History Lesson: Getting to know The Imperial Librarians

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A couple weeks back, within a suggestions thread we have for mod interviews, it was suggested that we should also have an interview that focuses on the fans that deal with the loremasters that deal with the Elder Scrolls. I thought it was a good idea, so I contacted Xanathar over at The Imperial Library. He agreed to the interview and got some other guys from TIP to chime in. Here’s how it went…

Hi there, perhaps a little introduction is in order. We have four librarians here that can answer the questions. First yeah, it’s me. Xan or Xanathar, I prefer Xan since the Xanathar name is owned first by certain beholder in far, far away land. I was the founder of the library. We have B, nobody knows why he called himself just B. He is member of the Psijics. Don’t ask me what Psijics is, you can find it in the library. Then we have Attrebus, our tinker, his mind is full of those Dwemeri things. And the last but not the least is our loremaster and moderator, Proweler. We have other librarians though, but at the time of this interview, they are still working on some interesting projects. Anyway, let’s start.

Q (Bethesda Blog): How did your site get started?

Xan: The library was started in September 1998, after Daggerfall in 1996. At that time, it was difficult to get information about the lore of TES. Yes, Dave Humphrey’s UESP and Andel Crodo’s The Essential Site were there, but the lore information was not categorized and scattered. I decided to create a site that would be a repository of all lore information and most importantly various developers’ post in various forums. Yeah, it’s been 10 years now. Wow… it’s surprised me too that the site survived all these time.

B: Unfortunately, I wasn’t around when Xan started the Library. I stumbled upon his site sometime in late 1999. I was excited to discover a place where I could peruse all the Daggerfall books without having to load the game.

Q: For someone who has never visited your site, how would you summarize your site?

B: Wow! That’s a difficult question! First, I would say that The Imperial Library is simply a library, which contains Elder Scrolls lore. But I think it goes further than that. Practically all the books, notes, plays, maps, etc. are archived for referencing. Don’t forget the Forum Scholars Guide, storylines, and in depth analyses of several pertinent ES topics. There certainly are many wonderful ES sites out there, but The Imperial Library tries to stick with the lore aspects of the games. You won’t find console commands, character creation advice, or game play exploits.

Xan: In short… as I said a huge repository of all TES lore.

Proweler: And… dusty. Full of books. Couple of odd folk in robes reading books in a corner.

Q: What’s your personal favorite aspect of the site?

Xan: Well, it’s tough question. Let’s see…

B: I would have to say that my favorite thing about the site is that it contains all the official lore information created by the people at Bethesda. That may not sound like much, but it really does help when you are trying to find that one particular piece of information you saw in the game. Many of the new people of the community may not know this, but there was a time after Daggerfall where we were not sure if another game was going to every really be released. Many of us hoped, but nothing was done for a long time. The Library that Xan created kept all that information alive and safe so people could have access to it. Now it hardly seems like a big deal because the Elder Scrolls Series is doing extremely well.

Xan: …well, I love those two copies of Pocket Guide to the Empire, and the entire official books of course.

Attrebus: The fact that all the books and bits of information on the Elder Scrolls can be found in one place. If I ever have any questions, I know there’s a place I can go to research. And just like a real library, the information might not be in the place you expect.

Q: You feature all the official text from the Elder Scrolls games — can you estimate how many hours that’s taken?

Xan: Hours… no, months!

B: Truthfully, there really isn’t an accurate way to estimate the thousands of hours we have put into the site. With so many different Librarians doing so many different things over the years, it’s impossible to know for sure. We all work towards a common goal and try not to step on each other’s toes.

Q: Is there a specific aspect of maintaining the lore for TES that’s especially rewarding? On the other end, is there something that’s a pain to maintain?

Xan: No, it’s great to maintain the lore of TES. For me, it’s a personal satisfaction if I have all the information in a single place. Sure there are laws and copyrights, and those sometime bring problem for the site. Pain to maintain? Uh… no, not at all. The problem I have right now is time. I have limited time that should to be shared with family and work.

B: For me, I think the rewarding part is knowing that the information is available online for people to access. As strange as it may sound, people use the site to research topics, write position papers, and they even use it to quote obscure sources to bolster a crazy theory they want to defend. Knowing that people are able to do that makes me smile. In the end, though, it all comes down to time. Real life has its demands, and since we all do this for fun in our free time, we don’t always have as much time to devote to the Library as we would like to.

Q: You’ve got the Daedric alphabet up on your site? Would you say you’re fluent in the language?

B: Fluent? I would say no to that one. I can recognize about six letters without referring back to the chart. What can I say? That’s the great thing about The Imperial Library. You don’t have to memorize every little nugget of information, you just need to know where to look.

Attrebus: I was at one point. I even made a small computer program that lets you enter text and it converts it to ASCII Daedric. (And if you paste the ASCII Daedric, it converts it back to text!). I’m a bit rusty now days though, but the program is still around here somewhere…

Q: If someone’s interesting in helping you, what would you suggest to them?

Proweler: People can always write for the Forum Scholars Guild if they’ve got something interesting to tell aside from that, if they want to update one of the sections they’re free to give drop us a note and we’ll fill them in on the details. In the end I think that’s how I became a Librarian, Adanorcil got tired of having to upload my stuff.

