Keepers of the Human Mind

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on

I sometimes wonder if libraries are becoming as old fashioned as buggy whips and binders. It saddens me a bit to think that they may one day become more like museums than working centers of education. Many schools no longer bother to have rows and rows of books in a special room like they once did. Libraries are not being built as often as they were and physical copies of the great works are becoming less common. Today it is more likely that students will find the information that they seek online. Few of them have had experiences with the Dewey Decimal System or the card catalog, and while I often grumbled about such things in my youth, I still have the fondest of memories of visiting libraries.

There was a bookmobile that came to Garden Villas Park when I was young. I often rode my bicycle to there and checked out the maximum number of titles allowable. I’d devour the volumes then return in a week to get more. My mother often drove me to a bigger library with more selection. My favorite was located on Park Place Boulevard, but sometimes we would go to one near what used to be Palm Center, one of the first shipping malls in the city of Houston. I was addicted to biographies, mysteries, and stories of pioneer life.

When I got to high school my tastes changed to the classics. Our school library was fairly extensive so I’d tackle one great work a week. I became a fan of the Bronte sisters and Hermann Hess. I swooned over Pride and Prejudice and laughed at the characters created by Mark Twain. I read volumes of poetry and Greek tragedies and every biography that I was able to find.

In my junior year I joined the debate team which required a bigger resource than either my school or the local libraries afforded. My partner, Claudia, and I snuck into the library at the University of Houston armed with index cards that we filled with pertinent facts. We were unable to check out any of the volumes that we found because we were not students there, but we found periodicals and references that were invaluable to our arguments.

Once in a great while we hopped on a bus near Claudia’s home and traveled to the main library in downtown Houston. It was a grand old place with a history as stunning as its architecture and collection of volumes. The librarians there were incredibly knowledgeable and often helped us in our searches for information. We’d spend hours combing through books and microfiche. losing all track of time. It was an adventure that awakened my interest in learning even more than it ever had been.

A graduate class sent me to the law library at the University of Houston. I searched through tomes describing legislation and court cases. I enjoyed the hunt so much that I had to agree with my mom and my professor that I would have indeed liked the idea of being an attorney. Some evenings I was one of the last persons in the building and being the staff members had to remind me that it was time to vacate so that they might go home. I suppose that libraries have a tendency to make me lose all track of time.

When my children were young I took them to story times at the library and introduced them to the glories of row upon row of reading material. I wanted them to love reading as much as I did, and as far as I can tell my efforts took hold, but I suspect that they are now more inclined to visit a bookstore or purchase titles from Amazon or Apple than to suffer through traffic to get to a library. There aren’t too many located inside neighborhoods like there once were. It takes a bit more effort to get to them than riding a bicycle.

I would have loved to have seen the great library at Alexandria. How amazing it would have been to see primary texts outlining the histories of ancient societies! The library at the University of Texas is amazing in the scope of its collection. I’d so enjoy getting lost in it’s rooms and seeing its most prized pieces. Imagine actually being able to view one of the original Gutenberg bibles!

I suspect that there will always be people like me who still yearn for the atmosphere of a library. It has a place even amongst the technological revolution. Some of us still demand the sensuous feel of a real book. The texture of its paper, and the smell of its binding is as much a of the part of the enjoyment of reading as the words themselves. A library is a sacred place, a kind of heaven on earth. Visiting one is both a solemn and pleasurable experience.

I for one hope that we never become so modern that we no longer find a need for libraries. I’ve heard that there are fewer and fewer librarians these days which I think is a shame. A computer is a fine repository of information, but there will always be a place for the aesthetic and refinement of a great library. We must protect such gathering places for information and learning. They are keepers of history and progress, reminders of the best of the human mind.


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