Monday, November 7, 2011

Library Magic

One late evening of the early fall of 1977 I suddenly understood the concept of marginal utility. In an island of quiet surrounded by a sea of fiction I figured it out. In retrospect the discovery was not that complicated. But my days had been filled with running to classes, meeting new friends, and recovering from frosh week. No time for reflective thought. It is amazing what a lonely study carrel can teach you.

This actually wasn't the start of my love affair with libraries. That started many years before. My elementary school library taught me all the things I needed to know about life that Mrs. McKnight, my grade 4 teacher, couldn't teach me. Like why the Cuban missile crisis almost destroyed the world. And why chemistry really led to better living. And why 18th century British infantry wore red. Random stuff. But I was learning to learn. The school library gave me the opportunity to learn what the structured curriculum was never going to teach anybody. It was a portal into new universes.

As I got older I started to do formal research in the library. By high school learning demands were broader. The school's library wasn't big enough. The lure of the downtown mega-library pulled me into its time distortion field. Hours spent wandering through stacks of unplanned knowledge. A small project on polar bears turned into a journey of discovery. Pulling out unrelated volumes on polar exploration and Polish cinema sent my mind into unexpected worlds.

Apparently the library that gave birth to my understanding of marginal utility is changing. I've seen more computers and more team space and more teaching functions come into the library. I've seen new additions to buildings. I've sat on library steering committees and watched money get moved from books to online journals. And best of all, I've seen Starbucks occupy some musty unused corners.

But lets think about those changes. More information. More opportunity for reflective thought. Just not so lonely anymore. Seems like the new things are good and the important things are still there. Yeah. Now it's time for a latte and that new book on Polish cinema. And while I'm doing that I can browse the films on my iPad using the library's wireless. Knowledge, technology, and good coffee. Perfect.


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