Thanks, in part, to “The Library Book,” a new work by Susan Orlean, libraries are enjoying a glistening moment in the media. In the book, Orlean, who appears at a ticketed event at Grounds for Sculpture on Monday, Oct. 22, explores the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire, weaving together her lifelong love of books and reading, with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes eccentric characters who run them.
“The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever,” Orlean wrote in a recently published excerpt in The New Yorker. Libraries are not solely about the books on the shelves, where stories have their shot at forever; the very fabric of the institution rests in the people who inhabit them. As librarians, we see those narratives unfolding daily. Connections are made, lives are changed, and faith in humanity can be restored.
If someone were to write our library book, what would make it onto the pages? From the perspective of one librarian, it would include sketches of an assortment of customers who visit regularly: from the colorfully adorned woman who asks for the newspaper as soon as we open our doors, to several wonderful souls who provide frequent updates of family members, classes they are taking and vacations. It would include the many students and professionals who occupy our study rooms, as well as profiles of people from many different countries and backgrounds who gather to improve their English. It would include comradery between colleagues, and, very likely, detail a variety of quirky episodes that would surprise most readers.
It’s remarkable to think about how many library stories exist. I would hope that we all have at least one. I count myself incredibly fortunate to have a continuously evolving narrative. Growing up in the Bronx in the ’70s, a trip to the library meant returning home with an armful of mylar-encased books that made crinkling noises with each step I took. When I was a teenager, I would spend hours reading through a series of books in the career information section, imagining endless possibilities for my future. And, if someone were to have told me, at age 17, that I would become a librarian, I would have vehemently denied it.
How have libraries impacted your life? We would love to hear about it the next time you’re here because, whether you realize it or not, you are already part of our library’s book.
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