In my time of working at OWL I have had the pleasure of getting to know many library lovers. I am one myself. I love this unique opportunity open-stack libraries give us to quietly browse stacks and stacks of books. I call it sacred browsing because, to me, it’s a kind of walking meditation. This first step of reading is like the time between waking and sleep. It’s the beginning of the hypnosis we experience when reading a captivating book.
Browsing is something you have to make time for if you really want to enjoy reading. It’s easy to get sucked into a racing-by-the-clock life. I admire all of you who schedule time for yourselves to enjoy our beautiful selection of books. You are doing something important for yourself and for the library.
“But isn’t this, after all, heaven? This island of books where I am free to look at what I like, linger on what I like? I am in full control. The books exist to be played on by my faculties. They cannot evade me, nor can they hold me a moment longer than I want them to.”
Susan Allen Toth & John Coughlan write about libraries in their book Reading Rooms:
“But the Reading Room visitors whose accounts we here enjoy did not come to have a ‘service’ rendered. On the contrary. They came to a place where, unlike most other places in late-twentieth-century America, their experience depended entirely upon themselves–the book they selected, read (without breaks for commercials) at the pace they chose, for as long as they wished, and without background music. Here readers of all ages were fully independent persons, with the assistance only of a librarian to help them be themselves.”
I have collected a set of interesting books about librarians and others who love to browse. Check them out:
The Archivist by Martha Cooley: In this novel an archivist librarian protects correspondence between T.S. Eliot and Emily Hale (not to be released to the public until 2020). A woman desperately attempts to gain access to these letters. This librarian is also a widower and the story tells how his wife died and how he heals from his loss.
The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga: A young American librarian travels to Italy to help restore books in libraries that have been flood-damaged. She finds and restores a rare antique book. Hellenga tells the story of her relationships surrounding this valuable book and ultimately how she ends up selling it.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: This is a really interesting novel about a man who travels backward and forward in time, but only travels to different periods of his life. His wife meets him at different times of her life too. The time traveler in this story is a librarian and he talks about his love of quietly browsing library stacks.
The Loop by Joe Coomer: A parrot finds his way to a young man’s porch. This novel is about the young man’s search for all the previous owners of this parrot. It’s also the story about his relationship with his girlfriend, an assistant librarian, who helps him with his research.
Reading is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons by Megan Sweeney. Sweeney interviewed 94 women prisoners for this powerful nonfiction book about reading and how access to books changed their lives in prison.
The Inside-Outside Book of Libraries by Roxie Munro: An informative children’s picture book about many different libraries in the United States.
Charles Van Doren, in The Joy of Reading, uses the following analogy to describe what he thinks is most important about reading:
“If I go to a museum to study a painting in order to write a paper about it, or to answer questions on an examination, or to refresh my memory of it prior to a lecture I am scheduled to give, I am doing one thing. If I go to a museum to look at a painting because the joy this gives me and the enhanced appreciation of the capabilities and powers of the species to which I have the honor of belonging, I am doing another. I go to museums to do the second thing.”
So come to the library, the only place that gives you this most sacred diversion, and choose the books that suit your fancy.
Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL and is currently humming the tune Fearless Love by Melissa Etheridge.