A library can become very homelike. It can be a comfy place as well as a scholarly place. Think of it: you go in and quiet greets you. Whatever your stresses are, here is a place where your mind can slow down while your brain is still energized and on the move. There are lots of things to do in our library. I like to observe others, not spy on them—just enjoy seeing them into what they are doing. It’s an academic, meditative ethos.
Walking through the stacks can be fun. Then there’s the suspense after finding out that a certain book in the catalogue isn’t checked out. You copy down the letters and numbers and head off to see which row has your book. That’s when it is easy to look along the shelves and notice the shapes, sizes, and colors of books. That is entertaining in itself. The eye runs along the shelves for that special sought for combination of ID letters and numbers. There it is! Then it’s off to a chair to browse it, or perhaps it’s a no-brainer, and it’s time to check it out, maybe even have a minute or two of friendly chat with a library staff member.
Librarian Cynthia Atkins likes to mention the “smell of books, especially new ones! Those little mechanical things haven’t replicated that yet!” I mentioned this to officemate, Dr. Karen Dougherty, who amplified this by saying, “It’s cranial nerve #1 at the top of the nose. The nerve goes through tiny openings in a plate to the limbic system of the brain, which is our emotional center, where emotions are felt and processed.” Karen then turned to our office mate, psychologist, Anne Stahl, who said, “It’s at the core of the brain. If the brain were an apple, the limbic system would be the core.” Karen and Anne then entertained me with favorite memories associated with the sense of smell, built up over many experiences. Well Cynthia, no telling what is triggered in you when those new books arrive.
Then there are the chairs in the library—various and inviting. Some are firmer to support learning, whereas the soft, cozy ones offer a place to land for a bit of library level rest. Handsome wooden tables border parts of the library where people can conference for quiet tutoring or study sessions—or just some diligent organizing when you need to spread your books and notes out in various little piles.
We all have our increasingly online lives. The computer isn’t new to us, but using the computer in the library can combine a sense of solitude with a sense of solitude with others. Their concentration can stimulate your concentration even though wordless. Cynthia pointed out though that “Libraries aren’t always quiet anymore. It’s a different day! We have periods for time when it is quiet, but other times it is a zoo.” The library is increasingly a platform for activities.
Brett Ralph, for example, schedules it for poetry or fiction readings open to anyone. Special speakers also come in on most any topic for some insightful noontime presentations. Occasionally, an exhibit comes to roost for a season, such as the Lincoln Exhibit that toured much of the nation.
Sometimes there’s just an itch to go to the library—no particular reason. One might get in there, look around, and think, “What shall I do?” That too is part of the library experience.