I’m in the middle of my exile. That’s what this long holiday break from work feels like, anyway. Lisa’s on her second day back to work, but I don’t return until 2-Jan-2013. Until then, I hang around the house with our old, sleeping dog (Patches), a list of low-key chores, and a lot of time to cast about.
Today is the first time I’ve even left the house in three days! I went out for lunch, listened to the podcasts “Galactic Watercooler” and “The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast,” and thought hard about visiting one of my favorite used bookstores, Seek Books. The problem, is that I already own more books than I am likely to read in my lifetime; physical and otherwise. I’m tired of buying things. $10 here and $20 there adds up, and for what? Because I’m a little bored?
But if I want to be in a place full of books, without having to spend any money, then what about the library? We have a large, beautiful, historic library right next to our house, and I haven’t visited it in over a year. Todays windy, rainy, quiet day is a good time to rectify that.
One of the things I especially love about the Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library, is that it is both historic and quite modern. There is the historic building in the front with its large wooden tables (great for spreading out your research materials, or writing in your journal) and the huge marble fireplace with the clock mantle. In the back is the hyper modern “glass cube” of the addition. It houses rows and rows of book cases on two floors, and beneath is the new children and young adult room. As a whole, this building and what it contains seems to represent the American Public Library, past-present-future. It keeps re-imagining itself, what services it offers (like free wi-fi and digital media) and its place in the community (anime/manga discussions in the afternoon, homework help after school, resume writing resources for those looking for work) and what roles it will fill in the evolving future of education, informational resources, and persistence of place.
It’s that last that is often overlooked, when discussing the “information revolution” and what the Internet ‘really means’. Because, while virtualizing everything seems like a fantastic 21st century goal, we are still fully embodied and local. Which means, at least until we have mind-upload capabilities, that we’ll need to have places to sit quietly for a while. To read and write and think. To find someone you can ask for help, or a place to gather to learn and discuss with your neighbors.
So, at least for now, public libraries remain public buildings dedicated to knowledge-self-discovery and community, and that remains a critical piece available so few other places.