‘Nothing makes a man more reverent than a library’
– Winston Churchill
Not going to quite agree with this comment, which comes from an aside in a famous essay ol’ WSC wrote about his discovery of painting as a hobby.
I’ve loved libraries, certainly, ever since I ever discovered them when I was aged five (my first ever library book was Dr Seuss’s ‘Horton the Elephant Hatches an Egg’ from the Waiuku Public Library). (one further aside: you don’t want to see me at the business end of any sort of a paint brush. Not at least unless you’ve had a safe distance installed first).
But I can certainly think of plenty of things that have made me more reverent than libraries.
Mostly nature, the outdoors, and so forth (see some of the pictures which adorn this publication)… there’s reverence, awe, and a sense of ineffable wonder.
But on libraries themselves…my main emotion I think has been hunger, a ravenous, at times slightly desperate intellectual appetite.
Tinged with a touch of awe, certainly, but that awe is secondary.
Besides, to me ‘reverence’ makes you hang back a bit. You don’t want to approach the alter with too much enthusiasm in church. You can never be too sure what the Divine Ironist has in mind – except it’s bound to be something you haven’t expected and that it’s bound to be a bit of a doozie.
In the case of libraries, I just want to get at ’em. Reverence is there but it skips, hand In hand, with a wide eyed, gleeful and – let’s be honest about it –a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm.
And yes, I suppose, the ultimate ‘kids skipping hand-in-hand with a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm’ were found in the first book of the Bible, where they fairly notoriously came a bit of a cropper.
After I left the home town as a teenager – especially when I moved to big places like Wellington- about the first thing I did was join any libraries going. In the case of Wellington, two whole, massive libraries – the Polytechnic library as well as the public libraries – were on tap.
Like the beer, only much much much better. And I didn’t actually need to deepen my voice to order books at the library, somehow it just felt as though ‘The Ginger Man required a deeper voice. And perhaps some facial fair.
These city libraries were places of awe, certainly. But more, they were places of a kind of desperate and slightly bewildered, unfocused hunger than of reverence.
There was so much there: so much to discover. And they were run by these helpful, but often daunting, highly educated and sophisticated people called librarians.
I has reverence and respect for librarians, certainly. Likethat started with the librarian who, back home, introduced me to this wondrous system called Interloan.
Being able to order up books from any library in the country was a breathtaking discovery. Used to go into the Waiuku library every second Friday after school: order up some book or books I’d discovered in a footnote or bibliography I’d found recently.
Let me at ’em!
Then as the year wore on, discovering second hand books stores, these inspired awe and reverence, joy and discovery.
Cheap books you could actually own! Repositories of the worlds’ wisdoms and follies you could return to and scrawl disagreement in the margins!I actually dream about second hand bookshops. No exaggeration. Sometimes they are stores I have known: more frequently my dreams are some sort of combination of every second hand book shop I have ever known, plus an unconscious idealisation of what a perfectly arranged (and here I use the term ‘arranged’ loosely, if not wildly inaccurately) shop would be like.