Library Contrary


Books-schmooks. Who needs 'em?

Books-schmooks. Who needs ’em?

I went to the library on campus the other day to check out a book. I didn’t know for sure that they would have it, but I had high hopes: the campus has two libraries and the book I was looking for seemed like the kind of thing that would be useful to students of higher learning.

And, I reasoned, the library was big. The local library here in town (where I’d checked this book out in the first place) was small. If my small local library had the book it seemed likely that the big campus library would have it.

Well they did, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to hunt for it.

As a child of the eighties, I grew up learning the Dewey Decimal system of library organization. I recall running exercises with the card catalogue in elementary school as practice for finding books on the shelves. Modern libraries don’t have card catalogues. The older library on campus still has the card catalogue drawers in place, because it turns out that these are a useful and stylish place to display the names of donors to the university’s endowment.

The digital catalogue is usually accessible at a public computer terminal.

If such a terminal existed, I wasn’t able to find it readily. Walking around the library’s ground floor I was met at every turn by students working on laptops. Students at work stations. Students in overstuffed chairs. Students at counters. Students at tables. Laptops. Laptops. Laptops.

Assuming that the library’s catalogue was online, I figured I could probably search for the book on my laptop.

So I did.

The library had the book and the book was on the shelf. I folded up my laptop and went in search of it.

Now, the library is four stories tall- not including the basement level. I assumed this was to make enough space for the books. I already knew (from my search for the digital catalogue station) that the first floor was completely occupied by Students On Laptops. A sign beside a stairwell indicated that “Stacks” were up.

So I went up.

The second level was dedicated to quiet study. No noise. No speaking.  The floor was occupied by Students on Laptops.

The third level was also dedicated to study: perhaps a bit less stringent on the required level of quietude required. The floor occupied by Students on Laptops.

I wondered if I was missing something. Had I mistakenly gone to the study side of the library instead of the book side? Were the books kept on a basement level? Were there any books at all? I began to feel a sense of alarm. What kind of library was I in, anyway? Where were all the books?! Except for a few sparse collections of books near the elevators mournfully waiting to be Chosen, I hadn’t seen any books at all. I was used to libraries with books on every floor. I was used to libraries where books were displayed lovingly to encourage you to seek out new titles. I was used to libraries where entire floors were dedicated to different subjects: a whole floor for humanities. A whole floor for fiction. A whole floor for languages.

Where were all the books?

I finally found them on the fourth floor. In the middle of a floor quickly becoming overgrown with Students On Laptops stood a narrow phalanx of book cases. Here was a massive, four story University library housing a collection of books roughly the same in volume as the local library here in town.  All the books in this library occupied less than a single floor. This wasn’t a library, it was a study hall.

Who needs books? We have Students On Laptops.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on March 3, 2015.

One Response to “Library Contrary”

  1. Ah, you must have been in Leavy. They hide all the books in Doheny. And you have to walk right in behind the front desk like you own the place to get to them. And there are a couple other libraries on campus, coveting various collections (law, engineering, stuff you probably don’t need). You pretty much gotta ask the librarians whenever you can’t find something, but they’re always super nice and helpful. The catalog stations are by the front desk right when you come in. Better luck next time!

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