An unposted stub about libraries, from June 28, 2012

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If this were a tumblog, I'd be starting this with the words "F*ck yeah, libraries." But it's not. And I feel the need to include the asterisk. I've never really articulated this, but I have the same feelings about libraries that lots of their more vocal supporters do. I love the way there's a sort of compressed knowledge kept in those stacks. There's so much possibility. I go to pick up something I know I need and walk away with five other tangentially related books. Now, I know books aren't the sum of all human knowledge. Hell, I have a Master of Information, of course I know that. I'm educated and accredited in a field where one of our major topics of discussion is the way in which nothing is the same as it was twenty years ago. We've made a life in filing books away and helping people retrieve information, but we now know that those days are numbered. And yet, knowing all that, I love libraries. I love the possibility in them. I walk in, looking for a particular serious text on body image issues in women and walk out with that, plus a biography of Miss America 1945, something I never would have consciously searched for, but which I jump to read when offered the possibility. It's the classic case of serendipity in the stacks. It's well-documented and it's something people who like libraries love talking about, but it's not something I tend to play up. And why not? Because I'm one of those enlightened librarians. I'm certified, but I don't work in a library. I study classification issues and nitpick. I google things. It's a strange beast, my stance. I work all day in a cubicle on a middling floor of the largest academic library in the country, and I, like many others in my field, believe that libraries need to change, need to stop being fortresses for storing books.

Borges wrote a wonderful story about a library. It had such possibility, the library he wrote about. It was the universe. It contained all knowledge. It's a strange, beautiful story. And I don't believe it's possible. Which is fine. I don't think I was meant to. I was talking to a philosopher today about the harm of classification. She mentioned that it was her major area, that the idea of subjectivity makes it a given that there's no such thing as an unbiased classification. I agree completely. Of course there isn't. I found a biography of a Miss America in the stacks not two feet from The Beauty Myth. Okay, so it may carry a little cognitive dissonance. But a flawed classification system (which, of course, they all are. Perfection in that regard is impossible) doesn't do anything to diminish. In fact, the flaws are what make the experience wonderful. If the classification were perfect, I'd find only things relevant to my immediate interests (because the perfect classification is responsive to the needs and understandings of its users) and that would be intensely boring. The flaws make it serendipitous. They help me find things I didn't realize I wanted, that may seem tangential, but that are excellent all on their own.

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