Tag Archives: Libraries

I Went to the Library Today

I nearly started to cry in the library today. Inside the fiction stacks I began to feel the familiar pressure build in my chest and I blinked rapidly, not wanting to lose the dignity that I cling to so obsessively. It was all too much.

The heaters and humidifiers hummed as they worked to keep the temperature stable. Behind the ajar door marked “Interlibrary Loans- Staff Only” came the sound of heavy, thick piles of books being moved from wooden tables to metal carts. Newspapers rustled and computer keyboards, muffled by the rows of shelves that separated me from them, clicked. Occasionally  there was a faint laugh and more frequently someone coughed. Winter coats made the sound that only synthetic waterproof fabric can make, a scratching sound that I cannot stand.

This library-induced need to cry isn’t an isolated case. I’ve been in libraries before. Some not as beautiful as this and some more elaborate than this. Larger and smaller libraries. Louder and quieter libraries. All, at one time or another, have brought me close to tears. When my mood becomes unstable it’s easier for me to become swept up in the quiet tragedy of the library. My mind becomes obsessed with reports of dwindling numbers of patrons; of famous authors calling their local library “obsolete” and calling for them to close; of memories centered around searching through the physical card catalogue, memories that can no longer be lived. It’s all I can do not to tear books off of their shelves to see the last time they were checked out. Of course the black ink dates stamped in the back will be out of date as the modern library uses scanners and e-mails now.

Do not think of me as a regressive librarian who is grumbling at newfangled changes. I enjoy how online catalogs and barcodes make my trips to the library run more smoothly. What I miss is the tactile sensation of flipping through well worn index cards to find the book I want. (Or do I miss my childhood which is to always be associated with standing on tip-toes to reach the upper drawers of the card catalog?) I don’t get angry at people who only come to the library to use the computer and have never checked out a book. I believe that providing internet access to the local communities is one of the most important responsibilities of a library and that this responsibility falls well within my ideas of what a library is. It’s not the modern library that makes me want to cry, it’s the chemicals in my brain forcing me to focus exclusively on the sadder aspects of life that makes me want to cry.

Standing in the stacks I find it all too much. The books around me become large, no, they’re always larger than their physical presence. Books are the size of their authors, of their history, of their readers, of their story and right now they’re too big. It’s not that they’ve grown but rather that at this moment I’m shrinking. There’s not enough room for me in this world. Ideas I harbor of writing, of becoming a librarian are instantly dismissed as utterly stupid. How could I ever think that I could become involved with this world? I’m not a mortal who looks to Olympus, I’m in the Asphodel Meadow and longing to be alive (longing for life must be stronger than the river Lethe.)

This shell of unneeded tragedy cracks as I touch a book’s spine. If this was a fairytale this moment when the pad of my finger touches the plastic cover would be the moment when Spring returns to the kingdom, when my family awakes, when my true love transforms from crow to Prince. This is not a fairytale and this is the moment when I realize that I need to go to the B’s. I’m in the G’s, only two rows away from where I need to go. It’s the Brontes that I want. Their stories will pair well with the winds and grey sky outside of this stone library. More importantly they’ll connect me to a world I can relate to.

There are no books by the Brontes. I’m so shocked that I check the shelves twice more, touching every book from “Bo” to “Ca” just to make certain that my eyes aren’t lost. The online catalog informs me that the Brontes are located in the lower level in the 800s. The shame I feel at needing this computer to tell me where to go is unbearable. I should have known that 19th century literature wouldn’t be located in the fiction stacks, I’m not your average library patron. Mortified I walk down the stairs. Here the shelves are metal and some have large posters from the 90’s that offer simple breakdowns of the Dewey Decimal Code. I dawdle in front of them, slowing down my pace to touch each laminated poster and feel the return of library classes from many years ago. In fact I suspect that this yellow poster with white lettering is identical to one used in my school library, or close enough to make me feel nostalgic for my early days in libraries. Those were the days when I believed that librarians could be dragons, that swords could fall out of books, that Dewey’s order was the thin line that separated us from anarchy. I still believe these things but they’re less literal and more metaphoric now.

In the 800’s I make a point of looking at every book. I suspect that these titles don’t get the attention that they were once used to and I feel guilty that I don’t visit more often. Chaucer, Hardy, Eliot and their compatriots are interspersed by biographies of these authors.

The Brontes no longer seem so important to me. I look over their titles, consider re-reading Wuthering Heights and then inspect Jane Austen. Maybe Doyle? No, too modern. I pick up Cranford. It’s a title that I’m familiar with only in the sense that I know of references to the town it takes place in. The first page is intriguing (a town in the early 1800’s that’s run by Amazons?) and soon I’m smiling, not just at Elizabeth Gaskell’s humor but at the similarities I feel between this town and my rural home.

With Cranford in hand I head upstairs. I’m not ready to leave the library and I go to the third floor for no other reason other than the sign that says “Special Collections/Robert Frost/Emily Dickinson/Third Floor.” The door to the special collections is closed. I think I could just push it open and go in but I suddenly can’t face Frost, so unhappy at Amherst, or Dickinson, too emotional for this moment. Fingers dragging along the polished railing I go back downstairs.

