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January 9, 2012: The Importance of Libraries

I’ll bet that some people will see the title of this dispatch, and bypass it, thinking that it’s a real snoozer. The only thing that might be a ten on the boring scale would be the title “Floss Daily.” I guess I’ll save that one for another time, because I could do some good things with it. I’m going to tackle the library title. I will to rise to the occasion; those who read it will be pleasantly surprised.

Last night I went to the library. Had some time on my hands—Pete had a meeting, and I had a later yoga class. It was some time since I’d been in the library; in fact, a few years. I’ve gotten into the habit of supporting independent bookstores. The time I spent there brought back to mind a truism—libraries are an invaluable resource.

Imagine it—you can go to a library and take out books for free. Well, the library’s services aren’t free—the

Go away I'm reading
Go away! I'm reading

taxpayers pay for this service. But what a wonderful deal—you can go and pull a book off the shelf, check it out, read it, and return it. I found myself doing as I do in bookstores, grabbing books left and right. Now I have a stack here, and (fortunately) several long winter nights ahead of me, in which to read, read, read.

My revelation wasn’t really revelatory. I’ve always been a library patron. When I was quite little, my parents would take me there and park me in the kid’s section. They would then go and peruse the adult section, which was upstairs. When I was of school age, I’d walk (with a friend) many miles to any one of a number of libraries. And when I was in high school, I’d take the bus downtown and go to the main library. This was where I grew up, in Rochester, NY. The library (as I remember it) was huge. Now that I think of it, I think that I’ve since had a dream in which it was even larger than I remember it being.

I have always liked the feeling, of walking into a library, and for a few seconds, feeling a bit out of place—then, of course, moments later, I felt like I was in place.

This past summer Pete and I went to several small town libraries in order to check our email. Always, the clerks were gracious and accommodating. It was great fun, looking around, and seeing what people were reading. The next time, I’d like to spend even more time in such places, and maybe even take some photos. I’d also, when Long Road Home is published, to have my reading tour include libraries.

I have always felt quite comfortable in libraries—like they’re where I belong. I’m also adept at cocking my head to the right as I walk and scan titles. I feel, I guess, as some might feel when they go into clothes stores. I have never felt this way in clothes stores.

The Trinity University Library in Dublin, Ireland—this library evoked a sense of awe in me—you can smell, feel, and touch the weight of history in such places.

This will date me, but I find myself missing card catalogues. It was great fun, looking at the yellowing typed cards, at the titles that preceded and followed the books I wanted. I had a summer when I got caught up in the K portion of catalogue—this was fitting because I was then into rebellious male literature—Franz Kalfka, Jack Keroac, and Ken Kesey—these writers were all my heroes.

I’m not sure when I began spending more time in bookstores. I don’t regret this—I now have a nice library of my own—one that’s an invaluable resource. There has been many a time when I’ve wanted to read a passage or a poem, and I have the book on hand. And too, it’s very important that we continue to support independent bookstores. The choices are more varied than they are in the larger bookstores, and the smaller ones also tend to carry the works of smaller publishers. Plus the service is far better.

This is an age in which you can, if you want, have a book at your fingertips. There are Nooks and Kindles and iPads—magazines, books, articles, are now very accessible. I don’t begrudge anyone this. Reading is just plain good. It’s that this isn’t for me. I like having pages to turn, and as well, the weight of a book in hand. I also like seeing the stack of unread books on the windowsill.

I decided, as I left the library, that I’m going to strike a more equitable balance between library and small bookstore patronage.

Next: 35. 1/10/12: Varying the Routine