Having been raised by a librarian, moving in across the street from the library was somewhat analogous to moving in across the street from heaven. I can still remember exactly where the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books were located in the children’s section downstairs, and I can just about feel the industrial carpet through my shirt as I lay down to read whatever was next to them.
Throughout my life, going to the library has involved spending time with books for which I had not intended to reach out a hand. In fact I think that’s how I came on the BTT books in the first place; I know for a fact that I read some sizeable chunk of Maud Hart Lovelace’s oeuvre sitting with my back against that next to that next-to-bottom shelf on which they could be found.
As you can imagine, this occasionally resulted in a trip to the library taking longer, and yielding a much bigger pile, than I’d intended, a fact that was equally true in college and graduate school, which you can further imagine didn’t always do wonders for my workload.
But it is how I discovered Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will and an entire shelf of feminist theory (which I can still see, in the library of the Naftali Building at Tel Aviv University), launching my transformation from an instinctive feminist to an educated one, so it’s not all bad — but on the other hand, let me tell you, when one allows oneself to get temporarily lost in random books in the stacks of Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, it can lead (you know: entirely theoretically) to getting actually, literally lost.
So why do I bring all of this up now?
Because the Internet.
The Internet, I have realized, is One Big (Chaotic) Library, and there you are, wandering down the stacks on your way to the “Israel/Palestine” section, or possibly the “Recipes” shelf, or mayhaps the “Interesting Stories About Scientific Advances That You Can Kind Of Understand If You Read Slowly” department, and boom! You stroll right past baby gorillas practicing thumping their chests! Or an obscure, unknown mathematician who solved an old, thorny problem about prime numbers! (And if you read slowly, you just know you can understand it!) Or a colorful and random appreciation of all things Eurovision!
And just like that, I’m sitting on the metaphorical floor of the library, enjoying baby gorillas or trying to remember what I know about prime numbers.
The up side, of course, is that I find so many utterly fascinating things in my meandering way. Our earliest ancestor! Space flight for regular folks! Everything the Vlogbrothers have ever done, alone or together!
The down side is that I find so many utterly fascinating things in my meandering way.
I mean: The day – still only 24 hours, right? If I’m wandering about the stacks, I’m not sitting on my couch reading the book that’s literally right there, waiting for me!
And I begin to feel a little unhinged when this sort of thing goes on for too long.
This is not the Internet’s fault. This is my fault. The Internet (and Twitter, and BuzzFeed, and Wired, and YouTube, and on and on) are all just tools that I haven’t learned how to use properly yet. I used to know how to keep going past that tantalizing spine in the not-where-I’m-supposed-to-be section of the library when I really had to. I have to teach myself again, is all, and teach myself that “I really have to” includes things that aren’t on deadline, but that are ultimately more important to me than the meandering bit. It’s a constant rejiggering of the hierarchy of importance, and a constant retooling of my skill set in that field. It requires a level of mindfulness that is, I’m guessing, fairly new to the human animal.
Thumbs up for rock n’ roll!