How I Feel About the Library

Ian from Upper Fort Stewart has a good post about how he doesn’t love the library, and asks how others feel about this venerable institution.

I love the library. It might be my favorite place in the world, in theory if not always in practice. I always feel immediately at home in a library, no matter where I am. I’ve never felt that comfortable in a bookstore.

I have always been a library lover, going back to my earliest days. I lived for those all-too infrequent visits to the Cockeysville Public Library, which used to be below Skateland, then moved to a super-modern, neon bedecked building when I was around 9 or so. I just loved standing in front of the stacks, looking at each book, spine by spine, pulling out those that intrigued me and filling my Montessori tote bag with enough reading excitement to last me for the next few weeks. Back in the olden days, the books had adhesive strips stuck to the back where the librarian stamped the due date. The strips would get built up, then peel off. I could never resist picking the strips off as soon as even one corner got loose.

I also loved the checkout ritual, which I was allowed to do ALL BY MYSELF, thank you very much. Pulling the books out of my bag and stacking them, due date strips facing up and towards the librarian. She stamped them one at a time. Sometimes she’d even let me stamp, if I was lucky. Then each book under the red laser light, swipe the spine on the demagnetizer, then pass them to me on the other side. Back in the Montessori tote bag and I couldn’t wait to get in the car and get home to start reading.

In middle and high school, the library was my safe haven when things got too intense in the cafeteria. I’d head to the back corner behind the stacks and sit and read my heart out. In college, I gravitated to the library, an imposing pillared building with the unfortunate name of Shadek Fackenthal (you can imagine the permutations). I found a spot on the second floor where I could look out over one of the prettiest buildings on campus and watch the trees describe the seasons. I’d read and read and read, anything that struck my fancy.

Grad school and the move to NYC marked the beginning of my library disappointments. The Bobst library became infamous after a series of suicides a few years back. We used to joke that the Escher-esque pattern of floor tiles caused an optical illusion that really made you want to jump. Apparently now there’s plexiglass in place to keep anyone from actually going through with it. Even so, the microfiche room became a sanctuary of sorts, where I could sit and research to my heart’s content.

After leaving grad school I basically stopped using the library. The library near my apartment was small and kind of depressing, but the advent of new internet technology for requesting interlibrary loan books changed all that. The NY Public Library website replaced Amazon as my book shopping site of choice. My office at the time was very near the Mid-Manhattan library, where I discovered that I had a favorite call number: 364.1523. Look it up–but do not judge. My local library now is small, but there are so many books available in the Queens library system that I use interlibrary loan as much as ever. They put their new books out on Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve definitely made some good discoveries just browsing that shelf, even though it’s not the widest selection I’ve ever seen.

I was lucky enough to do a research job a few years back that had me spending hours and days at the famous lion-stepped New York Public Library main location at 42nd Street. I’m no career academic, but I loved masquerading as one in the microfiche room and the manuscript collection and under the high ceilings of the big rooms filled with desks.

I read too much not to love the library. Though BookMooch has kept my to-be-read stack well and truly stuffed. When that runs out, it’ll be back to the library for me.

Today’s work book was a fantastically creepy Gothic tale. Yum!

3 thoughts on “How I Feel About the Library”

  1. I love the library – but I do not use it near as extensively as you do. I think like you there are some libraries where I feel more at home than others – I like the vastness of university libraries, where you can find your ‘spot’ and stay there for hours.

  2. Great post, Annie. While my own experience of the New York Public Library comes solely from Ghostbusters and even though, facts being what they are, I’m a certified library hater, I know enough to be capital-J Jealous.

  3. I too love libraries. So much so, in fact, that I like to visit the local library wherever I visit on holiday. The best public library I’ve found so far was on Orkney Mainland. It was huge with a wonderful selection, but still managed to be cosy and welcoming. Very impressive! I’ve been harbouring dreams of moving to Kirkwall ever since.

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