Random Thoughts About Whatever Comes to Mind

The Love Of Libraries

February 19, 2017

Tags: Mahesh Rao, NY Times, public library, universal love of reading, social connection, library research, childhood reading

Sometimes you read an article about someone else's experiences that brings back your own with breathtaking poignance. Today, in the midst of a world that seems prepared to devalue the worth of the written word just as it prefers easy answers and disastrous chaos to hard work and unpleasant reality, such an article appeared in the SundayReview of The New York Times. By Mahesh Rao, the article - An Elegy for the Library - describes his experiences with public libraries in Nairobi, London, and Mysore. Rao, a native of Kenya, is an award-winning writer who studied politics and economics at the University of Bristol and law at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. The libraries Rao recalls were his gateway to a grown-up world of ideas and shared interests, a locus of the communities they served. In the article, he wonders if Google's ability to provide 100,000 answers will replace the knowledgable librarian's genius for coming up with the right answer. Clearly, he thinks it shouldn't, but equally clearly he's afraid that it will.

My own library experiences, while a world away, mirror Rao's. I got my first library card at the age of ten, went regularly to the mural-decorated library in our Birmingham community to withdraw as many books as the indulgent librarian would allow, did my initial academic research in public libraries - mostly in the dusty gloom of the lovely old Carnegie Library in downtown Atlanta, and researched parts of my early books in Atlanta's ugly replacement for that same Carnegie. Like Rao, libraries were for me gateways to places I otherwise could not have gone and ideas I'd otherwise not have discovered. But they were more. In retrospect, for all the massive amounts of information contained in the books and periodicals that lined their shelves my early libraries represented the romance of possibilities, than which there is nothing headier for a geeky girl who'd rather read than do anything else, preferred dates with boys who also liked to wander through bookstores, and ultimately married another reader of books at the breakfast table.

I will never forget the day I got that first library card and walked into the reading room of the West End Library, where characters from mythology stared impassively down from the upper part of the high walls, overlooking a dozen people buried in books with not a soul in sight to ask, "What, are you reading again?"

Like my brother-in-books Rao, I was home.