Why I Hate Libraries (and Love Them)

December 24, 2005 | 21 comments
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I usually hate libraries (a) because there are too many books. Books are for reading, but libraries look as though they are meant for reading to oblivion, sifting through nearly endless redundancy to find perhaps two truly good and relevant books on a given row of shelves. They testify to the slaughter of trees, the wasted lives of mediocre authors, and the dwindling value even of the works of very talented authors, as they become outdated, and it makes me depressed . . . (b) because there is no food in them.

Floor after floor, packed with the mutilated corpses of trees! Libraries are worse than graveyards. As gloomy as graveyards can be, at least the corpses are lain discreetly out of sight, allowed to decompose, and get on their way to becoming new, visible life–shrubs, flowers, grass! There is hope in a graveyard, fresh air and an open sky.

But then one hits a vein, and there are two, three, four interesting books on a single shelf–books one can justify taking time to read–in fact a whole conversation that has unfolded over centuries among these who are now corpses (of humans, trees, a careful mixture of both), who once read each others’ books. There they patiently wait to pick up the conversation, wait for the topic to come back around to theirs.

Voices from the dust, and my fellow beings whom, when I have time to read them, rather than hurrying on to some more “responsible” purpose, I come to love.

21 Responses to Why I Hate Libraries (and Love Them)

  1. Jim F. on December 24, 2005 at 12:17 am

    The problem is that what to you is a vein is, to someone else, just more mutilated tree corpses–and vice versa. What’s the poor librarian to do but collect it all?

  2. Ben Huff on December 24, 2005 at 12:28 am

    Indeed, Jim. A testimony to our alienation from one another that we read nearly none of the same books! depressing, again.

    or, if one is in a more optimistic mood, a joyful testimony to the abundance of life : )

  3. Jim F. on December 24, 2005 at 12:53 am

    I don’t think it isn’t quite right that we don’t read many of the same books. Instead, I think the groups of books we read overlap, as in Venn-Euhler diagrams. So philosophers have a lot of books in the intersection of their groups, and sociologists have a lot in their intersections, but there aren’t that many in the intersections between philosophy and sociology. Of course, what is often most interesting is what we find outside of those intersections, especially at the individual level. I doubt that my readings in food history overlap with many other philosophers. Probably everyone has similar idiosyncracies.

  4. Derek on December 24, 2005 at 1:22 am

    The fact that a library contains a lot of dead trees makes it a man-made carbon sink! All the carbon dioxide a person emits in his or her day-to-day activities releases quite a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, so growing trees and making books out of them would be one way to help reduce the problem.

  5. Bookslinger on December 24, 2005 at 1:56 am

    Johnny One-Note time…

    Most libraries have English copies of the Book of Mormon, but most don’t have a Spanish edition, even though most libraries now cater to Spanish-speaking patrons.

    Suggestion: Offer to donate a Spanish Book of Mormon to your favorite library. Hardcover is best for library donations.

    Find out what other languages your library caters to. Indianapolis Public Library caters to several languages and they gratefully accepted donations of the Book of Mormon in those languages.

    I found a web page that lists all the public libraries in Indiana. I emailed the ones in cities and towns that I thought might have a Spanish-speaking population, and offered them Spanish copies of the Book of Mormon, and English copies if they didn’t have them. If they had an online card catalog, I checked to see what they had. Only 2 of about 16 turned down my offer.

    One small Indiana city, that hosts a Japanese-owned factory, asked for a Japanese copy!

    In my email, I usually listed all 103 languages in which the Book of Mormon is translated.

    I’ve even tried it for a few university libraries. The success rate isn’t as high, but if you go through the languages department instead of the library, chances are better. Maybe that’s because some can see the “Rosetta Stone” aspect of having one book in many languages. And it’s hard to find bilingual material in a lot of those 103 languages.

  6. danithew on December 24, 2005 at 5:47 am

    Bookslinger, you are the man.

  7. Erica Merrell on December 24, 2005 at 9:24 am

    I am far more grateful now for libraries than I ever have been. I spent an hour this afternoon in the presence of five bookcases of English books and it was heavenly.

    Libraries don’t represent a graveyard of trees to me, they are a place where learning is available to all. So many people in the world either don’t have a library or can’t afford the required fees to use one. Even the crummiest libraries in the US are better than 99% of the libraries in Central Asia.

  8. Seth Rogers on December 24, 2005 at 9:34 am

    I’ll have you know, my wife likes libraries and she thinks your post is depressing.

    Oh yeah, and so do I.

  9. Wilfried on December 24, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Thanks for the thoughts, Ben! I’ll limit my comment to a quote:

    “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986)

  10. anon on December 24, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    (b) because there is no food in them.

    Well, our library has a coffee shop in it . . .

  11. Tanya Spackman on December 24, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    I love libraries – all those knew places to visit and all those knew ideas to explore, just by reading. I live in a location with a really small library that I rarely use; they generally don’t have what I want to read. Thus, amazon.com (or, more often, the people who sell used books on amazon.com) gets a disproportionate amount of my paycheck.

    I will be moving soon (where exactly is to be decided when someone decides to hire me), and though I don’t know where, it will be a city, and that city will no doubt have a much larger, better library than I currently have. This is what I am looking forward to more than anything else. A library! With lots of books! All for me to read! As soon as my rental agreement is signed (assuming the rental agreement counts as proof of address), I will head to the local library and get a library card (my current library doesn’t even have library cards – you just tell them your phone number when you check out your books). Just thinking about it makes me positively giddy.

