THE WORLD IN A LIBRARY – BY GEORGE KAPLAN

British_Museum_Reading_Room_Section_Feb_2006

THE WORLD IN A LIBRARY

Depending on what source you read, either printed books or e-readers
are doomed. Traditional publishing is in chaos while technology is
opening up new avenues for innovation (some of which are being used by
the hugely talented weblogsmith of this very site, Mrs Vickie
Lester!). Yet it’s important that we don’t allow our obsession with
new technologies to destroy what we have, contrary to popular belief NOT
EVERYONE has access to all of these technologies nor do they want it.
Technology provides us with many wonderful things some of which such
as weblogs or cellphones and emails open up vistas to those who
wouldn’t have had them before but it’s important that we don’t let new
technologies replace everything from the past because to do so would
be short-sighted and moronic. Not that I feel strongly about this or
anything! (If you disagree with this you may discuss it with me, I do
hope you won’t mind me sticking my fingers in  my ears while going
“La-la-la-la! Not listening” and intermittently sticking my tongue out
at you! I’m SO RUDE!)

After that intemperate rant, I’ll get to what I really want to talk
about: the Magic of Libraries. I remember getting my first library
card and though it may sound rather boring to you I was really
excited, here was a key to a new world or WORLDS. Worlds made of
words.

Libraries have remained special to me, from the smallest to the
grandest they represent not just knowledge but a gathering place for
fictional people, places, landscapes, states of being. And all you
have to be is a member to have access. Yes, a library card is key and
libraries themselves are symbolic of a kind of Narnian otherworld.
Here in Blighty we have some glorious old libraries, buildings that in
their impressive architecture and, in some cases, their histories and
that of those who have used them symbolize much of what libraries can
mean. However, what’s really meaningful about any library be it in
England or the U.S. or wherever  is that ANYONE can use them.

That’s the ultimate magic of a lending library. Beyond the beauty of
the buildings or anything else, the fact that they can be used, free
of charge, is a wonder. Just as any modern society without books is,
essentially, worthless and scary (you think that’s too harsh? Ha! I
didn’t come here today to bandy words, dear reader!) so to is the
prospect of one without libraries nightmarish and Orwellian. The
current economic Hades we’re going through has seen the demise of many
libraries in the United Kingdom and the diminuition of services, which
may seem small potatoes to some but the reduction in them shouldn’t be
seen as anything less than a disaster. It was with the invention of
lending libraries for all that those who would once have been able to
read few if any books were presented with the opportunity to
experience many other worlds with the result (arguably) that literacy
grew and the love of books was able to spread like a benign or divine
virus (inarguably). I don’t suppose it’ll come as a surprise that I
think people who argue that times have changed and that we no longer
need libraries are misguided at best, and lazy-minded, selfish, and
moronic at worst, but, hey, that’s part of my “charm”! Bwahahaha! I’ll
just add to that polemical address that apart from books libraries can
also provide solace, reading clubs, pilates classes (!), a place to
go, and many other services so to treat them as an anachronism would
be a Great and Grave Mistake.

Before I sign off, I’ll just conclude with a few of the things I
associate with libraries (now, now, falling asleep isn’t polite…)
and their magic: the scent of books, it may sound bonkos – which is
like “bonkers” but much worse! – but the smell of books seems
particularly piquant and transporting to me, something you certainly
don’t get with *turns up nose* a Kindle; dust moving in motes of light
from high windows in the library when I was a child; the thick music
of an Indian lady’s voice overheard as I read a book;

the thrill of finding a desired book or of discovering great books you
didn’t know existed; talking and flirting regularly with two
attractive library assistants – sisters, yet – named, ah, let’s say
Isobel and Isla (I must admit that being singularly unconfident and
ridiculously shy they had to approach me!)… Ah, well, I think I’ve
given myself enough rope… 🙂 Please tell us your – good, funny,
unusual – experiences with libraries in the comments. Be Seeing You!

19 Comments »

  1. It is astonishing to me that it took me eight years (YEARS) to get my library card here in Arles, especially as I have been haunting them since I was so little that I was still saying “liberry.” We moved a lot during my childhood and books were my saviour. Dickens didn’t care if I was the new kid on the block now did he? And yes, I loved that code of behaviour, the opposite of “Anything Goes” for I was precocious even then. I learned about the world through books and I certainly could never have afforded to do so–even after the arrival of Barnes & Noble when I was living in NYC–but in the library, I could take as many books as the limit allowed.
    I suppose it took me so long to get my card here because I still read in English, it is a little gift that I give to myself and I had assumed that there would be little if any books in my Arles library in my language–wrong! And it is the randomness of what is on offer that surprised me. I picked up a book that I never would have bought, ripped through it in two days and loved it.
    Hooray for a library and hooray for our charming Mr. K!

