June 27, 2007


In October of this year, I'll be lending my voice to a loop of libraries in the Golden Horseshoe as they celebrate National Library Month. I love libraries.

I grew up in a noisy house, and escaped almost daily to the library that was conveniently located a couple of blocks from my home. I remember when it was built, it was a huge modern airy building, with soaring windows and big cushions in all of those windows. I would sit there for hours, reading anything and everything. When I turned 14, I got my first 'real' job there. My son works there now.

They changed my library recently. Now, it looks like an airplane hanger. I don't like it much. There are still the same books, but now people seem to rush by them to get to the computers. And while I welcome all resources, I experience a huge sense of loss when I go there now.

I never liked the fact we were always supposed to be quiet in the library - how do you exchange ideas if you can't talk? - but I did like the kind of reverence. You were in a place where great ideas were possible, and you knew this because you were surrounded by other great ideas from all these other times. It was inspirational, even if you were being told to shut up all the time.

You learn things about people by what they read. If someone returned a stack of Sidney Sheldon books, you tried to see who had wanted to read about sex. You knew who was taking a trip, who would only read crime thrillers or romance novels. I used to sit and read dictionaries, so I should probably shut up about making judgments about what people read.

The thing with a book, was that by the time you sat down with one, or pulled one off the stack that somebody else had left on the table, you would give it a chance. You never knew what you were going to find. A computer screen flashes at lightspeed, matching the attention span we seem to be developing. I learned an astonishing amount of things unexpectedly - maybe because a biography of a Bronte sister was near to one of Robert Browning, or naval battles in WWII were in such close proximity to land ones. Your eyes carry you around a library as much as your feet. Or, at least they used to.

I loved when librarians propped up books they thought people might be interested in. If a page was told to do it (that was us), we'd usually just grab a dozen books and stuff them in the display. As I got older, I realized this was a chance to polish undiscovered jewels. In stores today, it's ridiculous, endless displays of Dr. Phil bully books or chick lit pink crap - it's stuff the publishers believe will sell, not the books we need to read. Librarians help you discover. Jumbo bookstores help you buy.

When this city was still a small town, the library was in an old house in the downtown core. Maybe my mother experienced the same sense of loss when it moved to the big modern place I'm so nostalgic for.

Garrison Keillor twigged my library nerve today. He stirs in some politics, which is good. This is to remind us that those who refuse to learn will never be great leaders, and we've had enough bad leaders to last a lifetime.


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