I have been thinking a lot about libraries recently. This should surprise no one.
In my research, I have been rustling through pages on early monastic libraries, how they were constructed, what they held, and how they were used. I recently read about “The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu” who built libraries in Mali for the thousands of ancient manuscripts hidden for centuries in people’s homes. (These badass librarians then proceeded to save all of these manuscripts from the terrorist threat. Read the book. It’s great.) I took a tour of the National Library of Scotland and the Royal College of Physicians Library. Also, I tend to spend a fair amount of time in my own university library, which houses a collection that is down right amazing.
With these recent experiences stewing in my brain, a status popped up on Facebook from a neighbor of mine asking for book recommendations. I, of course, gave her a lengthy list and as an afterthought added that she could just borrow them from my own personal library if she wished. I use the term library loosely. Mostly, the collection is just all of the books housed in my (unoccupied) attic room located conveniently across the street from her. As I am currently in Scotland, I’m not using any of them at the moment. They’re just sitting in my room like the wives of nineteenth century sailors, waiting for the day I come back to dust their spines.
My neighbor (who is actually Scottish, as serendipitous fate would have it) said that she would gladly take me up on this offer. At this point, the conversation thread between the two of us had gotten quite long and Zuckerberg’s algorithms kicked in, broadcasting our lengthy conversation to the feeds of all of our mutual friends and acquaintances (on Facebook). So my other neighbor on the hill saw my book-borrowing offer to the neighbor across the street and chimed in: she would also like to take me up on that offer. And then my mother saw the comments and vowed that she would also borrow books, though she really doesn’t need permission to do so, nor was it necessary for her to post this publicly.
Thus my personal library suddenly became a public entity and the idea of creating a neighborhood library pushed itself forward in my thoughts. I was excited about it. This library could be inclusive and exclusive at the same time, breeding that romantic sense of community, even if my “neighbors” are seven miles away. It would not only brings people together physically, but also over the shared experience of reading the same book. In today’s political climate, it could be nice to come together over some thing as simple as a novel instead of dividing ourselves along party lines.
It is not that my town lacks a public library; it has a nice collection in a brick building behind Main Street. However, the curation is less personal. It is dictated by what a library should have according to literary conventions and popular fads. My library is curated by me. The books I own are based entirely on what I have come across in my life, the various phases I have gone through and the collections I have grown.
For instance, I own many, many Nancy Drew books. I collect old ones from the 1920s and still have the shiny yellow hardbacks I read when I was 10. I have almost a complete collection of Meg Cabot from when I moved past Nancy Drew, as well as Dan Brown, Harlen Coben, and whatever other fad author I could not stop reading. I have the books I hold precious and will read over and over until their spines break (The Historian, Persuasion, Arcadia) as well as old books whose spines were already broken by previous owners. I’ve got nonfiction books on weird science (Mary Roach), serial killers (David Buss), the Plantagenets (Dan Jones), and television networks (Bill Carter).
My shelves are also alphabetized, categorized, and labeled. They’re organized, but it’s a system based on the books I have acquired. In this way, a person browsing the shelves can get a sense of who I am. The largest bookcase is for fiction, which is getting full and contains books in French and Norwegian. I have a nonfiction bookcase currently bursting at the seams. Additionally there is shelf for Arthurian Legends and Medieval Romances, Shakespeare’s plays and criticisms, graphic novels and general drama. Another bookcase exclusively holds “classics,” while the shelf above my dresser is for poetry and short fiction collections. The books that lay above my head while I sleep are the ones I have yet to read, and the ones on the shelf above are just nondescript old books, to comfort me. This, so far, is what I’ve got.
In order to turn my attic into a proper neighborhood library, I’m going to need to inventory and catalog, a project I intend to take up over Christmas break when I’m actually home. Not only will this provide an overview of what I have actually bought over the course of my life, but it will be a bibliographical exercise consistent with my coursework. It’s so nice when the skills you’re learning at school are actually useful.
A system of borrowing could take place through a shared document hosted on the internet. Even from Scotland I could check on who borrowed what. And if someone doesn’t give the book back, I can go find it; after all, I know where all of my neighbors live. (Note: Yes, that is a threat. Please give my books back. I will hunt you down.) The prospect of losing my books scares me (see note), but at the same time I rather the books have a life outside of my shelves giving other people joy. Books are meant to be read. That’s how they get their magic.
So, people of County Highway 14: are you interested?