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Transactions with Beauty.
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And remember, 
you are required to make something beautiful.

- Shawna

 

 

Morning at the Public Library Before it Opens

Morning at the Public Library Before it Opens

When you work at the library, you don’t experience it in exactly the same ways an ordinary library user does. (Not to imply that library users are ordinary – far from it). I’ve worked, off and on, in libraries for most of my adult life. I had a college diploma in library and information management when I decided that I wanted more of what was inside the books and began a university degree in English literature. I worked part-time in the science library at the university while doing my English degree. (I was always happy that most of my homework involved reading novels and poetry when I saw what the science students had on their plates). Summers, I picked up jobs in government and hospital libraries. I spent a lot of time in the university libraries while studying, and many years later, I would take a Masters in English literature. I studied the history of the book, and one seminar class (though not the book history one) took place in the special collections library. Eventually, though, I made my way to the public library, which feels like home to me.

library books and tea

So, I remember what it feels like to walk into a library as a non-library worker. I remember that for me it felt hopeful, and as though I was entering into another world of possibility. I remember feeling so relaxed, the same way I do when I’m going on a road trip – the worries of the world just falling off me. Is this how it feels for you?

The feeling I love now, is the public library before it opens, or after hours, when it’s closed. There’s this feeling of deep restful breathing, of gathering, re-centering. In the morning, a pleasant anticipation, and at night, a slowing down, and a real peacefulness, an exhalation. The vibrations in the building are calm, the books breathe slowly and surely, all the words are in their place, waiting. A library has a sort of sincere and mysterious inner glow. And I love the feeling of having the library to myself (more or less).

table at the library

I want to share a little library inspiration with you, next. A poem, by Alasdair Paterson, from the Scottish Poetry Library, firstly. The author is an academic librarian who says of his poem, “…I spent my working years with keys in my pocket to a number of academic libraries, particularly delightful at night, when the lights seem to radiate outwards all the knowledge on the shelves, which tends towards all there is.”

on the library

by Alasdair Paterson

it shone at night
it shone beautifully

it shone like the eddystone
it shone like the fire-cave
it shone like the old torpedo works
it shone like honeycomb spreadsheets
it shone like alchemy alley
it shone like aurora midnight mass
it shone like a plainchant surge
it shone like a troubadour fragment
it shone like test-site instruments
it shone like towerblock hypodermics
it shone like a harvest moon supper
it shone like famine eyes
it shone like harmonica railtrack
it shone like the tiger sonata
it shone like chandelier futures
it shone like the twilight home past
it shone like news from another star
it shone like the road to ruin
it shone like iron in the soul
it shone like an ampoule of angel dust
it shone like a fistful of martyr clippings
it shone like oranges in a net
it shone like torches in a deep dark forest
it shone like grandma’s fireside
it shone like the wicked queen’s smile
it shone like the necklace left in the laurel
it shone like the ring spilled in the reeds
it shone like a god’s pursuit sandals
it shone like an autumn arboretum
it shone like the cherry pond spring
it shone like a thief’s deep pockets
it shone like a jackdaw’s escape velocity
it shone like a pirate’s night-sweats
it shone like riot in lakeside towns
it shone like an islay lock-in
it shone like a boxful of butterflies
it shone like a web at the wood’s edge
it shone like blazing hilltop victory
it shone like the valley of last resort
it shone like the story of you and me

it shone all night


I’m very taken with the image of a library shining like a boxful of butterflies. Or, like a tiger sonata. There is much to delight in in Paterson’s poem, don’t you agree? It’s a beautiful example of a list poem.

Lastly, if you’re interested a day in the life of a Manhattan library, this is a lovely article: The Secret Life of Libraries. The photographs by Joey O’Loughlin are wonderful. The author of the article quotes the librarian who says that libraries are “palaces for the people” which I find lovely. He goes on, “The library really is a palace. It bestows nobility on people who can’t otherwise afford a shred of it.” The same librarian serves tea in the library, and I love this, too:

“Librarian Andrew Fairweather is in charge of building an archive of neighborhood history and culture to preserve memories in one of the fastest-changing neighborhoods in New York. He also organizes other activities at the library, including a regular Tea Time. “Tea Time is one of the best ways that the library can express faith in people,” Fairweather told me. “People need to have nobility and dignity in their lives. And you know, they need other people to recognize it in them too. Serving tea doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but the truth is it’s one of the most important things I do.”

I think this is one of the most wonderful things about the public library – that it expresses faith in people, just by existing, really. When you take a book out of the library, we believe you’ll return it. And isn’t that a pretty lovely thing?

table at the library with tea mug and pencil
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