Here we are, wending towards the close of <a href=”http://www.atyourlibrary.org/national-library-week”>National Library Week</a>, and I have not posted a single post on libraries.
I am not posting on reading for National Libraries Week. Upon discovering I’m a libarian, the most popular response is, “Oh, so you like to read.” I do like to read, but my love of reading has next to nothing to do with my decision to become a librarian. Libraries have so much more to offer communities than just books and reading, and I refuse to buy into that overly simplistic categorization of their role and value.
We’ve established I won’t write about reading. What I will write about is my favorite library memory.
I worked, for many and many a year, as a library page. Pages don’t get to do the front-page library services, like creating programs, doing outreach, or teaching people how to write resumes. When there was a lull in the shelving and cleaning up (it’s shocking what trash people leave in their wake when they exit a public place), we were sent out to shelf read. Shelf reading, for those of you who have not paged, is where one goes out, picks a shelf, and reads the call number of the first book on the shelf. Then she reads the call number of the book to the right of the first one and decides if the two books are in the correct order. If not, she moves the second book to its correct place on the shelf. If so, she moves on to read the call number of the third book on the shelf.
In messy areas (astrology, cookbooks, sports, travel), this job required a lot of moving around of books, and was heavy, dusty work. But in the tidy areas, I could fall into a sort of Dewey-induced trance, reading the call numbers with half of my brain, and observe the library as a pace with the other part.
Libraries are complex spaces. Standing in between two rows of shelves, one is effectively hidden from people who may be standing only a few feet away. In older buildings, which may or may not have been built for use as a library, spaces are frequently smaller, and this intimacy usually extends to the reading areas. Newer libraries may have fewer books, but the role of the library as a public space often leads to <a href=”http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/content/library-design-showcase-2012-shape-things”>an opportunity to turn the space into public art</a>. These unique spaces offer their own opportunities for finding an intimate space to <em>be</em>, undisturbed, for as long as you like. This ability to be alone, in a cocoon of personal space, even as you are inside a public building, is a wonderful, unusual experience.
Wandering through public libraries, I’ve seen people doing all sorts of things in their little bubbles of space, be this space a <a href=”http://www.kikstep.com/”>Kik-Step</a> between shelves, an armchair, a computer carrel, or a table. People reading, of course, a tutor teaching small children Arabic, students working on homework projects. But I’ve also seen people building computers and making jewelry.
The privilege of making a public space your own can be and is abused, but in spite of these bad apples, all libraries have not been closed to the public. Even though I was an employee, and had to be at my library for 20 hours a week, I still reveled in the privilege to make a little piece of the library building my own, and build myself a little cocoon of stillness.