Friday, February 07, 2014

Libraries: Gardens of discovery

“Don't join the book burners. Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book...” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

I keep lists of books I want to read. Do you? Some of the books on my list come from friends' recommendations. Some of these come from references in other books. Some of these simply come from walking in the library, gardens of literacy.

One thing I love about libraries is that I inevitably come across books I never would have looked up nor would people I know be likely to recommend. Walking through the stacks, whether looking for a specific book or simply browsing, I inevitably come into contact with books about topics or with viewpoints that I never would have considered. They all mingle together, whispering, "Read me." And joy of joys, I can (for free).

Why are libraries better than bookstores? Aside from new volumes, do you see libraries trying to promote recent bestsellers? Do you see libraries trying to push you toward "bargain bins"? Libraries: the place where every book gets equal air time. Libraries: the place where the old and the new, the pulp and the significant, the popular and the repulsive take their places together and invite you to chat.

What are libraries better than Amazon? Amazon tries, bless them, to make recommendations: "Related to items you've viewed"; "Customers who bought this item also bought"; "100 books to read in a lifetime." It's useful. It brings to light other books I might like. It helps Amazon make a profit. But where are the book recommendations for topics I never imagined? Where are the books I might actually hate (but would be good for me)? At libraries they all sit side-by-side, welcoming me to try.

Where but libraries can ideas and opinions rest on equal footing? Where but libraries can the democratization of ideas reach its zenith? Where but libraries can all people of all ages from any educational or socioeconomic background commune with the both the greatest (and sometimes perhaps the feeblest) of minds to their hearts content or disgust? Indeed.

"In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends imprisoned by an enchanter in paper and leathern boxes." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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