10 November 2008


One of my secret desires is to have a HUGE library of my very own. I read about the personal lives of writers - Louis L’Amour gets short shrift as a mere writer of “westerns,” but his books were well researched and he was both an outdoorsman and a scholar, and he had a personal library of 18,000 volumes. I’ve just started Books, by Larry McMurtry, who reports that his library holds something like 40,000 volumes. I wonder - how many of those works have those guys read? And does it matter? And if not, is there something of the private art collection going on here, where things of value are locked away from view and use by others?

I also wonder where libraries are going in the computer age. I now use an Amazon Kindle, and I assume that I’ll continue to use an ebook of some sort when the Amazon/Sony/Microsoft/Whoever VHS vs. Beta war is over and the victor identified. Right now, there are about 100 books on my Kindle, several I’m reading, some reference, some occasionals (like Conan Doyle, The Federalist, Common Sense, The Republic, TR’s official papers) and many in the reading queue. How big will the future library need to be? I don’t think, though, that I will ever completely put aside the tactile feel of a paper and ink book. Certain books (bios, some histories, for instance), I still obtain in hardcover.

How will the modern public library keep up? Well, I’m thinking in Marion County, the answer is “Not well.” As a kid, I saw the public libraries as magical places. When we lived in Bridgeport, the library was in a big grey house on Main Street. I remember going upstairs to the children/adolescent section when I was in grade school and entering another world, my world, and it was a place where I was welcomed and nourished. (Sound hokey? I can live with that. That’s how I saw it then. That’s how I remember it now.) When I was in high school in Parkersburg, I would go downtown to the Carnegie Library, across from one of the fire stations. To the right of the entry was a large reading room with all of the recent newspapers and periodicals. That’s the first place I read the New York Times and Washington Post, and began to develop my (still limited) sense that there is a world beyond my mountains. Going into the stacks was a unique experience. The library didn’t have a huge footprint, but it had lots of levels. They were connected by old wrought iron spiral staircases, and the floors on each level in the stacks were glass brick. The stacks just went on and on until the imperfections in the glass made them vanish. The whole experience had a “taste” to it that I can recreate in my mind to this day.

Perhaps it is the library which is the greatest achievement of humanity. When I read of the Library of Alexandria, I feel sadness at its loss. When I read or see the account of the sack of that library (particularly by Carl Sagan in Cosmos), I just want to find St. Cyril and kick his ass. THAT was a crime against humanity.

I’ve not been a constant at the public library in Fairmont, because I buy so many books. Oh, I represent the Town of Fairview, and for a time after a fire, the library collection was in town hall, and I was pretty impressed by the breadth of it. When I culled my shelves two years ago, I sent 1,000 or so volumes (all recent, perfect to near perfect condition, suitable for the stacks if they so chose) over to the Fairmont branch. Now, Partner JC is very much a public library person. She was one of the Baltimore library system’s stars.

Two weeks ago, JC stopped at the library in Fairmont to get a library card. Sounds pretty simple. She’s a good risk, I think, a responsible attorney, dedicated reader and all that. Answer? Nope, she doesn’t yet have a West Virginia driver’s license. I called the librarian today, who informed me that West Virginia law requires that a new resident get a new license within 20 days (possible, I’d never heard that one) and that information they need that to prosecute people who don’t return stuff. Well, there is a new wrinkle in marketing, we don’t trust you, we don't care who or what you are, we just want a way to prosecute your ass. I had considered having a nice, information-gathering conversation with the librarian, learning more about the facility, and since JC and LaJ both swear by it, doing more for it. Knee jerk doctrine without thought doesn’t go well with conversation, though, so I just didn’t pursue it. Such an approach is such stunningly poor judgment, it just makes for a laugh out loud moment.

I had also thought about asking about another peculiar event at the library, but just didn’t want to hear the administrivia answer for that. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to leave the library because I was reading. No kidding. I had taken my mother (85) and our neighbor (94) to listen to an author who they wanted to hear (and who sounded like a great bloody boor to me, but there’s no accounting for taste.) I got them set up in the room where the presentation was being made, and went back to the reading room. The library was closed but for the lecture, but I figured since I was their transportation, I was sober and quiet, and I was reading, they would probably tolerate my presence in the reading room. Hell, I wasn’t even using electricity, the lights were off and I was reading by sunlight. The librarian on duty disagreed. She asked me to leave. And I said, “For reading?” “Yes.” “In a library.” “Yes.” Some people would get pissed about something like that, but the absurdity was so savory, I thought I was in a Monty Python routine. I was looking around for the dead parrot stapled to the perch.

I have to cull the shelves again. I won’t be sending away any junk, because I don’t have any junk. I’m collecting boxes for, I bet, 500 volumes. I’m thinking I’ll ask TimSon to haul them in his truck to the Bridgeport Library, unless of course they throw me out between now and then.

I’m remembering an old Pogo cartoon, the caption of which was “We have met the enemy and he is Us.”

Pippa passes.



Anonymous said...

I love our local library for one very specific reason: they have little 'book sale' room that has three floor-to-ceiling walls, maybe 10 wide, full of books in decent shape, all for sale at $1 each. It's cheaper for me to buy books there than check them out, given my propensity for late fees.

Mara said...

I won't consider getting a Kindle until they get a whole lot cheaper. Plus, it can't be as much fun reading a kindle in bed as it is a real book.

Jim N. said...

So many settings are proliferated with self-important sergeants who might more effectively serve the common good working as prison guards. But a library?! Yikes!

doreenmary said...

I enjoyed this blog entry, Roger. My dream is to have a large library in my house...the kind with the sliding wood ladder which goes floor to ceiling. And...if I'm not mistaken, heaven is really an old musty bookstore with lots of old books for an eternity of reading..