What is a Library?

What is a library? Pondering this question lead me to consider my relationship with books.

I have to confess that it's been years since I've been in a library to use it for it's intended purpose. I've donated books to local libraries and visited famous libraries, the most recent being the New York Public Library.

The New York Public Library has been in so many movies I just had to see it for myself.

What a building, am I right? I spent five days in New York, I just got back on Monday, and if you asked me where I did the most shopping it was the NYPL gift shop. Typical.

But in this day and age who really uses a library? What is it for? If you are a self-professed book worm, like I am...*Inserts credentials below*

...you love books and you love libraries, but do you use them? I buy books, be it online, at book shops, or at thrift stores. I have had a personal revolving library since I was a child and could not afford books. I have bought and read and donated several hundreds of books. And now I find myself in a strange place. I actually have the home library of my dreams, with a ladder and everything, and I find myself at a point where I'm buying the fewest books I ever have. I am very particular about buying new books, partially because my to be read shelf, or as book nerds call it TBR, has gotten out of control and partially because I want to own less.

Libraries contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

I own so many books I have read and want to read but as I get older and time becomes ever more precious to me, I become leery of adding to my library before reading what I have. When did reading, become owning? I don't know, because it isn't about owning. Reading a book is an experience and you can't own that. Sure, that book sitting loftily on your shelf might be a pleasant reminder of that adventure you went on with that author. And even more so, an adventure with yourself at that moment in your life when the book chose you. No two people read the same book and as you are a different person along the course of your life, so too do you never read the same book twice.

I very rarely reread the same book. Some books I refuse to read again in fear of tarnishing my first loving, and in some cases, profound memory of it. And maybe that is why I like holding onto books because I can look at the shelves as if it were a photo album of memories, epiphanies, struggles, conquests, realizations, and ideology shaping that has happened to me.

But books are even more then that. They are a record of culture and history.

This is a picture I took of an exhibit in one of the many halls in NYPL. One day, when civilization ends and people are no longer around to power the world and the digital data resources are gone, hard copies are good to have. One day even those will not survive the passage of time but I always find myself wondering, as maybe other book nerds do, if mankind had not lost the Library of Alexandria, where we might be today. Humans are as advanced as they are because we are able to pass on information to people we've never met, across time, space, boarders, and possible resistance.

Libraries lead to artistic creation by providing source material for inspiration.

As a child my family didn't have much money and so we went to the library. It was the internet of the time. A place where anyone could access information, history, and the world. And if you haven't had a deep conversation with a librarian about books then you have no idea what you're missing.

In this fast information day and age libraries and books are slow. They take time to use, read, and find. You might not like what you read or how long it took you to read it. It takes work. But as some work does, the more you do it the more effortless it becomes. Slow is not bad. Sometimes I feel like the world just needs to slow down.

Libraries preserve the records of civilization.

Libraries matter, even if I never use one again. Although I secretly have this desire to eventually get back to going to the library. A desire to never have an unread book in my possession and when I do want to read something to wander down to my library and look for a recommendation from a librarian, not a logarithm. A recommendation from someone who loves books at least as much as I do. Hopefully one day I will get there. I'll have a minimal bookshelf at home and a library down the street.

I want to accumulate knowledge, not things. I don't want libraries to disappear. There are always children who need reading material and people who don't have the space or money to buy books. Or people who like to listen to audio books, read ebooks, or watch movies. Libraries have transformed into convenient online resources as well. 

Free information. The gift of knowledge given easily and willingly. It's beautiful. How does one not like libraries? 

Well, that was a long unorganized ramble.

The beauty of the world is not in what you own but what is left out there for others to enjoy with you, in the libraries of life and the world. This sentiment also speaks to me in this quote and by the magnet I brought back from the NYPL which is stuck to my desk.

“I have a hobby. I have the world’s largest collection of sea shells. I keep it scattered on beaches all over the world. Maybe you’ve seen some of it.”

Stella out!


Botanist said…
That library looks amazing! I love being around books and in places that books inhabit. I always used to pop into the library or browse bookshops on my way home from school, and in the last few years have got back into the habit of using the library for its intended purpose - i.e. regularly borrowing and returning books. These days I always have at least a couple on loan at any given time.
Stella Telleria said…
I always love hearing about others using the library for it's intended purpose. One day, when my TBR is read! Books on a shelf is the best kind of wallpaper there is.
Jean Davis said…
Stephen Wright has the best quotes. I used to laugh so hard I cried when watching that guy perform on TV.

Honestly, the last time I used the library, it as because they were introducing a seed library, which I think is super cool. You bring seeds, they catalog them, and you can 'check out' five packets other people have brought in.

We do actually have a family library card, something I never had growing up, because my daughter needed some books for an English class and I didn't want to buy them. But do we regularly check out books? No. Like you, my TBR pile is giant and my reading time is slim these days. Thank goodness I read so much earlier in life, before kids, when I had time to get lost in a book. Now I have to block a day off to read - because once I start, I hate to put a good book down.

Yet, ironically, I have donated my books to local libraries, so I hope some people are still using libraries for their intended purpose.

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