[I survived, but it was exhausting.]
“I’d like somewhere I can rent a book.”
“At a library you can borrow books for free.”
“No, I mean somewhere you can get a book, but temporarily.”
“Yes. A library.”
“No, like, not buying books, just taking them and returning them after a bit.”
I mean, I basically had the same conversation with my youngest child yesterday, wandering around our local place of “renting books” except for free. We sort of “didn’t have time” to go there for maybe a year and a half, on account of, oh, I’m sure you can imagine why it would be a pain to go anywhere. It’s always on the list but it never happens because nobody is every finished with math homework, and also, I’m a bad mother. So anyway, we finally made it, and the tragic thing is that in the intervening year, even the youngest person stopped wanting to read big glorious story books replete with charming prose and beautiful pictures. Instead she made a beeline for the annoying paperback early reader “chapter” section—those hideous Junie B Jones horrors and other miserable literary offenders. This quite shocked me. Didn’t realize we had wandered so far away from the center of early childhood.
Then discovered that four out of the six didn’t even want to be in the children’s section, and so my own browsing through the regular stacks was ruined by newly adolescent chirping for help about how to even find a book.
I like our local library. It is bright and airy and the main corridor has an arched, rounded comfortable ceiling. The lighting is warm and bright. It is gracious and inviting—and completely opposite of the university library, where I ventured for the first time this week, hoping to be granted a community member card, after proving that I lived within 50 miles.
The university library, first of all, is a fortress, the front door hidden so that when you finally breach its rain splattered edifice, you are afraid and anxious. Then, the prevailing sense is gray—stone cold cement gray. The lighting is white, bright, prison like. Once you have proven your goodwill, you shuffle into a rattling ancient elevator and go creekingly up to the stacks where, instead of the warm, gracious, beating heart of intellectual life, the books receive you in straight bleak lines. If you peak into the study carrels, you find, remarkably, that there are windows, but every desk is positioned so that if you down, you would never ever ever ever be able to see out of them.
The lighting, the gray cement, the unforgiving lines—I mean, is it a wonder that so many young people are so terribly stressed? Anxious? Eager to eschew all life and hope?
My gosh. The feel of that place feels like a crime against young bright humanity. Can social justice warrioring please get a bee in its bonnet about the aesthetic architectural sins of this nation? If the library looks like a prison, and the prison is already full up—I mean, the signs of our mental and spiritual illnesses are everywhere. No wonder we are all glued to our phones.