B: The first thing I would tell them to do is to read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Find topics, which interest you and research them. Join the community and discuss those topics. Once you’ve done that, ask questions. The more questions you ask the better off you’ll be.

Q: With all your knowledge of the series, can you pitch to me your idea for a sequel/spinoff?

Xan: Sure. Why not? For myself, I want TES Adventure II: The Eye of Argonia. Although, I don’t really want an action game – I prefer RPGs – but the lore of the Argonian of Black Marsh is something that I want to read and learn.

Proweler: There are a few running gags about a side scrolling shooter featuring Akatosh’ space ship, and a Secunda moon-colonization game. Though a series set in First Era Elsweyr or Valenwood would certainly be interesting.

Q: One of our programmers, Brendan Anthony, started an official guild for your site. Can you talk about how that came about?

B: The same way he got his job with Bethesda, he bribed somebody. He was a lore geek like most of us, and he begged Xan to take him under his wing and teach him everything he knew. No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know how it came about. I would guess he did what just what I suggested above: He probably read a lot, researched topics of interest, and discussed ES lore until he was blue in the face. When it came time to join the Library, he was well qualified.

Xan: Yeah, he worked as one of the librarians with us. I think 60% of the Morrowind books were converted and uploaded by him alone. The rest were shared by me and Qwerty. On the FSG, well… the idea for Forum Scholars Guild was his. I don’t remember all the details but he encouraged the official forum members to do some research and if done properly he/she can put proudly “Member of Forum Scholars Guild” in his/her signature. We took the idea and decided to use it for TIL visitors if he/she wants to donate an article or two. For your information, some of the articles in the official forum are brilliantly composed and could bring more depth in understanding TES lore.

Q: Got any dirt on Brendan that folks at the office wouldn’t know about?

B: Come to think of it, we do have some incriminating photos, which can be yours for the right price. No, we really don’t have anything good. What about you? I’m sure you have some great stories to tell about him.

Xan: I can only say that he is a nice person. He sent me “The Art of Morrowind” and an Ordinator figurine that were coming with Morrowind Collector Edition – my copy was not the Collector Edition. And he paid the delivery fee. If you read this Rapt, I want to say again, thanks!

Q: Be honest, do you guys ever think you know more about the series than Todd Howard?

Proweler: Yes. Yes, we do. But don’t tell Todd we said that.

B: I guess it depends on the specific topic. I’m sure there are topics I know more about than Todd does. The opposite is also true. There are many things Todd knows which I have no way of knowing. I mean, if we could only look inside his head, I think we’d all find what he knows to be pretty frightening.

Xan: Can I give Todd a feedback based on the lore I saw in Oblivion? TES lore is one of the aspects that bring old fans together. Some people shout about inconsistencies of lore between older TES and Oblivion. Well, for me inconsistencies are not bad as long as it wrapped in good package. For instance, you could give hint about the different perspective of the races on absorbing/understanding certain event or subject. Or blend it with a mystery, such as the disappearance of the Dwemer. I’m sure you know that there are various fans’ theories regarding the disappearance of the Dwemer. This mystery brings lots of people to come and eventually become die-hard fans of TES. This is something that I don’t see in Oblivion.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share about the site that fans would find particularly interesting?

B: Nope, that’s all folks!

Xan: Just visit the site and do the browsing. We have search facility that can help you find a topic in our vast collection.

Reader Comments

  1. I live there, and it’s been a GREAT HELP for writing fanfiction and drawing fanart, and generally just NERDING out on Elder Scrolls. All you need to know is literally at your fingertips.

  2. Despite being a longtime fan of TES, I only discovered the Imperial Library some six months ago. I have no clue how that could happen…
    Nonetheless, it’s a great site and always a pleasant read!
    10 years already? Wow! See ya in 10! Same time, same place!

    Greetz! Darina

  3. “I live there” – Maya

    Ah, so it was *you* who left all your stuff on the couch! Go clean it up!

    Seriously, the Imperial Library is as essential to modding as the Construction Set itself. It’s got timelines, calendars, pictures, maps … everything. You want to make a village at Sotha Sil but you’re not sure what it should look like? Read the descriptions at TIL. Want to know what the Dunmeri word for ‘Thursday’ is? TIL. Writing a story about the ruler of Cyrodiil two emporers before the current one? TIL. History of the Dwemer? TIL. Need to know the difference between the Falmer and the Ayleids? Well, you can guess …

    Oh, and there’s also all the easter eggs and hidden nonsense like Goldbrand listed, too. Best of all, the finest examples of dev weaseling are laid out for your pleasure. No horses on Vvardenfell because the Elves eat them? Pull the other one! It’s because of excessive import taxes. Everyone knows that.

  4. The profession of Librarian is perhaps the most honorable position of any sentient race – regardless of what anybody says. You guys’ hard work has inspired much deep analysis among many fans of the series, I’m sure.

  5. I didn’t truly appreciate the place until I have now, as I’m far more enraptured in lore than I had been before. I interviewed proweler recently; but I must say you guys are all amazing and this interview is one of the best I have read.

  6. Thank you for maintaining this essential research site. It has deepened my appreciation for the Elder Scrolls series. All the best to Bethesda and the Imperial Library community. May your doors never close, your cup never dry up, and your background remain pleasantly brown.

    ‘Even gods dislike the absolute, for it stinks of something larger than themselves.’
    - Sotha Sil