Last year I posted a story about damaging my Kindle and how that experience reawakened my love for books.
Now, my Kindle is lost. I misplaced it, left it somewhere, put it away and forgot where, I don’t know. But it’s gone. This isn’t an easy truth to accept from someone who has a little over 1700 books in his Kindle library. I downloaded the app to my phone (which takes up a lot of space, by the way), but it’s just not the same.
After losing my Kindle, though, something strange happened. I don’t know how to explain it. When I had the Kindle, my time was mostly balanced between building up my Kindle library and actually reading a book on the Kindle. Once the Kindle was lost, though, it was back to other means of finding excellent books. And I chose some of the more old-school methods, too. I checked the library.
What I realized is that my reading habits have also become old-school. I’m looking for a good story, not just a good book. Is there a difference? I think so.
Between searching the library, recalling the names of some of my favorite authors and remembering some online recommendations, I picked up a copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
First, let me say I think I may be in love with the library in Dunbar, WV. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. In fact, it’s in one of the rougher areas of Dunbar, a part of town that used to be bustling with shops and restaurants but now contains mostly empty buildings and long-forgotten relics. The library is a square-shaped brick building, the entrance a metallic secured door that is not at all welcoming to the touch or easy on the eyes. But as you pass through the claustrophobic entrance hallway, the lighting changes from blinding to soothing; the atmosphere changes as the heart of the library opens up to an unexpected lofty ceiling, adorned by wooden columns and paneling. Shelves of books follow along the wall, some built into the wall and some standing separate.
What first catches they eye, though, are the books. Books placed in the shelves, books placed on top of the shelves, books “left” on the tables next to cozy chairs and couches. Whomever designed this library had one thing in mind:
People who love libraries also love a cozy place to read. [Tweet that]
And I did see exactly that, people of all types lounging in the seats or standing near the shelves, all of them with books in their hands. Most unexpected, though, were the empty computers, which seems to be the top reason many people visit their local library nowadays. In the days when MySpace was popular, I once saw a group of teenage girls in a library chatting with what looked like a grown man on MySpace. But not here. The few people who were on computers seemed to be working on something academic or professional.
As I searched for the book, without luck, I again had to make an old-school decision to seek help from the librarian behind the counter. This was usually my last resort as I’ve had experiences with public librarians that weren’t pleasant.
She was an absolute treat! “Hello! How can I help you?” she asked. Her tone was upbeat, and she smiled, but not in a fake or forced way. She gladly directed me to the correct section of the library to find what I was looking for, as if somehow sensing my own desire for the adventure of searching for the book myself rather than having someone else retrieve it for me.
Once I found the book, I struggled to keep from sinking into one of the available cozy seats and sticking around for a while. But I was in a hurry to get home. The librarian scanned my card, scanned the book, and said, “Okay, Jason, you’re all set.” She used my name, as if we were old friends! “Now don’t read that all in one night,” she said. We both laughed, and again I struggled to leave but had no choice. I was reminded of what Saul Bellow said: “People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” [Tweet this!]
A great library should compel visitors to stick around, enjoy a good book, and feel welcome enough to come back soon.
This is especially true of an inner-city public library where visits can quickly become havens for vagabonds and people off the street who may be there just to be under a roof or to take advantage of the library’s facilities. I saw a few people who looked like they may have fit this description, or maybe not. It was tough to tell because nearly everyone had a book and no one seemed to be “squatting” (for lack of a better term).
I will be returning, and hopefully soon and on a day when I can stick around.