Loving libraries

Hit and Miss #4

It’s time to nerd out about libraries. I love that we have places that collect lots of books and enable us to enjoy them well into the future.

To start, here’s a surprisingly fiery thread from the McMaster Rare Books official Twitter account. Who said that librarians were shy? I like this thread because it speaks to some of the great challenges faced by libraries and archives, in no uncertain terms: though they collect essential traces of the past, they lack so much of the support required to do so. (This thread also led me to learn about McMaster’s Bertrand Russell Research Centre, including its origin story—very cool stuff!)

Since financial support isn’t really feasible from me, I’d like to share some library love. Here are some of my favourite libraries, and a little note on why I love them so:

  • Library and Archives Canada’s Wellington building. The reference room is incredible. Its murals never fail to draw my eye—sometimes, if I’m there for a talk and the speaker is boring, I’ll explore the murals instead. (It also looks stunning at sunset. And any other time of the day.)
  • Vancouver Public Library’s main branch. Its height, its views, its reading desks—all combine to present the best fusion of traditional and modern libraries that I’ve yet encountered.
  • Waterloo Public Library’s Harper Branch. The large glass wall, facing the farm fields and the conservation woodlot, always offered an interesting view in the event of a dry book.
  • WCI’s library (my high school’s library). I spent little time among the shelves, but time spent there with friends new and old showed me how a library can be a space for community as much as one for books.
  • University of Waterloo’s Dana Porter Library. It taught me how exciting an institutional library can be; whenever I could wander there a while, I gladly did. Its “tomes”, as I excitedly described them to my mom years ago, inspired in me a great love for university libraries.
  • uOttawa’s Morrisset Library. With stacks stretching out in long, uninterrupted rows, I know the way to my favourite sections by heart. Such friendly staff, too. Not visually appealing, but I’ve learnt that a library’s appearance has little to do with its capacity to enchant.

At the Library and Archives last year, I attended a talk by Alberto Manguel, director of the National Library of Argentina. Part of his talk touched on his library’s project to document the “disappeared” of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” In connection with that, he spoke on the role that national libraries and archives play: as he put it, they reflect a society’s soul, its aspects both beautiful and ugly. As institutions dedicated to collecting traces of the past, they build a trove of evidence, waiting to be inspected. What a wonderful task!

Why am I talking about libraries so much? They’ve been on my mind a lot lately. As I look to the next few years, I’m growing increasingly interested in studying Library and Information Science. It carries some dryness to it, sure, but its purpose excites me greatly, because libraries and archives are the quintessential facilitators. The field revolves around understanding the wealth of knowledge in the world, and making that accessible to others, often via interesting technology—a great combination of my interests! I’ve always felt most comfortable supporting others in their achievements, providing them with the tools or resources needed to realize their potential—this is exactly what libraries, at their best, can offer.

To close, I’d like to share a quotation from Umberto Eco: “Although we sometimes go to the library to find a book that we already know exists, we often go to the library to find out if a book exists, or to discover books about which we have no previous knowledge.” (How to Write a Thesis, 54) This depiction of the library, as a place for the possible, that’s the greatest draw for me. To maintain a place for the possible—what better life is there than that?

Sent from Ottawa, Ontario on October 1st, 2017. Edited while gazing at the Library and Archives.