Friday, May 21, 2010

Getting Lost in the Stacks

It’s been forever since I’ve spent time in a public library—like cruising the shelves to see what new hardbacks are out or sitting down in a chair and reading a magazine or getting carsick from using microfilm, not just popping in to pick up the next season of Lost. Dr. Husband and I use our local branch—which, incidentally, is about as big as a postage stamp—like an internet-assisted video rental store, ordering DVDs online and picking them up when our inbox tells us they’ve arrived. I’m currently 1556th in line for The Blind Side. This works out well because by the time I’ve risen to number one on the list, the baby will be off at college and I’ll need mindless Sandra Bullock movies to distract me from my empty nest syndrome.

Since I can’t get any work done when I’m at home anymore because the baby is, by turns, too cute or too whiny and since I can’t get any work done in coffee shops anymore because my mind is, by turns, too distractible or too whiny, I gave the public library a try today—the branch second-closest to our house, about a mile away and about as big as a sheet of postage stamps.

Despite disruptions from a series of quintessentially “Seattle Nice” overhead pages about dogs attacking patrons by the front door (“There are some dogs outside that are very… active. They have tried to attack a few patrons and library staff. While your leashing is technically legal, the library will not be responsible if your dogs attack someone or if someone ‘responds.’ Again, your leashing is legal, but we recommend that you shorten the lead.”)—despite this being blasted over the loudspeaker and despite getting in trouble for surreptitiously eating a bite of pound cake to keep up my energy since I never remember to eat lunch before the babysitter arrives and am too eager to get going to stop and make a sandwich or something—my library experience made me realize that if Dr. Husband and I ever decide to leave Seattle someday (that is, when we overdose on “Seattle Nice,” I’m going to have to insist it be for a place that has a public library.

A public library—as in just one.


One library without teeny branches or satellites every mile or two spreading the collection thin and enabling librarians to keep a very watchful eye over peckish patrons. (On the other hand, I appreciate the watchful eye being kept on the “very active” but legally leashed attack dogs.)

I’m certain that my wish for a singular library is regressive and oppressive and limiting and classist and racist to boot—as nostalgia so often is. But my intentions are good! I want everyone to have access to all the books at the same time, without them having to be trucked over from someone else’s neighborhood. Come to think of it, I want everyone to be at the library for books, not for internet access the way I am right now. Remember books? I miss books.

I want to live in a place where all of the town’s books—and internet portals—are in one place. Where my child can peruse the stacks on a lazy summer afternoon and happen across different books each time—not the same twenty well-worn Eric Carle books housed at your friendly (so long as you’re not hungry) local branch.

I want my child to frequent a library that’s not so big like the “main” Seattle branch that indie rock concerts are held in the YA section while the governor hands out awards to the 100 best local nonprofit leaders in the auditorium and stray puppies are given away at the reference desk.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to live somewhere just as committed to literacy as Seattle but smaller and more unified and, dare I say, old fashioned. I’m probably describing a place that only exists in storybooks and maybe Wales. (Hay-on-Wye, here we come!) There’s just something about having a kid that brings out the fondness for the way things used to be… Oh, how glorious were the days when the only movie in my hometown public library’s collection was—speaking of classist and racist—a VHS tape of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm—for which there was never a waiting list.