27 January 2016

On Libraries and Thought

The most priceless gift we have as humans is thought. (Perhaps it's love, I know, given what I wrote last, but bear with me.)

My library home, via

From the first moments I was blessed to spend in Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to the hours I spent waiting for our "late bus" in Mrs. McKay's domain, I was in love. I can still feel the rounded corners of the well-loved card catalog on the first floor, and remember the moment when I graduated from the children's space downstairs to the grownup volumes upstairs. I learned flower arranging. I was allowed to play mini flute concerts with my best friend. I poured over the stacks at my parents' alma mater for high school research papers, gleefully going down the rabbit hole of connecting ideas, tracking down the next book from a reference in the one on my carrel.

I stacked them all up on my private shelves, marking them with the index cards I used for notetaking. I lost track of time. I found topic upon topic I wanted to pursue - I wanted to consider. Those low walls were a safe, welcoming cave where I felt at home, every bit the college student I wasn't yet.

The University of Delaware's Morris Library, via

That my college dorm rooms overlooked the library was comforting. Rolling back the shelves to find their secrets, then photocopy their pages to take them back to my room felt almost scandalous. I couldn't throw out my pieces of the library. I have some of them, still.

Libraries are our own gift to us. Maria Popova's ode to them and the space they grant us to think provoked me this morning. I chuckled with ken at the verses she shared. Joseph Mills, lover of free libraries, paid homage to the institutional gift reader and thinker Mr. Franklin gave us when he founded the first free library.


“…a book indeed sometimes debauched me from my work…”
–Benjamin Franklin

If librarians were honest,
they wouldn’t smile, or act
welcoming. They would say,
You need to be careful. Here
be monsters. They would say,
These rooms house heathens
and heretics, murderers and
maniacs, the deluded, desperate,
and dissolute. They would say,
These books contain knowledge
of death, desire, and decay,
betrayal, blood, and more blood;
each is a Pandora’s box, so why
would you want to open one.
They would post danger
signs warning that contact
might result in mood swings,
severe changes in vision,
and mind-altering effects.
If librarians were honest
they would admit the stacks
can be more seductive and
shocking than porn. After all,
once you’ve seen a few
breasts, vaginas, and penises,
more is simply more,
a comforting banality,
but the shelves of a library
contain sensational novelties,
a scandalous, permissive mingling
of Malcolm X, Marx, Melville,
Merwin, Millay, Milton, Morrison,
and anyone can check them out,
taking them home or to some corner
where they can be debauched
and impregnated with ideas.
If librarians were honest,
they would say, No one
spends time here without being
changed. Maybe you should
go home. While you still can."

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