Stillness Capital of Imaginations

I love Ben Ratliff’s paean to old-school stacks browsing at the Butler Library at Columbia University in today’s New York Times “Still Life” column: “the Butler stacks, the stillness capital of my imagination.”  Wow.

Stillness. The antidote to the busyness of websites, social media, viral videos, and other enemies of quiet reflection. Ratliff says, “I think by writing, and I write on a computer; the computer also contains the Internet, which manufactures express-service context as well as overstatement, sociopathy and lameness.” Amen, brother.

He goes on to praise physical stack browsing: “Doing it the inefficient way, you use the senses. You look at a row of spines, imprinted with butch, ultra-legible white or black type; your eye takes in more at any time than can be contained on a computer screen. You hold the books in your hand and feel the weight and size; the typography and the paper talk to you about time.”  I say again, amen.

And then this: “You can also create luck in any given spot: You turn your head to the opposing row of books. A different subject area can arise, perhaps only partly to do with your areas of interest. This is non-link-based browsing. You can discover, instead of being endlessly sought.” Alleluia!

Sing it, brother Ratliff. This is the soul of library browsing. Libraries are caught up right now in being technologically savvy. We are working hard to use QR codes, Google indoor mapping, mobile catalogs, blogs, Tumblr feeds, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and whatever else might attract “digital natives.”  We lend e-books and even e-readers. We teach database navigation.

I understand libraries have to serve all our patrons and that there are benefits to efficient online searching. But what if our core mission is to be the stillness capital of imaginations? We must continue to be that, no matter what other services we provide.

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Library love

It’s National Library Week so I’m going to share the library love.

First, from Zak Stone at GOOD, a great article about a small Massachusettes library, MN Spear, raising money for a new building. Their homegrown You Tube video, “Where would you be without your library?” has gone viral, attracting donations from around the world. They’ve also started a Tumblr feed where people share the many reasons they love their libraries.

You can find lots to love about libraries online. Over on Pinterest, you can visit beautiful libraries, check out library art project ideas, or enter the Age of Librarius. Galley Cat reports on the ALA’s “10 most frequently challenged library books” of 2011. Flavorwire shares all kinds of DIY and alternative library spaces on its “Tiny Libraries, DIY Reading Rooms, and Other Micro Book Depots” post. Huffington Post’s “Libraries in Crisis” section is really about why libraries are as important as ever, why people are fighting library budget cuts across the country, and how libraries are getting creative, doing more with less.

Of course, the best way to love your library is to support it. Go there regularly, check out what they have to offer. If you haven’t been lately, you’ll find much more than books — libraries lend e-readers, downloadable ebooks and audio books, museum passes, magazines, even telescopes. They host classes & programs for all ages, from concerts, readings, discussion groups, and films to edible book contests.  And as I mentioned last week, they incubate the arts.

What do you love about your library?