Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Library Day

The smell almost drove me away before I had finished. Sweet glue, dust, and use thickened the air that was barely thinned by a air conditioner hidden in some other corner; the scent was stronger than air anyway, and thrust the years back in a copse of shadowed wings that kept me balanced in crouch over my toes beside the lower shelves. Someone was leading the toddlers in a simple song in one of the back rooms but the entire library listened.

It's not that large of a library, yet it makes me feel small and awkward, as if I was much younger and not yet capable of dealing with all the choice and randomness. Except for some of the more familiar books, it feels more like it belongs in the tourist haven of Old Town Spring (remember books? remember libraries?) and there is a charmless practicality that draws one in and reinvests reading with purpose. Some of my earliest memories are of a library with a concrete floor, a fountain in the front, and grey steel shelves with same smell. The sidewalk in front of that dead storefront is unremarkable, but the shelves and the pale wood and the crinkle of books--the smell of them and feel of them--in this place carries me swiftly into elementary school, the Lake Jackson Public Library, and the Houston Public Library off Westheimer near the apartments where we used to live.

But the choice is small and I'm pressed to find something that I want to read. None of the books on my Amazon list are here, although there is a good gardening and cooking section to which I will be returning.

I'm not interested in ranting about what a library is or isn't, what it could be and what it's not--these topics are all tied into the idea that civic space and civic life are attenuating to the extent that people work longer hours, anesthetize themselves with entertainment, and then find politics (the engine of civic infrastructure) just another smorgasbord of opinion, entertainment, and team-building. Rant-y enough? Perhaps the idea that catches me is that the section in which I find myself looking is suffering the same shrinkage as it is in bookstores and I wonder if in perusing it I, like Alice, will shrink down to navigate its wonders.

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