I get most of my books from libraries, and I think it is safe to say I have spent a lot of my life, childhood and adult, in libraries. I appreciate what libraries do for communities, and know that if they did not exist, humanity would suffer.
I read a lot. I mostly read novels, but venture into autobiographies, and some narrative non-fiction as well. Lately, it seems many of the things I have read are about books. I had just finished reading Susan Orlean’s book ‘The Library Book’ when I was catching up on This American Life episodes and came upon Ep. 664 ‘The Room of Requirement. The episode is dedicated to stories about libraries and the unexpected. Act Three of the episode, ‘Growing Shelf Awareness’, was my favorite.
Libraries have existed in some form around the world since the 2nd millennium BC (a collection of close to 25,000 clay tablets of transcripts and texts belonging to King Ashurbanipal, were found in Egypt), and continued in popularity. The most famous of the ancient libraries is probably the one established by Aristotle at Alexandria. American libraries began as private collections, but really got their universal start when Benjamin Franklin started the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731.
Whenever I go to a new city, I like to find the library. I may not go in, but it’s comforting just knowing it’s there if I need it. In October, I spent a little bit of time at the Parkway Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
The Parkway Central Branch opened its doors in 1927. It has four floors with the Rare Book department on the third floor. The Rare Book department houses more than 100,00 books and manuscripts. I took a tour of this department and then was lucky enough to have a wonderful conversation with one of the librarians (a recovering children’s librarian- her own words).
That visit was fresh on my mind when I read Orlean’s book. Orlean does such a wonderful job of jumping between the research of the place and the story of the people involved, that her books are always a joy to read.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, go to the library.