Close Your Eyes And Think, “Library.” What Do You See?
Does the photo above match the library that comes to mind? What did you see in your mind?
Each of us will make some unique association with that jumble of letters. It could be a static image, like a photograph. Or maybe a sense memory with depth of dimension. Some of you might see a librarian, or a treasured book.
Hopefully something meaningful comes to mind for you. Lots and lots comes to mind for me!
When I think of the library, the term is a signifier of absolute possibility. It conjures feelings in my body, far more visceral than just a static memory of any specific place that houses books.
I love to browse, peruse, and hunt for treasures in a library. Just walking through the door invigorates me. The experience is dependable and satisfying. And I really miss it.
I’m thankful to the many institutions that have made digital collections available for borrowing during COVID-19. There are so many ways to browse online, to access material, and then read and learn a thing or two.
Maybe this is a perfect time for me to figure out the digital lending process. My father uses a Kindle for reading his library books. But I’m afraid to let go of my comfort zone and relinquish my affection for the physical heft of a hardcover book.
As soon as I get used to reading on a digital device, will I ever go back? Plus I will be giving up so much of the tactile joy of flipping pages, using my booklight at night to disappear into the story, and slipping a bookmark between the pages when I feel sleepy.
Honestly, this isn’t about checking a book out and reading it. Going to the library satisfies all of my senses.
I luxuriate in the smell of musty pages. I fondle the rough, uneven edges of pages in the book. My eyes feast on browsing various fonts and titles and colorful covers.
I taste the rich flavor of anticipation tangibly in my mouth as I devour each literary dish the authors serve up to me.
And of course my hearing relishes the precious silence of the sacred space.
All of this joy began to develop during childhood. We took field trips in elementary school with my whole class and learned to use the card catalog from the librarian.
That wowed me and stimulated immense intellectual curiosity. The whole sea of available information beckoned and I did not resist.
Every time I move to a new town, I make a beeline with my two pieces of identification and apply for a library card. The local branch could be a portable trailer or a grand old building, but being with the books and magazines, the librarians and the fellow patrons — that soothes me for real.
I like visiting a good bookstore, too, but something about the retail sales interferes with my joy. A library offers the book as a loan. I enjoy being a trusted patron that returns books on time. I like the honor code.
I acknowledge the satisfaction of purchasing a book that you can have and hold and mark on and fold pages. Ownership of the book feels good. It is liberating to mark your copy.
Before our most recent move from Denver to San Diego, I put seven heavy boxes of books on the front porch for donation. It was a tough decision, as I had schlepped many of those around the country with me for 15 years or more.
My fantasy of having a library of my own gave way to practicality and my belief in living more a minimalist lifestyle. I was no closer to owning a large house with space for nice, large, built-in cherry wood bookcases than I was when I left college.
I admit I was influenced by Marie Kondo, who said books are for reading, not for keeping. I dumped a lot of clothes and other goods too. But I fought this notion of releasing books pretty hard at first. Now I don’t regret it.
Well, maybe a little. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted a ton of social norms, and closing the libraries has been one of a billion unexpected developments. There is so much time to read, and so few books in the house! Argh!
Luckily I borrowed several titles from our public library in March. They would be overdue by now, which, like so much of the change associated with the pandemic, feels pretty strange. Where are the overdue notices? But on the bright side, I have taken my own sweet time to finish them.
Still, all the book borrowing mechanics aside — I am really just jonesing for a library visit. Aren’t you?
At least you can always access the comfort in your mind of the library. Nobody can argue with that.