My wife often works weekends. Generally this involves trips to New Jersey, and since my unconventional schedule means we see each other awake only a brief time during the week, I often tag along. The colder months of the year, and general economic caution, mean things to be done around the house can wait. Most of the locations where she works have nearby bookstores, but even a guy with proclivities like mine finds it hard to spend more three or four hours in one place, even in such a welcome environment. It finally occurred to me that one need not be a resident to find shelter, and free wifi, in the public library. I’ll pack my laptop, and if it’s going to be a full day, a sack lunch, and head to the library for a change of scenery. It has led to a kind of renaissance for my spirits.
Public libraries generally do not house the books I read. The source of my jouissance has rather been discovering how well used the libraries are. In both affluent and more modest neighborhoods, people willingly spend part of their Saturdays in buildings dedicated to learning. Not all are there for the books, but they seem comfortable surrounded by them. We gather in a temple to the human mind. And everyone’s generally quiet. Mentors coach young people who want to learn. Some even dress well, as if the library might be a place to be seen. In a nation where education is under attack, I always leave refreshed without spending a penny.
Such opportunities are a rarity. Before the library opens, if we happen to be at her venue early, I may need to find a Starbucks. They more or less assume you’ll consume to utilize their free wifi, but beyond that a day at the library comes without cost and considerable gain. A variety of ethnicities are always present, and nobody’s right to be here is questioned. It’s a microcosm of what we could be as a nation, had we the will, the desire to learn and let learn. People generally have a difficult time with silence—just ask any introvert. I suspect this is one reason not everyone shares my enthusiasm for a cloistered experience of a Saturday. Libraries are where we’re forced to be relatively quiet to respect the needs of those actually there to read. Hoi polloi prefer to be loud, as any bar on a weekend afternoon will reveal. But the libraries remain, and even in their own way, are buzzing hives of the life of the mind.