Getting a handle on my tools.

lake bluff public libraryMy early childhood was fairly peripatetic, but when that part of it ended, around 5th grade, we moved in across the street from the town library.

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-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.

But that’s ok. As this young man would no doubt assure me, if I believe in myself, I will get the hang of it, I know it!

Thumbs up for rock n’ roll!

(And libraries).

12 Comments

  1. The library was my sanctuary, both the one in school and the one in town. I don’t know how many of my favorite books I simply wore out by checking them out and reading them repeatedly. I could not soak up enough knowledge; I still can’t.

    If anything, the thing I remember most are the librarians, because they seemed to know so much and were capable of pointing me in the right direction unerringly. Perhaps the Internet needs the equivalent, given the voluminous amount of information available and the fact that so much of it can be of a questionable nature. And no, Google doesn’t count. Google simply takes a few words and spits back a dry recitation of things it has calculated match your needs. Librarians can actually see beyond your stated needs and know a little something of what your soul needs. They are the keepers of information, and we could certainly us more of them in the wild and woolly world that is the web.

    • “They are the keepers of information” – that’s how I’ve always felt. Almost Superheroic in nature. (Other than my own Mom, of course. Who clearly knew nothing. DUH!).

      • If you are even the tiniest reflection on the influence of your mother, I think she knew quite more than you give her credit for…😉

  2. Darth Thulhu

     /  May 22, 2013

    I hear you.

    I have had to start seriously restricting time spent, because it was getting out of hand. My compromise has been to generally disengage from trying to be up-to-the-minute (and therefore commenting in-the-moment), and instead read through later that night or the next day. The same amount of input takes maybe half as much time to actually take in, allowing time for family stuff, and life in general.

    Sometimes I wish I could twin myself and both live life and immerse fully online, but this side of science fiction, there are only so many hours in the day.

  3. If you ever need a navigator through the shelves and nooks of a library, you can always call upon A LIBRARIAN to guide you.

    Also, Emily. I’m serious. YOU NEED TO CHANGE THE LINK for my political blog over on the right. —> Okay?! I changed the name, it’s NOT Amendments We Need anymore, it’s You Might Notice a Trend. Please.

    • I forgot, I forgot, I forgot! It’s fixt, it’s fixt, it’s fixt!

      (Sorry…).

      PS I’ve been terrible about the upkeep of the blog rolls in the past 6-9 months, more generally, so at least you’re not alone….

  4. falloch

     /  May 27, 2013

    Libraries: this. When our (tiny) village library was threatened with closure, not everyone was upset. Some folks just said we could get books cheap on Amazon now, but a) a lot of older people and poorer people, esp. families w/ children don’t have internet access, b) it still costs to buy books on Amazon, and c) even though I use Amazon sometimes because the nearest bookshop is 40 miles away, I still hate Amazon. But the MAIN reason I wanted to see our library stay open is because of the beautiful randomness of a library. Amazon’s fine if you know what you want but libraries are for finding books that you didn’t KNOW you wanted till you see them for the first time. But then I’m someone who still looks up words in a paper dictionary, just so I learn a few more words along the way. By the way, the community took over the library; we get a piffling amount of grant money to keep it open 18 hours a week, all staffed by volunteers, and we now have more and better books (all donated) that we had in years of the previously town council-run library, which refused to take donations because they said they didn’t have the staff to process the books!

    • The end of this story makes me so happy, you have no idea! And “libraries are for finding books that you didn’t KNOW you wanted till you see them for the first time” – exactly.