The Library Reading Room

Glen - Los Angeles, California
Entered on March 17, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the sanctity of the library reading room.

I have sat on the tall chairs of a big city, big library reference desk for three decades, and my love and respect for the miracles abounding in any library has only grown with time. Despite the hugely colorful, endlessly perplexing, sometimes disheartening display of humanity in it’s highest and lowest common denominator I believe in the healing power of this environment.

Being a reference librarian in the metropolitan arena is to be part listener/bartender, part-computer tech, part referee and sometimes even my favorite role as Mister Know-it-all. In my time operating as Don Sabelotodo I have been a conduit between the written word and broke bums, forlorn addicts, bright-eyed students, grizzled genealogists, a Secretary of State, an Oscar-winning actress, a Pulitzer-winning Playwright and a serial killer. I also got to commune with Herodotus, Abe Lincoln, Samuel Pepys, H.L. Mencken and several thousand other great minds. I was privileged to direct my patrons to ancient Thebes, to Amundsen’s Polar expedition, to bloody Belleau Wood, to the peak of Mount Everest to desperate Germany in 1933.

Sometimes it leads my patrons to a better life, sometimes toward the unbounded joy of recognizing the balance of good in the human heart. I can take great pride in those gifts. All this from flopping open the quaint invention called the bound book. Even though the popular culture has often tossed public libraries on the obsolescence heap we still keep sprouting up like psychedelic mushrooms of information and inspiration.

The Internet is a vast and shallow pool that comes in handy, even for old-school hard-copy librarians like me, but I believe in the book and the silence in which to ponder its contents. As the 21st century gallops forward and my youth becomes smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror, I find the library reading room crowded by computer terminals and those who use them for rather sketchy library reasons. Unlike some bean counters that determine our worth by numbers, I measure by the miracle. We don’t discover Da Vinci or Gandhi by gooning at MySpace and giggling over a monitor. Sometimes the light of learning can only shine with study and quiet contemplation.

I believe in the sanctity of a library reading room where cell-phones never ring, where bags of potato chips are never torn open, where speaking out loud is looked at askance. It is all well and good for our institutions to be community-gathering places but the reading room is for thought, meditation and epiphany. I don’t resent the homeless who snooze beside their bundles or the kids who are excited by the community of the place.

The library is not an arcade, it is not a peep show, and it is not a meeting place for business or tomfoolery. It is a place of possibilities, of unlimited potential, of noble pursuits and of first-steps toward redemption and human fulfillment. I believe in the sanctity of the library reading room.