Wednesday, 30 April 2014
In praise of libraries
With a feeling equal but opposite to the caustic loathing I have for shopping centres, I truly love libraries.
I love the dignified buzz of a building devoted to the attaining of wisdom. I love the sight of row upon row of books, each one a work of countless hours of dedicated research, of late coffee-fuelled nights, of long back-aching days of compiling and composing, cutting out and adding in, editing and redrafting, so that finally this precious volume can be printed and published and delivered to sit here neatly in its allotted place on the shelf. It pains me to pass any of them by. All they want is a good home to be taken into and a comfortable lap on which to spread themselves; to be admired and understood. I wish I could read you all!
I love the librarians, so peaceful, helpful and quietly delighted to find themselves in this sanctuary every day like happy monks sitting in their shrine of words.
There's excitement in my belly on the day I wake up knowing I'm due to visit the library. I've already checked the catalogue online and have a good idea what is available and what I'd like to borrow. But I've always got one eye open for a surprise. There's a lesser known Tolkein book I haven't yet read, there's the Booker Prize winner from 2002, and I can't but grasp greedily at that new tome on the philosophy of happiness. When I'm loaded up with more books than I can possibly read by the due date (but boy, I'll give it a red hot go) I approach the counter for the final and most satisfying of all surprises. I take out my wallet, but instead of paying for the privilege of reading these, the thoughts and work of the giants of literature from across the globe and across the centuries, I simply hand over my library card for a quick scan and away I walk. For this, the most frugal of sojourners, this is the ultimate buzz.
In times when everything is becoming commercialised and co-opted, (even SBS has ads!) libraries are a bastion of society's goodwill towards itself, like a healthy tonic to neutralise the runaway diet of crass junk.
I love the different flavours of libraries in the places I've lived. There was Hobart's imposing and efficient modern library with compulsory lockers to store your bag, where I first encountered the machine to auto-check your own books. Compare this with Fremantle's ramshackle atmosphere, where hobos read newspapers in sunny corners and the wide open doorway lacks even a beeper to check for smuggled volumes in whatever suitcase you care to drag in.
My current local is small but packed wall to wall with wonders. It will take time, but I'm getting through them.