imp strump: the library as public oasis

Impudent Strumpet:
If home is too crowded or noisy or uncomfortable or abusive or non-existent, having somewhere else to go - a perfectly respectable place to go and to be (compare the connotations of spending hours in the library vs. spending hours in the bar) - can be a lifesaver. And once you're there, it's full of tools for educating and improving yourself or, worst case, quietly amusing yourself.
This quality, this truly public oasis, explains a fair portion of my love for libraries. Read: The other other awesome thing about libraries.


johngoldfine said...

Wonderful piece.

Public libraries have often been refuges for me. I spent many many days in the Boston Public Library's old reading room and its quiet, vaulted ceilings, vertical slit windows, marble, murals, Windsor chairs, and pneumatic tubes taking book call requests down to the stacks all became part of my inner architecture.

I must say, however, that I've given up taking out books from public libraries, though I still use the Maine State catalog at school to order books through interlibrary loan--when my local public library de-accessioned its collections to the point where they had more Joanna than Anthony Trollope, I started to 'check out,' so to speak.

Nitangae said...

I used to haunt the central branch of the Edmonton Public Library when I was in junior-high and high school. It was, as impudent strumpet says, a wonderful retreat from the generally negative judgments of what was then my world of judgmental teenagers.

One of the more vapid scenes (of many vapid scenes) in the second Sex and the City movie (yes, my fault for watching it in the first place) was when Mr. Big speaks ironically about Whosit being the last person in New York to borrow a book from the public library, and she reveals herself to be the lovable quirky person who enjoys the mildewed pages. It raises the question of course, about who the writers for Sex and the City consider a person, since lots of people cannot afford to buy books whenever they want to read them (similar question I have when I am told that "nobody" is from "Washington DC" or "Los Angeles," when I have met numerous people from those places - however, they are generally black, or Spanish-speaking, or Korean, or some category of person not really considered somebody but by the speaker).

But for a broad coalition of people, the fact that people without lots of money can sit down in a space to chat, read books and socialize, all the while not spending a penny (or perhaps only a small yearly fee), is the problem. The soft-liberals whose needs are catered to by Sex and the City feel their class-superiority, their whole narrative of progress, being challenged, and respond with mockery - this is the sort of stupidity that we are more likely to encounter in the Toronto Star. The Ford voters, of course, are bothered by the whole reading aspect as well. For Christ's sake, shouldn't we be at donut shops or sports games? They would respect us considerably more if we went to a strip-club. And of course by going to a public library you are violating your prime-responsibility to consume.

Now that I don't have to talk to Ford voters if I don't want to I often forget that they exist. About fifteen years ago, while I was walking home from the Southgate branch of the Edmonton public library while reading a book, a guy sitting in a car shouted out at me to say: "hey, you don't have to read all the time." It deeply offends some people that we are doing things other than accumulate consumer goods.

laura k said...

Nitangae, thank you for this excellent analysis.

similar question I have when I am told that "nobody" is from "Washington DC" or "Los Angeles,"

A terrible trope that many people use without thinking. I don't think it means "those people aren't people". I think it means "those aren't people I associate with". The language is telling, of course, but I personally think it's more snobbery than negation. Although perhaps it amounts to the same thing.

I find myself guilty of the same idea when I refer to a geographic area as "the middle of nowhere".

It deeply offends some people that we are doing things other than accumulate consumer goods.

I totally agree with you about our prime responsibility of consuming. I think, though, that the guy yelling at you from the car window is expressing his anti-intellectualism, like the Fords. IMO the Fords aren't saying you should buy books instead of borrowing them from the library, they're saying, books are useless, books are for geeks, who needs books. They're indulging in a bit of bullying-the-smart-kid - only it turned out that most of Toronto are smart kids!

Nitangae said...

Among other little errors in my comment above, one actually causes confusion for people reading. That mistake is:

"however, they are generally black, or Spanish-speaking, or Korean, or some category of person not really considered somebody but by the speaker."

Obviously, the person who says that nobody is from Washington DC is excluding the many black Americans who are from DC. So the "but" between "somebody" and "by" completely confuses the meaning of my angry rant against wealthy and glib white people from Los Angeles and DC.

Nitangae said...

My correction above is not to disagree with Laura K. when she points out that not all these people are actively nasty. So, the joke is at least in part on me and my self-righteous mockery of others :-). I should do as well myself!

laura k said...

Hey wait a second. :)

Nitangae, you are correct to point out the complete negation of The Other implicit in the statement "nobody lives there". I didn't mean my comment as a correction, more like an addition.

It's like the New York City one encounters in the New York Times Magazine or the paper's Living section. Everyone is buying or selling real estate, flocking to the hot new restaurants, shopping at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, worrying about getting their children into the right schools, paying enormous sums to park their BMWs.

We all know this represents a tiny fraction of the population of NYC - but the rest don't count (just like the people who live in LA or DC don't count). They don't buy the products advertised in those pages, they aren't the audience for those stories, so they don't count. In the phrasing you've pointed out, they are nobody, they don't exist.

Whether or not it's myopic snobbery, you are dead on in your assessment of what that phrasing implies. Language matters.