Library Heaven

I went to the library Saturday – but not just any library.

No, I was in library heaven.

I realize, of course, that only a reading/writing geek could use those two words together; I suppose to many Americans it would be quite the oxymoron. But I am a book geek, partly because of my research needs for work, partly because that’s who I am. And I’m proud of it, damnit. If there were the book-geek equivalent of the rainbow flag, I would proudly display it everywhere.

Remember these?

Remember these?

Our professor, who art in academia...

Our professor, who art in academia...

So where was this book mecca that so filled me with rhapsody on a sunny summer morn? Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. Anyone can walk into this neo-Gothic structure, admire the lobby, walk amidst the abandoned, endless rows of card drawers (remember those cards we flipped through, searching BY HAND for just the right title? How quaint. How much a part of my life for so many years). The card catalog room is now a mini-museum of sorts, with the silent, speedy computer replacements sitting across the way. The casual visitor can also walk up to the circulation desk, look up, and see the artwork reminiscent— deliberately so, I’m sure — of an altar piece in a medieval church. For surely the builders of Sterling wanted you to know, you are in a cathedral of learning.

But only a select few can enter the inner sanctum, the truly spiritual place where transformations as powerful as any presided over by Catholic priests take place. Only those with a card can enter – the stacks.

And I have a card.

In Chicago, I had access to the University of Illinois at Chicago library. Before that, back in CT, Samantha worked at UConn and so could take out books for me at the library there. Wherever I am, I need access to a good academic library. West Haven, I learned, did not give me many options. The closest private school, the University of New Haven, has a pretty lousy collection, as a librarian admitted when I first inquired about borrowing rights. The public colleges nearby either limit how many books you can take or how often you can renew. I could have augmented one of these with public libraries, but a quick check online showed I would be spending a lot of time driving all over the county trying to get what I needed.

And then, just ten minutes away, one of the country’s best academic libraries beckoned me. Getting a card to enter the stacks at Sterling and borrow books is really not all the hard: Just cough up 700 bucks (per year) and you’re in. I hesitated at first – that’s a lot of money just to borrow books. But what the hell; I paid 300 for the privilege of borrowing at UIC, Yale would surely be at least twice as good, and I can write off the expense anyway. With a Yale card, I could get everything I need at one place close to home, take out up to 50 books at a time (a real consideration when I’m juggling multiple jobs at once, including rewrites), and renew indefinitely,

Those practical concerns faded in importance as I entered the stacks for the first time.

Oh my God.

I was the only one there on this summer Saturday. I wandered up and down the rows, climbed up the narrow stairways to the half-floors in between the main ones, twisted and turned through the crowded rows and into side rooms. I had never seen so many books! Between the endless knowledge all around me, and the incredible central air that had somehow been retrofitted into the old building, I was ready to live there. Or at least enroll at Yale. Of course, that would mean shelling out many thousands of dollars and actually getting accepted, not to mention spending time with –  as a former fiancée who went to another New Haven college that is not Yale use to call them – those “goddamn Yalies.” No, my card gave me all I really needed, and I could go back often to drink in this heady air.

(By this point I had already identified my librarian crush, too. I don’t know if all book-geeks fall like I do for librarians, but invariably, when I go to a library a lot, I see one librarian who catches my eye. It’s not usually someone stunning; on the contrary, I’m more taken by the thought that underneath the glasses and simple dress – and, of course, the shared loved of books – is a tigress just waiting for the right touch to unlock all that pent-up sexuality. A stereotype, I‘m sure, but what can I say. And the female students who work at school libraries, however nubile, they don’t count. For them, checking out books or answering questions is just a way to get some extra cash. For the MLS, this work is a calling, and I revel in that.)

A comfy contrast to the more spartan Sterling

A comfy contrast to the more spartan Sterling

Leaving Sterling, I hunted for Bass, another library nearby. No Gothic overkill here—this library, built in 2007, is underground! How cool is that? The feel is more like a modern public library rather than anything grossly Ivy League, though I would bet the typical CT library does not have the expensive wood, leather chairs, and granite countertops this place has. As I explored, I saw a ramp rising, leading to…the basement of Sterling. They’re connected! Two libraries for the price of one, and Bass has a café to boot. That $700 investment just got a little sweeter.

I left the two libraries with about ten books. There were more I could have taken, but why not save those for another Saturday trip, hmm? I know the experience won’t always be as satisfying as this one. When school is in session, parking will be a bitch and the lounges will be filled. I won’t have that lovely sense I had today in Sterling, of being the only person there, letting me fantasize for a moment that all those luscious volumes were mine alone (similar to the buzz I get when I go to a matinee movie and am the only person plunked in front of that big screen). But no matter the details of the future trips, I won’t care.

I have my card.

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~ by mburgan on August 2, 2009.

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