Last year, the library in the city where I grew up unveiled a $ 20.8 million transformation project. New features include a museum-quality store, an 18-foot video wall, two professional media studios, an outdoor patio, an upgraded MakerSpace, and a Yamaha Disklavier piano. There were also water bottle filling stations, extended coffee hours, double the number of appetizers and fewer books.
Was it true, as the book said, that almost a third of the library’s physical collection had been thrown away? No official number was to come. All we knew for sure was that the ground floor, formerly the battery house, had become a “flexible space” and that the majority of adult books were in tight spaces on the ground floor. – floor. Moreover, thanks to zealous weeding, certain titles came and went so quickly in the catalog that it was almost as if books were on loan from the library.
And yet, the bookish did not boycott the place. It was there, in fact, that I heard their growls about the reduced collection. Whenever I was in town to see my parents, I would go to the library myself, and if it didn’t always have what I was looking for, it could be relied on to provide something strangely better: what I didn’t know I wanted. Sometimes I left the building with a pleasantly subversive phrase (Michael Gorra, from his preface to The daily Henry James: “[N]o scholar never paid much attention to it and for decades it has survived the only way the forgotten books survive: undisturbed in piles ”). Most often it was with the feeling of a renewed me and a new world. Why had I never heard of X? How had I lived so long without Y? In the piles, William H. Gass writes, “such epiphanies, such enrichments of mind and changes of heart, are the substance of every day.” This must be the reason why in the last hours before the March closing I visited the library in my hometown twice.
Then I returned to the city where I live now, and where the two libraries I frequent – one public, the other serving the college where I work – were also closed. Although I rarely went a week of my literate life without the library, I thought everything would be fine. After all, I have a makeshift home office, a refurbished Kindle (not to mention the fact that I haven’t used it), access to wonderful databases, and, in my best days, an understanding. certain of the word “non-essential”. During the first weeks of sheltering in place, I even forced myself to wonder if I had exaggerated the sense of possibility I associate with piles. My libraries aren’t exactly the Bodleians, and I know huge portions of their collections deeply. Really, how many miracles could still be in store?
Throughout the spring, I did my usual amount of reading, which resulted in the usual number of tracks – books that I had planned to borrow when the library reopened. I quickly realized that no, I didn’t want it on a screen (my screen fatigue had reached the point where once, while watching a video, I wished it had been available as a book ). And as grateful as I was for the curbside pickup when it arrived, I also realized that nothing would ever be better than picking up books myself. I wanted to go shopping on the shelves; I missed the sparks it sparked in me, the accidents that only happen when you go from 027.4799 to 944.025 in less than ten seconds.
Almost ten years ago, a statewide library conference was held in my city. In a coffee shop I met a participant who provided me with statistics as memorable as his name, who was Starr LaTronica. Some studies have shown that two-thirds of the materials in circulation are discovered by chance; others put the figure at 85%. I thought about these numbers every time I thought about how private my mind had been during the pandemic. This is of course the reason why the library never became obsolete: even though the collection did not change much from day to day, it is what I did – largely thanks to what I came across. Never quite the person I had been before the book I had most recently read, I was surely a believer in something that previously had little interest.
One would think that the glories of serendipity were already established by writers and scholars, many of whom seem to have preferred the library to the school. (“I was made for the library, not the classroom,” Ta-Nehisi Coates recalls. “The classroom was a prison for the interests of others. The library was open, endless, free.” ) But if a booster was needed, students at Yale provided one last year, along with proof that batteries aren’t just for the elderly. The Washington Post reported that when the university announced its intention to reduce the print holdings of the main undergraduate library from 150,000 to 40,000 to make room for additional seating, “nearly 1,000 students registered on the social networks to participate in a “consultation”, promising to check everything about Shakespeare Julius Caesar at Dr. Seuss’s Sneezing to show college administrators that young people still appreciate the printed word.
“As long as there are piles, we can wander in them and never be the same.“
So it’s unfortunate that libraries that argue for their continued relevance tend to gamble on everything but stack magic. A few years ago, I sat on the search committee of my college chief librarian. We received a large number of impressive applications and hired someone great, but no cover letter emphasized the importance of navigation. A colleague to whom I mentioned this, someone who had likely enjoyed roaming privileges as much as I have, shrugged his shoulders. “Here’s my question,” she said. “Do we even need a library?”
Having been around for most of a year without full access to mine, I know I do – surely not as much as those who come for computer advice, language lessons, the internet or the peace; more, I bet, than the ones drawn by bean bags, quinoa tabbouleh and library-themed combinations. No matter what draws us to the library, however, as long as there are stacks we can wander around and never be the same again. As they try to reopen or stay open, let troubled institutions not lose sight of this fact, and five star libraries do not care.
In his book More lives than one, naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch tells the story of a boy whose intellectual life began in a mundane library in a small town in Iowa. The boy had the privilege of batteries, and by chance he pulled out a novel and read the first sentence: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. When asked if it was a good book, the librarian, who might have declared it too old for the boy, replied, “Well, this is a very strong book. Krutch noted that “[t]The second most important thing about the Iowa Small Library was a wise librarian. But most important was the fact that the book was there. This library would have been justified by its fruit even if no one else had ever read their copy of Anna karenina. “
In fact, the boy became a historian who wrote several books. I would treasure this library if he had just kept reading them.
#libraries #browsing #piles