I’m a Yankee and uncomfortable with displays of emotion in public. Hell, I’m uncomfortable with displays of emotion even when I’m completely alone. That’s why I need libraries, that’s why I need Elizabeth Gaskell. This visit has taken me through emotions that I repress. In the presence of Virginia Woolf and Junot Diaz and Piers Anthony I admit to anxieties and fears that I regularly refuse to admit to myself. Libraries are the repository of the human experience, of the full range of our emotions, of the Marquis de Sade and Danielle Steel. They are the closest I’ll ever come to so many parts of life as they collect the sum of our existence into something accessible. In libraries I find prayer, salvation, hope and Cranford.


Sunday Steals: Libraries? Libraries! LIBRARIES!

I’m turning Sunday Steals into a semi-regular weekly post where that Sunday’s post focuses on a theme. Will I stay on this plan? Who the fuck knows. Bets are opening now.

So I’m a big fan of libraries. Unfortunately I don’t live in a library and because of this I need to live vicariously via the internet. These are some of the sites that I use:


  • School Library Journal: You know how there’s always that one weird kid in high school who spends his spare time reading back issues of School Library Journal and when he’s not reading SLJ he’s checking the blog section of their website? Yup, that kid was totally me. Even though I’m no longer involved with a library I still like to check up on their website. Why SLJ instead of LJ? No reason other than the fact that I grew up on the former and never really interacted with the latter.
  • The Library of Congress has a beautiful photo tour of various rooms and murals of the library. Want library porn? Go here.
  • Speaking of the LOC I just registered for an account on their website. I’m still exploring what I can do with my account but there are some beautiful online exhibits and you can make collections of your favorite items in the LOC’s collection.


  • A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: Liz Burns is, well, I was going to say that she’s a kinda a celebrity in librarian circles but let’s face it: she is a celebrity, particularly when it comes to librarians who are looking at the new wave of technology with an eager eye and an open mind. She’s quite intelligent and her presence on Twitter (@lizb) makes me really happy. Check out her blog/Twitter for book reviews and the latest scuttlebutt in the library world.
  • Bookshelf Porn: It’s totally safe for work but careful: some of these photos are so beautiful that you’ll shriek from joy (and jealousy). Basically a Tumblr blog of awesome bookshelves/collections of books.


  • I already mentioned Liz Burns but there’s also Kelly Jensen (@catagator)
  • Nancy Pearl is on Twitter. I REPEAT: NANCY PEARL IS ON TWITTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. @Nancy_Pearl
  • If you’re reading this post then odds are you’re a bit nerdy and so I’m betting you’ll find Fake AP Stylebook as funny as I do. @FakeAPStylebook
  • NPR Books (@nprbooks) and the Huffington Post’s book section (@HuffPostBooks) both have pretty solid literary related Twitter accounts.


  • Jeph Jacques, creator of the popular online comic Questionable Content, has a t-shirt and tote bag (I have it on good authority from a librarian I highly respect that the tote bag also doubles very effectively as a diaper bag. And who among us can’t use another tote?) emblazoned with a “She Blinded Me With Library Science”-print. QC is also home to the wonderful Tai Hubbert, an undergraduate librarian with quite the love life…  I’m in love with her.

Note Bene: Sunday Steals is my semi-weekly series where I pick a theme and post links to other people’s stuff. Want to suggest a topic? Leave a comment or e-mail me at HypatiaOfVermont@gmail.com.

Sunday Steals: 30.12.12

Quick question: Instead of doing a link-dump post every Sunday or every other Sunday or at the end of each month? If you have an opinion you should let me know. If you don’t have an opinion you should… still let me know? I dunno.

Coming Out At Christmas“, London Gay Men’s Choir: When’s the best time to post a Christmas song? Five days after Christmas.

Dear Defender of the new Atlanta Braves Cap“, (Native Appropriations): Yes. Yes. YES. A well written, gloves off open letter to people who are trying to figure out why some of us are getting upset over the Atlanta Braves’ new baseball cap that exists for practicing batting or something. (I don’t get sports. Why do we need caps just for batting? I don’t get it it.) Even if you’re a person who doesn’t really think that cultural appropriation exist or a person who uses Merriam-Webster’s definition of racism as an argument I’d recommend reading through Native Appropriations. Maybe I’m just another silly old liberal who falls in with every new P.C. fad but I think she’s quite intelligent.

Do We Still Need Libraries?“, (The New York Times): Yes, We Still Need Libraries (If we no longer need libraries than what am I going to do with my hypothetical masters in library sciences that I’m hypothetically getting at some point before I die?) Four concise arguments that I think are fairly solid. The final piece is written by Matthew Battles who not only sports a fabulous bit of facial hair but also is the author of one of my favorite books, Library: An Unquiet History.

TV’s Disappointing Gay Dads“, (The Atlantic): After watching the first few episodes of The New Normal I felt… uncomfortable… My brain was stuck for hours and days trying to put my figure on what exactly it was in the show that struck me like this. Reading this piece sometime in November helped me put my begin to decipher what I was uncomfortable with. I’m still struggling to understand my reaction to The New Normal (It’s possible that I simply don’t like it.) but I’m not struggling with how I react to this article: Yes.

Note Bene- My linking to a post or website or whatever does not necessarily mean that I endorse or agree with its entire content but rather it means that I think it’s interesting.