In late 2009, I was on the dating circuit. Via Match.com and OKCupid, I was meeting a couple of new potential beaus each week. To one, I mentioned that I loved libraries and that I had just been in one that evening. He scoffed, and said “oh, how adorable! Really?” Check, please.
Perhaps it’s the smell of congregating books, the hush provided by the volumes aligned on shelves, the stranger you startle out of their reverie as you turn the corner into their aisle. A current favorite library of mine is the New York Society Library. One of the few subscription libraries left, the NYSL dates back to 1754. I adore the fact that in the stacks, you can find books from the nineteenth century sitting next to one published in 2012. They don’t issue library cards; you give your last name when you enter, and after a while, they just recognize you. They have several great rooms in which to read and write; all the same, I love bouncing from shelf to shelf in the ten floors of stacks. I never know what I’m going to check out.
When I was thirteen, I was living in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area. My family lived in DePere, a few miles south of Green Bay proper. It was a treat to go to the downtown Brown County Library. I actually fell down the stairs because I was carrying too many books on my way to the circulation desk. When you are in a library, the world’s your oyster. You might think you know yourself walking into a library, but you might just be a little different when you come out. Sure, much can be had on today’s mobile devices or online. But downloads are isolated, individual acts. Libraries were and are assembled for the community, to foster knowledge and forward progress.
Sit for a moment in the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. I love my iPad, but to know this research room was built for everyone takes all.