For the Love of Libraries…

Woodruff LibraryI love libraries. – All libraries, but academic libraries the best.

It’s a love passed on to my children who enjoy that musk of mold and climate controlled stacks, the contrast of well-lit and shadowed quiet, and love to linger in discovery of unknown, unexplored and unread volumes; fingers tracing over the spines and heads tilted to read landscaped titles.

At Elmhurst College one can find A. C. Buehler Library, complete with circulation desk, computers, coffee shop, periodicals and cozy, comfortable reclining chairs – that’s the ‘new’ of libraries. Upstairs and down Dewey is divided classically and almost secretly with thousands and thousands of unread books, old journals and rare collections of dead authors who once-upon-a-time thought this would be what mattered.

In honor of Buehler at Elmhurst College, and King at Miami University of Ohio, Richardson at DePaul University, Little at Davidson College, Woodruff at Emory and so many others we enjoy, I offer At Buehler.

At Buehler 

Quiet is observed – out of courtesy
as much the rule, save those
occasions when questions must
be asked, permission granted
and fines levied, introductions
exchanged and courtesies offered,
announcements broadcast, banter
shared and any other occasion for
speaking out loud while others
attempt to study not realizing
this is no sanctuary for the studious
which is found in solitude and this
is a public place, an open space.

There were days when ‘shushes’
from stern matronly librarians who
dutifully enforced the ‘Quiet Please’
rule were feared beyond all else,
but no longer. Of late quiet is most
definitely to be avoided when
surveying the outer reaches of
Dewey’s obscurity lest one
interrupt lovers embraced near
Kierkegaard playing either/or, or
doing what they shouldn’t near
Kant in pursuit of their own
categorical imperative; treat
the recesses of such stacks as
one would explore Yellowstone
sounding loud noises to fend off
grizzlies (if that even works). 

Hidden away are gilded edges and
rarer bindings protected against the
biopredation and careless scavengers
searching for last minute salvation in
the binge-and-purge that passes for
research and preparation; hidden
also are quaint volumes which
include errata as too often such
pages are discarded like so many
periodical inserts or used to capture
spent chewing gum without which
we’re left with the false impression
of author and publisher inerrancy.

It is to be observed that comfortable
seats of recline congregated four
square outnumber solitary carrels,
while volumes collecting time and
dust – unopened, virginal spines,
and folio pages uncut – await
bibliophiles devoted to word. Voices
echo dimly without interval; casual
words stinging with complaint
of the effort necessary to access
knowledge, decrying inconvenience,
obscurity and complexity – the very
practices once relished as joyful
inquiry. There is a general lack of
goodwill among those who peruse
the page (Studium discendi
voluntate quae cogi non potest
constat.*) These onetime fast
friends of the studious now
explored like greener pastures
find a virtual life on the dating
sites of search catalogs. 

And beyond the Cafe, beyond
the half stacks featuring keywords
of entertainment and event rather
than journal or review, rested a
young man napping comfortably
under his cap with feet propped
atop an empty table, a girl sobbing
softly into her hands near volumes
of reference to be used in the library
only, and a young man stands
exploring that largest lexicon for
the words ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’
who doesn’t even notice she’s crying.

*Study depends on the good will
of the student, a quality which
cannot be secured by compulsion.