Monday, June 30, 2014

The Carnegie Library, Main Branch, is Too Inviting.

I went in the Carnegie library for the first time last week. It’s an impressive stone building right next to where I work. I picked a book at random from the card catalog on the internet before I went, and used it as a goal so I wouldn’t look confused and aimless while I was there.

The front rooms of the library are too inviting.  It’s like a birthday party in there. Brightly colored “Ask a Librarian” and “Did you know…?” and “Dig into gardening!”.  You have to wander out a back door under a small sign that says “mezzanine” to get to the musty.  Library of Congress is on the mezzanine and second floor, Dewey on the third. Both, huh.

I couldn’t find the stairs to the third floor (my book was numbered in Dewey: 937 point something; a 1916 translation of Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Gallic War”) before an aggressively friendly librarian saw me looking lost. I stammered out a description of my fake goal. He variously directed me to several places where I might look up other resources, but discouraged me from 937: we don’t use Dewey anymore; some of those books are more than 40 years old; we’re still going through them to figure out what can be saved and what needs replaced.  I can take you up there if you really need something…

But, I excused myself as quickly as I could and vanished down a random Library of Congress-numbered aisle. I didn’t want to be helped.  What I wanted was to walk down a long aisle between old and new books of mismatched sizes, under fluorescent lights. I wanted to stop somewhere where the books had serious-looking spines, and grab a tall, heavy blue hardcover with unbent white pages. I wanted to skim the introduction and be welcomed by some random academic who warmly assures me that finally an overview of this topic is collected together in one volume. I wanted to read just far enough to find out something that I didn’t even know you could know about. 

Then I’d put it back on the shelf, a little uncertain at first about where it went, but I’d check the number carefully. The label on the shelf asks you to leave the book out rather than put it back — I like to imagine that if the book is shelved in the wrong place, it could be lost for 40 years before some wandering volunteer finds it, lifts her eyebrows in surprise, and drops it into a reshelving cart. But I always reshelve the books myself anyway because I like to feel like I’m a library insider.

I guess I have an odd sense of what’s inviting.

1 comment:

Matthew Conroy said...

I approve of the sentiment in this message.