Friday, 23 May 2014

Loving Libraries (Flashback Friday)

Some time last year I was at the university discussing my upcoming employment. Since I wasn't actually employed at the time, I didn't have a library access card, but a friend snuck me in with a sneaky swipe of his. Unreasonably afraid of being discovered, I climbed the tiny back stairs instead of going through the main entrance. The staircase was so small I doubt my man's shoulders could have squeezed into the narrow space. The staircase opened into an area I'm used to calling the stacks... books so rarely requested that they are stored out of the way in a less accessible part of the library. The room was dark, with motion sensor lights flicking on slowly row by row as I tip-toed, enjoying the silence after an intense few months of stay-at-home parenting a child who needs constant noise to feel safe. The still air was filled with that special musty smell of old books. I may have cried, a little. There are a few places guaranteed to make me feel at ease: mountains, rivers and libraries. Nowhere really compares to a proper university library, though.

When I was ten, my father started his PhD and he, my younger sister and I lived on and off in an ex-ambulance parked near the university library. Dad fitted out the ambulance with bunk beds, and we showered at the university swimming pool. We had movie nights in the AV section of the library, where the selection of films was geared towards screen studies, meaning that although we weren't allowed to watch Sesame Street, we saw Thelma & Louise and Thelma & Louise. In the day time we lived in the library while dad was studying. We took dolls and built multi-story doll-houses on empty book shelves. We found the children's literature section and read all of it. The library was massive and one day we explored too far and got lost. After walking for what felt like hours Verity started crying and refused to go any further. I piggy-backed her, desperately trying to remember the Dewey Decimal codes near our starting point. Eventually we found a water fountain in a study hall and ran to it like desert explorers finding an oasis. I finally remembered the title of a book I'd seem near dad's desk, entered it into the catalog and despite no experience using a computer, we figured out the location. When we got back, triumphant at the trials and tribulations we had over come, dad hadn't even noticed we'd been gone. Universities in general, and libraries in particular, have been under my skin ever since.
These literate little birds have built a nest in the kanji for "tree". Picture thanks to Furiida.
Of all the emails I've had as a result of this blog, my favorite is from Vincent the librarian, who emailed me with a book recommendation. Because that is the magical power of librarians, guardians of the promised land. They reach out and tell you what you were looking for even before you know it yourself. Or, as he said: "I'm a librarian.  It's what I do.  Then walk off into the sunset." Thank you Vincent! One day I'll get around to writing about the book, Yokohama Yankee: My Family's Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan by Leslie Helm. It's a great read.

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  1. Your father's accommodations sound wonderful for young children. And your adventure romantic. To hell with those who wouldn't get it.

    I hope you've read Borges' "The Library of Babel" (La biblioteca de Babel).

    1. I haven't, but I certainly will now, thank you!

  2. As a trained librarian I approve of this post :)


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