I love my library.
It is a beautiful building in a beautiful town. A beautiful building that happens to be full of books — rooms and rooms of books, shelf after shelf filled with books. (And also, of course, DVDs and computers and art and workspace and magazines and children’s toys.)
As soon as I climb the steps and enter the front door I am reinforced, always. The library is such a positive place, affirming and friendly — if a physical place can have either or both of those qualities. The library is at the same time both public and private. If you frequent a library, you know what I mean. I am in my head, and you are in yours, but there is a shared quality about the two of us that is just about holy. I am reading Proust and you are reading a graphic novel, but we are cool. (Maybe tomorrow I will read that graphic novel.)
It is quiet in my library. It is not the hushed silence of the cathedral (even though it was built as a church, in 1860) but a kind of friendly hum, like the inside of a beehive, I imagine.
Of course, I am addicted to books. I revere them and always have. If you do not share this addiction, read no further. Books are portals to other worlds, other times, other minds. But this is not about books; it’s about libraries — and librarians.
Librarians are just about the most special people in the world, right up there with teachers and nurses. The halos over their heads are for the most part not visible, but occasionally, on a late winter afternoon, when the pallid light glances off a wall, well, there they are, and the librarians wear them with grace. (There are no loud librarians.)
Librarians are so friendly, so helpful, so outgoing without being intrusive: they invite you into their home, and remind you that it is your home, and always has been. This is a shocking and liberating realization. Libraries are fully democratic: all are welcome, without regard to ability to pay. There is no dress code (lucky for me).
Much has been made of this aspect of libraries. Andrew Carnegie, who established many libraries, referred to them as “the height of civilization,” and said that “a library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.” I agree.
There is a suffused light in my library as I enter the room. I look at the display of new offerings and have a feeling akin to buying a lottery ticket. Oh, if I only had enough time left in my life to read all these wonderful books. Perhaps if I threw a rock through the window of town hall I would get sentenced to 30 glorious days of solitary confinement, and I could read, read, read!
If I am not feeling social, or am working on a project, I head up to the third floor, which is the quietest of the quiet places in my library. It is conducive to good work, except the views are totally distracting. The large windows, virtually floor to ceiling, look out on an uncommon vista: Commercial Street is at your feet, with the rooftops and yards of neighboring buildings. Beyond them is the harbor, busy MacMillan Wharf, and the sweep of the Cape’s cradling arm. Gulls sail by.
On the third level I am tempted by “oversized” art books and the “Poet’s Corner,” with more work than I could ever absorb, even if I visited every day. But most distracting is the rigging of the Rose Dorothea, which rises from the floor below; masts actually penetrate the ceiling above. I expect a gull to shoot through at any moment.
Yes, on the floor below there is a boat — a boat in a building! Much has been written about the Rose Dorothea, the half-scale model that Flyer Santos managed to build up there, and what it means for the town. I will mention only that it resides alongside the children’s section of the library (a genius move), and, if you are five years old — there’s a boat!
Don’t we love our libraries? Don’t we love the space and time and the holy vibe that exists in them, the chance to read, think, relax, or socialize? To just be ourselves.