We've come a long way from Dewey Decimals. I've always admired librarians, from stereotype bun to books. It's National Friends of Libraries Week and I've been flipping the pages of reminiscence. Actually, I always wanted to become a librarian. I believe this was due to:
a) the elegant order of the card catalogue;
b) the musty smell of the stacks; and
c) the beauty of the inky Due Date.
Growing up, I would sit for hours in the children's book section, poring over the glossy Alice in Wonderland illustrations. And, after all, Lewis Carroll, along with Ben Franklin, Golda Meir, Marcel Duchamp and Casanova, were all -- at one time or another -- librarians.
And then of course there's the element of the forbidden fruit -- letting one's hair down. There's a huge tradition of the naughty librarian on the silver screen -- from Bogart's The Big Sleep to The Mummy, with that sexy Rachel Weisz.
But now -- amidst the Age of Kindle and Twitter -- it's a whole new ballgame (or should I say book game). And, although my heart is stuck in sentiment, my mind knows that change is essential. Despite the nostalgic urge to go backwards, it's imperative that we all take a few steps forward.
Okay, so I admit that I was hooked by Shirley (Marian the Librarian) Jones in The Music Man. She stamped those books vigorously and I was sold!
It was also partly due to my weekly childhood visits to the Windsor Park library in Bayside, Queens, and the oh-so special jaunts with my father, who drove my sister and me to the huge Queens Village branch on rainy days. Bonding with my Dad was half of it. The other half was finding the right book for summer reading. When I finally found my favorite book, The Melendy Family, by Elizabeth Enright, I sat in our beachside cottage, listening to the waves of Cape Cod Bay. Till this day, I still want to find a house with a cupola just like the one Miranda Melendy lived in.
And then there were the college all-nighters in the Andrew Dickson White moss green carpeted reading room at Cornell. I simply had to sit at the right stall at the right desk at the right angle overlooking the right campus hill to get the right light. It wasn't so much feng shui as much as OCD (Obsessive Couch Delight). Call it the ABC's of library geometry: the Angle of Book to Chair. Yup, I guess I never would have finished my French Lit class' required reading of Baudelaire if I'd been sitting at the wrong angle of the chair overlooking the wrong side of the right hill.
I spent hours in the listening room of Cornell University's Lincoln Hall, spinning classical LP's, absorbing the motets of Monteverdi in my Renaissance Music class. Then I reluctantly enrolled in a Masters of Library Science degree (my parents thought it was the practical thing to do). After all, I was a curious Sagittarian and consummate researcher, from the nuances between grits and farina to the population of Jews in Wales. Reaching out to help students, scholars and dear Mrs. Rosenberg find the sheet music to Carousel or the 1944 review of Broadway's On the Town was as rewarding as delving into some obscure madrigal analysis.
Why? Because as much as I love libraries, I hate rules. In the middle of my rather sinister master's program, I always felt the need to change the system, turning rigid into flexible, stiff into innovative, flat into futuristic. Let's face it. Who wouldn't want to stop the SHOOSH SH SH of the librarian? Who didn't want to keep a book out overdue, then sneak it back into the return slot? The ultimate childhood challenge: Who actually could turn a librarian's grimace into a grin?
Fast forward to adulthood. So, on a sudden stroke of nonsequitur serendipity, while combing through the Westminster Dog Show, stopping at the Irish Wolfhounds, I chanced to meet Amy, a fellow librarian, nature lover, doglover, and book lover (bibliophile). Amy's a champion of change, who also happens to run the Woodstock Library.
Talk about a town with a time warp. The 100-year old Woodstock Library resides in a charming building on Tinker Street in a town somewhat frozen in time (the '60s, to be specific). But now that library seems to be getting a sweet push into the future, as gentle as the Girl on a Swing from my favorite childhood book, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse.
True, I'm often waxing nostalgic about everything from old boyfriends to old winter coats. But in order to go forward, we sometimes need a nudge. Amy & Co.'s ingenious proposal 'nudge' is for a Woodstock Library Annex: transforming the laundromat across the street into a modernized, multipurpose library with expanded community meeting space. Complete with artistic, techy and scientific library-sponsored programs from a mobile computing lab to poetry workshops, it's a concept Mr. Dewey -- of the almost decimated decimal system -- would indeed be proud of. It was always less about IN-hibited and IN-ward, more about OUT-reach and OUT-ward.
However, there seems to be lots of resistance to the outreaching Annex, to expansion, to CHANGE. Guess you can't judge a book -- or a Woodstock town -- by its cover. I'm caught somewhere between nostalgia and progress, but in the end? I do believe in turning the page, so to speak, and not getting Woodstuck.
After all, the derivation of LIBRARY is libber -- freedom, liberty. So keep pushing that swing, Amy. We should take the liberty of expanding the traditional library. Let the libraries connect personally -- not with people, not just on the page -- but jumping OUT of the page. Let there be a library bursting with exuberance: banjo and ballroom lessons, entrepreneurship seminars, adult education, rumba classes, anti-bullying sessions, even seminars on how to use the kindle.
And yes, let there be light! After all, the word RAY is embedded in lib RA r Y - and this Annex, representing the future, is a ray of hope.
So, my friends, in the spirit of America -- the land of Freedom, land of books, libraries don't always have to go by the book -- they can, and should, expand. The concept is to incorporate new age of information flow, to spread the information. We're entering the New Age of new spaces, new ideas, new directions. Spread the information. Goodbye, prim. Hello, progress. Build a library annex. Let down your hair, Marian and Woodstock. Let down your rigid bun and let loose.