    To become a book is a noble end for a tree.

  12. Tanya Spackman on December 24, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    I do know the difference between “knew” and “new”. Really. Sigh.

  13. Kingsley on December 24, 2005 at 6:33 pm

    Mm, the more books the better. The more halls, rooms, windows, shelves, the deeper the quiet, the better. Give me Borges and Eco and the labyrinth, and millions of dead trees and writers. Give me desks and bent, scholarly heads, and snow falling outside, and a full white moon.

  14. Ben Huff on December 24, 2005 at 7:36 pm

    Hurray, a chorus of praise for libraries! I guess the positive part at the end didn’t come through as well I meant it to. I was supposed to come across as conflicted. Libraries are just rather charged for me, in a way I probably will never fully digest, because books matter a lot to me, and I have some idea how much work it is to produce a good book.

    I went to the library yesterday, and I found some wonderful books I hadn’t known existed, books I hope to spend many, many hours with.

  15. manaen on December 25, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    Thx for the posting. Denver’s new (well, 10 years old now) main library is a great place in which to get lost.

    If you prefer the corpses of dead electrons to those of dead trees, check “The On-Line Books Page,” with links to the full text of 25+k books:
    http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/

    5
    Bookslinger, thx for the library idea. Also, a family could donate a 10-year “Ensign” subscription to the local library for $100.

    A couple other ideas:
    * Get free copies of the BoM from DI and swap them at used bookstores. Gets you free books and puts the BoM into one more venue. This is becoming more difficult because used bookstores are beginning to shy from trying to sell BoM when it’s very easy to obtain one for free. Plan B is to just give a couple copies to the used bookstore — free inventory for them.
    * Pass-along cards may be thrown away but cash rarely is. Write “FREE! ~ Book of Mormon ~ (888) 537-2200″ in red ink along the margin of your cash. (I took this idea from wheresgeorge.com). Write in red ink, “mormon.org” along the profile of whichever President is on the bill. This creates pass-along cards that keep getting passed along. If you believe this is tacky, just consider that we’re liberating our currency from its Masonic symbols!

  16. Bookslinger on December 25, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    Manaen,
    Sorry to rain on your idea, but writing anything on currency is considered defacing it, and is a federal offense.

    The original free e-text archive is Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org, which was started by Michael Hart in 1971. They now have 17,000+ texts online.

  17. manaen on December 26, 2005 at 12:57 am

    16
    Bookslinger,
    I disagree that writing “anything” on currency either falls within the legal definition of defacing or is a federal offense. The trigger is whether you intend to make the bill unfit for “reissue” (continued circulation) or in fact to do so, which my pass-along suggestion does not do. Instead, it depends upon continued circulation of the enhanced bills.

    Please see:
    http://www.bep.treas.gov/document.cfm/18/104
    for the feds’ distinction about this.

  18. Karl Butcher on December 26, 2005 at 11:51 am

    I live in King County, Washington, and here, all 30-odd libraries in the county are linked together. So in total, there’s something like a ton of books. Anyway, I go to a website (www.kcls.org), and order my books much the way I would on amazon, except, at no charge, and I have to return them, and they tell me when they come in. I just go down and pick up the books from the holdshelf, occasionaly checking out the “New and interesting” shelf as well.

    So I don’t, typically, spend a lot of time looking through the rows and rows of books out there. I may be losing some of the serendepitous moments of trudging through everything, but it’s sure convenient.

  19. Bookslinger on December 26, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Manaen, I stand corrected.

    I would have thought that if it were totally kosher that businesses would have come up with ways to add their own advertising on currency already.

    With corporate sponsorship of state and local property, (Indiana State Fairground Coliseum is now the “PEPSI Coliseum”, the domed stadium in Indianapolis where the Colts play is the “RCA Dome, and the Pacers play in the “CONSECO Fieldhouse”), it’s only a matter of time before corporate sponsorship reaches the federal level.

    “10% discount if you spend this $10 bill at McDonalds!”

  20. Rosalynde Welch on December 27, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Well, gee, Ben, no wonder you hate libraries. You’re going there for the books. Books can be had from any old place—grocery stores, your father’s bookshelf, tables along the south bank of the Thames in front of the Royal National Theater. You go to libraries for the smell. Binding paste, ink, floor polish, and the odor of a million autumn afternoons lost among the stacks and found again, suddenly, by lamplight or summertime or occasionally—God be praised—in the blue glow of the computer monitor.

    Don’t feel bad, though, lots of people make the same mistake with babies and lovers and grandmothers’ houses. You don’t want them for life after death or sex or over the river and through the woods. You want them for the smell.

  21. Russell Arben Fox on December 27, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    Did we talk about this before, Rosalynde? I envy your sensitivity to things olfactory. I’m certain that there is a good deal of truth in this world that I’m missing out on because I wasn’t blessed with a very good nose.

    I’m sure Jonathan Green will be scandalized, but I’m afraid old books have never done it for me. That is, old editions of books. When a book is worn and fragile and festooned with marginalia, I often pass it over or give it away to someone who’ll appreciate it. I’ve never been a fan of used bookstores, or fusty libraries that refuse to update their collections. I’m a bookstore guy. I want my books clean and sharp; I want to get paper cuts from pages just cut from off the press. In fact, my favorite bibliophilic locales are college bookstores rather than libraries; I collect publishers catalogues and haunt university presses, dreaming of the day when I can buy them all. Indeed, it is possible I’ve stuck with an academic career that isn’t working out for as long as I have for one reason only–free books.

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