  2. Thank you so much for your lovely compliment and your wonderful comment, Ms Heather! Yes, libraries and books are a sanctuary aren’t they? And you are right, Dickens and novels don’t care if you’re the “new kid on the block”; all you need to do is open a book and you can dive into another world! You also pinpoint one of the other great things about libraries – apart from the thrill of discovery – one can read so many tomes that one would be otherwise be unable to afford, plus, if you take a book out that turns out to be unappealing or godawful you can just take it right back!
    I’m so pleased that you’ve finally got your library card (eight years! Oh, I know how that can happen) and that your library has already presented you with unexpected riches. I understand that library has an interesting history doesn’t it? Do tell!
    Again, what a fabulous and compelling comment Heather, thank you so much. I think it is you who is the charming one!
    Hugs, Mr K 😉

  3. My memories of libraries are some of my fondest! Discovering new sections, crossing into the next age group, even books about books, and then discovering LPs you could bring home and tape (oh my)! I’m more of a bookstore haunter now (yes they still exist in Portland) but I know I’ll want libraries again. Oh, the new things we’ll discover!

    • David, thanks for that splendid comment! You’ve reminded me of how pleased of my self I was when, as a child, I moved on to the Teenage section; I had the weird idea that there was some “barrier” to doing that if you were way off being a teenager. Funny. 🙂
      Bookstores! Aren’t they great?! You are lucky in Portland (Maine?) there’s only one in my town now (and a tiny used bookstore, open three days a week). It’s great to wander through the bookshelves of a real bookstore, alas, the remaining one is a typical antiseptic chain store… Gah!
      I totally *get* your bookstore-haunting enthusiasm!

      • Apologies for the odd punctuation there! “my self”, “was when,…”?! Argh, I’m tired and my brain’s in revolt!

      • I’m wedging myself into your conversation, but… Powell’s! The last remaining GREAT bookstore on the West Coast. I know, Seattle has some stunners, but nothing compares.

      • George,yes it was quite magical.The priest hole was behind some panels one side of a stair well and without it being shown to me I would have never suspected its presence.Alas it is no longer a bookshop as the owner moved it into a new all purpose shopping centre,where it lived cheek to cheek with standard chain stores, in the process losing all its character.This of course is progress.Those that have never known such a shop can never imagine what was lost.

      • David, I wanted to hit myself with a stick, I dithered between Oregon and Maine then chose the wrong one! Apologies. Reading Ms Lester’s reply it seems Powell’s is a literary Paradise. Wonderful.

  4. As a kid, I actually toyed with the idea of being locked up overnight inside a library. Staying up all night, just reading any book I wanted to my heart’s content – now THAT’S an adventure!

  5. Dearest George
    Part paean part polemic.
    This is a subject close to The Dandy’s heart, my life being spent in large part in libraries.
    Their closure is an act of cultural vandalism… contrary to what some people would have you believe only a tiny fraction of human knowledge is actually available ‘on line”.
    As awful is the increasing restriction of access to great collections and the chronic underfunding of public archives.
    Short sighted and philistine to a degree that beggars belief.
    I shall comfort myself instead with memories of library scent… old leather bindings, wood pulp, candlewax and centuries of dust.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Dear Dandy,
      I suspect we could talk about this for hour upon hour and be in complete agreement. Cultural vandalism is right! It betrays a shortsightedness akin to that of Polyphemus after that Greek fellow poked him in the eye with a spear… It is a preventable tragedy. The Visigoths always want their way. As to the internet: oui, si, and yes, you are WHOLLY correct! Thank you so much for your evocative comment, Good Sir Perfumed Dandy, I only wish I had your intellectual acuity. 🙂
      Warm regards, George

  6. George,I love books and always have.I love the way,they look,the way they smell[whether must or newly printed ink}.Like you I do not have a problem with new technologies only those philistines and fools who make exaggerated claims for the death of the book,the death of the printed word etc.Seems as if I have heard these claims for rather too long now.I once in fact spent a year as a bookseller in a wonderful old bookshop that still retained its priest hole from the days when it was a home.

  7. George, you may be interested in this lovely blog post http://readinginterrupted.com/2012/06/07/nosy-readers-2/ . And I am incredibly proud of our library system in Christchurch New Zealand. They have kept us ‘alive’ in these post earthquake times where theatres, art galleries and libraries, and artists have simply had to make do. Our central library has been ‘munted’ since 2011 but here we have plans for a beautiful new library http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/9082041/89m-for-central-library-hub-of-knowledge. The library also has a great blog. Like you, I believe in libraries, and,thankfully, many others in my city do too.

    • My dear Gallivanta, thank you so much for that uplifting comment and those marvellous links. “Munted”? What a word! I am so glad that post-earthquake there is still a beacon.
      Warmest regards, George

      • Munted has some unpleasant meanings but in our Christchurch context it has come to represent everything that has happened to our earthquake smashed city. We describe our city and our buildings as ‘munted’ At the opening of our new Cardboard Cathedral, http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/ there a series of concerts called “Joyfully Un-munted”. Language is delightful.

  8. A few days ago I learnt that my little Welsh town may have its public library closed in a cost cutting exercise.A few miles away two libraries only a mile apart are not to close despite the fact that one could.Apparently this is because that area has a powerful MP who would make a great fuss.
    I am appalled that such a community resource is even proposed as being closed and i and others will be petitioning and writing letters.Such are the times we live in.
    If this library which is also a historic building of some architectural merit is closed it will quickly become a wreck or worse.In the last few years three buildings that have been closed including a historic hotel were left first to decay then burnt to the ground by vandals.

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