Soulful Saturday: Libraries – spiritual centers to nourish the soul

For some reason today’s entry was difficult to write. The well was dry and I couldn’t come up with anything I thought was worth sharing or that I felt competent to write. Finally, as I was browsing the NYPL website I hit upon something – libraries!

I love libraries. From the time I was a child they were my haven, my sanctuary against the world. I’ve had a library card as long as I can remember. I still recall the day my mother brought me to the local library and signed me up for a card. It was restricted (I could only take out 2 books at a time and only from the children’s section) but it was a start. One of my favorite books to take out was The Little Witch Cookbook. I adored the illustrations and the recipes were very simple for a child to make. I actually reacquired a copy as an adult but it just wasn’t the same and I passed it along to my youngest niece who seemed very thrilled to get it.

I also enjoyed losing myself in Bulfinch’s Mythology. This began a lifelong fascination and attraction for mythology. I started here and eventually found my way to more adult versions of Greek mythology as well as Celtic, Arthurian, Norse and Egyptian mythology. I was so excited the day I was able to take a book from the adult section of the library – it was Mythology by Edith Hamilton and I still remember the cover.

The first time I was allowed to walk to the bigger library near me (the now gown and much mourned Donnell Branch of the NYPL), I felt so proud I almost burst. I still remember how overwhelmed I felt when I walked in because it was much bigger than my local branch. It also had a Young Adult section. Oh the books I read from that library. I could spend hours simply walking through the stacks and losing myself in the books. It was wondrous and amazing to me.

During high school and college I managed to wend my way through the maze of research materials – magazines and non-circulating books, that allowed me to complete term papers, book reports and other school assignments. Computers were not yet the omnipresent devices they have become so I learned how to work the card files. I felt such a sense of accomplishment learning to find books and make inter-library loan requests.

These days I still visit the local library – sometimes to take out books, other times for movies or music. My primary use of the library is for electronic books – it’s so much easier to request and return books that way. However I’ll always feel a sense of soul-satisfaction and deep emotional connection to the physical library. I will always love losing myself in the stacks of books and finding lost treasures I would never have known about without browsing. It saddens me that so many local NYPL branches are nothing more than computer kiosks now. So many of the books are gone, the space freed up for more computers. The people using the library don’t seem to have the same sense of awe and wonder I did. They also don’t enforce the quiet rule much these days. That sacred hush that I remember when I entered the library, that reminded me I was in a special spiritual temple, has been replaced by laughter and chatting. I suppose it’s wonderful that libraries still fill a niche in their communities but I miss the slightly more formal, quieter days.

I hope we never lose our libraries. It’s sad to see so many bookstores going out of business and libraries downsizing. There is something magical about these places; these repositories of fabulous mysteries and hidden treasures. Hail to libraries and librarians! Long may they rule!

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