I am working on what will most likely be my last instructional lesson of the summer. Summer is flying by. Unless you’re in Vermont, then it is basically already over, so I’m told. But I digress. I am preparing the lesson for a communications class, a 15-minute displaying of a few databases for their project, which will either be social networking or free speech. I’d be interested in seeing something which combines the two. Great time to be a lawyer with lawsuits over tweets and such. But now I really digress.
I read a really stimulating post by the folks over at the “In the library with the lead pipe” blog, a blog which puts my philosophical ponderings to shame. The latest entry is all about the philosophical, social, and psychological factors involved in weeding. Non-library people just don’t get what is involved in the decision-making. It can be like moving grandma to a nursing home and having to sell her house. Things don’t feel right. We depend on tradition and familiarity, and in the non-profit world, you have the idea of someone’s very life at stake and you have exactly what they need. You never know when someone is going to need those old milk jugs you have in the garage, so you hold on to them. Maybe, as the blogger envisions, that book about 14th century death rituals in Italy will be exactly what a grad student needs for his thesis. Some things are easier to get rid of. Upon arriving at my high school library position, my assistant and I began a program we decided to call “Bitch-n-Pitch” as many useless, outdated, and disgusting books lined the shelves. I even found what I believed to be a petrified…apple maybe. We created plenty of empty shelves which, considering what little budget there is, are still empty. Funny how some would object to empty shelves while being just fine with moldy encyclopedias from the 70′s. The attempt was to make more meaning out of what remained.
Many items are not that easy. You have the feeling they still has value, or you don’t have enough knowledge about them to know what they really are. We all like to preserve things, and perhaps I like libraries so much because it gives me a sense of the awesomeness of human existence. Elton John’s words: “There’s far too much to take in here; more to find than can ever be found.” There is this sense of being small in the grand history of thoughts and ideas of humanity. We can’t encompass it all, but libraries do better than most at the attempt. Digitally, while all the world is at our fingertips, we don’t get a sense of the vastness of knowledge. We inject books with deeper meanings and they become our identity. Perhaps it is in fear of our own mortality, the blogger ponders, in which we want to pass on this wisdom to the next generation. You wonder what the digital world will do to this as well. But for now, there is safety in this community of thoughts and ideas, in whatever format. Much like our own personal collections of memories, we have a desire to create a place of meaning. They are a part of us.
But then again, some books just plain suck and you have to dump them to make better use of space for better ideas.
Yet this sense of safety and belonging is probably why many of us go to libraries or seek careers in its vast ocean. It is a place for intellectual, emotional, and psychological stimulation. While humanity still battles itself over race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, and whatever else I’m not thinking of, the library (for all its imperfections), is one place anyone truly can be welcome. I could preach that “everyone is welcome to this church,” believing that fully myself, yet representing a religious tradition known for its exclusionary message and emphasis on what rules you need to follow to “be like us.” In the library, I no longer have to apologize for the organization I represent, and when someone needs help finding information, they will not be told by me that their information doesn’t agree with my subjective viewpoint.
Now I’ve really digressed even more and need to get back to what I think was the main point of this post.
Libraries have this sense of continuity and connection, and I find myself absorbed in it unlike anything else. Available to me are the histories, thoughts, and reflections of folks down through the ages. If I don’t understand what an author says, I can probably find someone who explains to me what they are saying. And now, digitally, I am connected to millions more, where those ideas are searchable and findable within seconds.
Throughout much of my life, these few things defined me: faith, church/ministry, and marriage. I am not sure where the first one is. Ministry is long gone and church is an empty shell of what it once was. I am a few days away from an anniversary that is no longer celebrated, and divorce happened nearly a year ago, nearly coinciding with it. These were where my identity was located, and I began weeding many things, and not just the physical stuff for the yard sale. Many things go. Meaningful things remain. Perspectives change. New meanings emerge. Books and thoughts and ideas come and go, but they are here for our reflection. Yet identity is still in the seeking than in the finding, the reaching rather than the grasping.
As I watch the Red Sox, I realize they have been more constant than anything in my life. I remember spending time in the library looking up books about baseball and Red Sox players. It gave me a place to belong. I am connected to a history…a community. And I remember James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams:
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America
has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a
blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.
This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all
that once was good, and that could be again.
Oh good, there’s still a copy on the shelf. I hope that never gets weeded.