Ode to Libraries

Today, I would like to discuss that brilliant piece of architecture and book-lovery known as The Library.

What IS it about libraries? There’s something absolutely delicious about them. Maybe it’s the dusty musty smell of hundreds, if not thousands, of books all housed together in one place. Maybe it’s the nooks and crannies that make you feel sort of private and secretive without knowing why. Maybe it’s the reverence for the written word that comes out in the hushed atmosphere; the community-at-large worshiping page after page.

Whatever the reason, I absolutely LOVE libraries and almost everything in them. I clearly remember my first library. When I say “my first library,” I don’t mean the first library I ever visited, because that probably happened in the womb. Instead, I’m referring to the first library I ever experienced on my own – explored dark corners, found my own books, claimed my favorite chair. I do believe it was the Duggan Library in Hanover, Indiana (an academic library that was part of the Hanover College Campus; my family lived there during most of the 90s). There was an entire children’s room – the existence of which I never questioned, though I suppose in hindsight, that was a little odd in an academic reference library – with a heavy wooden door and one big window. My favorite chair was in the corner, to the side of the window, and I spent hours and hours there. I can still tell you exactly what my favorite books to read there were.

The first was a book called We Are Mesquakie, We Are One by Hadley Irwin (doing a Google search, the book is apparently still available here! The cover is different from the version in my head, though). This was about an Indian girl who had to travel a long distance (alone, if I remember correctly) because her family has been relocated thanks to White encroachment. My other favorites were all by the same author, Kenneth Thomasma. He wrote fictionalized pseudo-biographies of Native American children. If I remember correctly, they were even signed by the author. I devoured these like there was no tomorrow.

Now as an adult with an undergraduate degree in Anthropology concentrating in Native American studies, I recognize these books are fraught with problems, not the least of which is the (hopefully unintentional) stereotypical, bordering on racist, way the Indians are portrayed. For a great blog entry on Ken Thomasma books, written by Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian, check this out. Regardless, these books still hold a place in my heart – without them I might not have studied Native American culture, and would be just as ignorant as almost all the other non-Natives out there.

I’m also always on a hunt for beautiful libraries – so many of them seem to be just gorgeous! The Mount Holyoke College library may have been one of the reasons I attended that school. There are several others in the general Western Mass. area that take my breath away. There seems to be a propensity for libraries to be housed in old churches and the like, which give them an extra special feel (thank god I live in New England). A woman in my grad school class is married, I believe, unless I’ve got this completely wrong, to a library architect, and I am so jealous (and a little turned on). Having never met the man, I can only dream what a library architect might actually be like, but it may now be one of my life goals to actually meet one. You should also check out this great blog post on some of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, and this one about two libraries designed by architect Tadao Ando. Some of these almost make you hurt inside, they’re so magnificent.

What was your childhood library? Any memories you want to share? What’s your library now? Any favorites?

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