Nothing like walking through the stacks…

There is nothing like walking through the stacks of books in a library.

It doesn’t matter if the library is a neighborhood library or the Library of Congress there is something magical about them. I have known this for most of my life. In elementary school, I volunteered in my school library. I learned how to reshelve books via the Dewey Decimal System, and how to look up books using a card catalog. Best of all I got to hear all of the school’s gossip from Mrs. Eldridge, the librarian.  I learned that the library was the center of information about everything!

The card catalog in the nave of Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. Picture by Henry Trotter, 2005.

At the time, I didn’t know how beneficial this little volunteer job was to my future education. I was a kid who loved to read. A kid who used those colorful stories as an escape from the doldrums of childhood. Through college and graduate school I would walk the stacks of my school’s libraries looking for help with my coursework, not trusting the new computerized search systems. Inevitably, I would find a book related to what I was looking for that I didn’t see come up in one of my searches.

Now in the digital age, search engines are better. They house the entire inventory of a library. Some search engines, for a fee, will even let you search for a scientific article about an obscure topic in an obscure scientific journal with extreme precision. My days of walking the stacks to “find” a surprise book on a topic I was interested in was all but over.

In my little neighborhood of Seattle there is a small lovely library, an original Carnegie library. Usually, I only go there to pick up a book I had put on hold on the Seattle Public Library website. Seldom do I spontaneously visit to walk down its short stacks of books hoping for a “good read” to pop out and grab me.

Today was different. I hurriedly went to get a book I had put on hold. The library closed in a few hours and it is not open tomorrow (budget cuts). And I really wanted that one book. You see I am planning a trip to France. And last night, as I went onto the SPL website looking for guidebooks, I deduced  from the number of holds for each of the books I wanted, many other Seattleites are planning trips to France too. I clicked multiple titles to put them on hold and hoped for the best. My trip is in a week! When I got the email saying one of my books on hold was waiting for me at my library, I felt like I had won the lottery!!!

The winning book!
The winning book!

Happy with my one book, I still felt unfulfilled. I walked to the check out line but something was drawing me towards the stacks of nonfiction books. I thought, no way could there be any guidebooks for France, or Paris even, they are all in the hands of some other Seattleite who is probably going to France this summer! The feeling persisted, I released my place in line and walked towards the row of books. To my disbelief there were five guidebooks to France that had not come up in the online search results.

"Discovered" books from the library stacks.
“Discovered” books from the library stacks.

There is nothing like walking through the stacks of a library.


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