How do you love a library that doesn't try very hard to love you back? It's a question that's weighed on me ever since I started using my local library again after a rather long hiatus. It's housed in a pretty building. It has lots of audio/visual materials and lots of meeting space and computer terminals. There's one kind of important thing it's lacking in though. They're called books.
Relagated to the perimeter of the main library walls, the hundreds of books on display seem like the worst kind of wallflowers, watching the Internet connections and resume building workshops happen just out of their reach. And the books that are there are older and out of date. And call me paranoid, but I think they're organization might be rather skewed as well. When I went there last week, for example, to pick up a book on HTML, I discovered that the computer books were in the same section as Magic and the Occult. Which leads me to believe either the librarian doesn't think books on HTML programming are very popular and therefore should be tucked away in the weirdo nook OR she thinks the web is run by Gandalf. As I stood there, slack-jawed in the stacks, I very nearly gave up on my library at that moment and dreamed instead of being swept off my feet by another bigger, more book-filled fella who could fulfill the deepest of my bibliophilial desires. Was I really that kind of girl?
And then I stumbled upon a very funny blog called Awful Library Books in which two Michigan librarians chronicle (in truly exasperated tone) some of the really bad books found in local libraries. In a TIME magazine article, the two women talked about how one of their aims was more serious: to highlight how underfunded libraries are and how they're forced to hang on to outdated books when they don't want to. And I began to feel some sympathy for my sad little bibliotheque.
I've been fortunate to have had some good libraries in my day. I grew up in a town that had a superb library, filled to the rafters with every fiction book you could want. There were seemingly miles of poetry and essays, biographies and histories, reference materials and magazines. My eyes dialated with joy just pulling into the parking lot. And then in college, our grad library had more than four million volumes, enough so you could just randomly pick a floor, walk in the door and spend a day browsing. They even had an off-site storage building for extra books, where I worked for four days until I got scared in the stacks and literally ran away without looking back -- damn "Ghostbusters" movie totally cost me that job!
So I always believed in my local libraries, and straying never once occurred to me. Sure, there were reciprocal benefits attached to my library card -- I could go have dalliances with the book lenders down the street, but I was always a one-library kind of gal. Sadly, I have explored reciprocity with my current library, only to find, like some 1970s housewife at a swingers party, that all of my other options smell like Schlitz and resemble a poor man's Mike Ditka. Which is to say, they have even fewer books than the library on which I'm trying to so hard to cheat.
But the ladies at Awful Library Books have helped me understand that the paucity of books is not necessarily my library's fault. I should look at the positives -- they have a section devoted to graphic novels and five different volumes of Evelyn Waugh. That's a good start, right? I'm sure it has to be frustrating to be a librarian these days, looking into your empty coffers and hoping to find enough for that latest Stephen King with maybe enough left over for a Complete Works of Moliere. It's like Sophie's Choice...you know, if they had that book on their shelves.
So I've pledged to show more love for my library and embrace its foibles. Who knows? I could learn a lot from a 1978 history of space travel, right? It'll certainly leave me wanting more...and that's really what the best books do: they make you want to turn that next page.
I still don't get that computers and the occult nonsense, though. What the hell's up with that?