest in public health. I’ve also found out about pakapoo – a Chinese lottery game brought to New Zealand by gold miners – and The Mikado.

Do you have any #codebrown stories you’d like to share? [Ed: we welcome the use of euphemisms for the benefit of those with delicate sensibilities]

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One of my favourite sources for ideas of what to read is the Literary Review. You can be sure that amongst the latest Irvine Welsh or tedious study of the Bloomsbury set, will be lurking reviews of unusual publications.

The eclectic mix is shown by my discovering, (in the same issue), a fascinating insight into the Italian theatre of battle during the Great War and a few pages later, this work, The Big Necessity.

It covers a subject of which we’re all familiar on a day to day basis, but of which we have but a superficial knowledge: human excrement. Once flushed it’s usually forgotten, but as the author warns, we do so at our peril. A gram of faeces can contain 10 million viruses and 100 worm eggs for example and that 2.2 million people die from poo-related diseases each year.

We learn so much in its pages: how many years a person spends on the loo, that Martin Luther ate a spoonful of his own waste daily and that even in wealthy Ireland, a fifth of its towns risk infection through poor waste water treatment.

Rose George enthusiastically explores the sewers of New York; the public conveniences of Japan and the UK and their not so salubrious cousins in the Third World. She is a fervent advocate of recycling effluent and of ensuring everyone has access to better facilities and that we all become more interested in her chosen field of study.

Buried amongst our technology sections, not far from those tedious workshop manuals, this is a book that deserves a wider readership.