Saturday, February 27, 2010

The lure of the stacks

Over at her blog, von Cookie writes:

Being here in the library is calming. I can sink myself into the academic world here — a world that appears not to want me so much, at the moment — and enjoy the fact that there is so much scholarship going on.

I've noticed this myself, which is why spending time in a library has always been one of my favorite pastimes. Not, as von Cookie says, because you need to look something up, but simply to enjoy the atmosphere of the place, the libraryness of it. The books are ranged on their shelves, each one its own little world of knowledge, waiting patiently for the day when you decide to explore it. You walk among them, glancing at the titles, and suddenly one grabs at you. Assembling California by John McPhee. What is this, you ask? How does one assemble California?

So you take it down and open it up. You stand on the threshold of a new world. You read the material on the inside flap, and it's a book about geology. California, it turns out, was literally assembled over a period of millions of years, as plate tectonics brought a series of land masses out of the Pacific to dock (as the terminology has it) with the west coast of North America.

You sit down in a nearby chair and start reading, about the geology of California and about a California geologist named Eldridge Moores. McPhee jumps back and forth between Moores' life at the University of California at Davis, the 1849 gold rush, and the arrival of an island arc 165 million years ago whose collision with North America created the gold fields. An hour goes by, and you get up from the chair and walk over to the circulation desk to check out the book. You've decided to let John McPhee tell you about how California came to be.

This is why you like being in libraries, because there's no telling what piece of knowledge will show up and insist on being learned.

2 comments:

voncookie said...

I love this post. Love it. And not just for the shout-out (which I appreciate) but because you've reminded me about what a beautiful thing knowledge is, and how essential libraries really are.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Simply a beautiful post, JP. I think it's safe to say that we are all biblio(theque)philes, and you articulated this wonderfully.

Not to sound a down note, but libraries seem to be on the budgetary chopping block now, when we need them more than ever.