When In Doubt, Go To The Library

by justine

Y’know how you have that place that you escape to? The one where your mind clears and your heart stops racing? For some people it’s church or a nature hike or a quiet, sunlit room. For me, it’s a library.

Any library will do. The local one in my hometown is small, but they renovated it during my high school years. I used to walk there after school sometimes and meet friends. Other times, I used it as cover for more exciting plans. I wasn’t allowed to “hang out downtown” but I was allowed at the library. A dear friend used to hide notes for me in the psychology section. I always loved that.

It was there that I started complementing my reading with Sparknotes. I lived in the research stacks for English and American History papers. I loved critical essays. I borrowed CDs and DVDs. My first copy of The Artist’s Way was a perpetual borrow from that location – I ended up just paying them for the book.

In Boston, I lived in walking distance of the massive Central Library structure. It was daunting. Wikipedia says it contains 8.9 million books! It felt old like a museum, and smelled like pee due to the homeless population that took refuge in its stacks. I don’t think I made it to every section, but I had my library card, and lugged books back to my dorm where I piled them on the floor next to my bed.

Now that I live in LA, I frequent both the Los Angeles and Santa Monica branches. I’ve only made it to the LA Central location once, back in 2006, with my internship supervisor who had by then become a friend. We bonded over reading, though I can’t say we ever shared any books.

For LA, I’ve gone to the Fairfax, Mar Vista, West LA and Venice-Abbot Kinney branches, but for Santa Monica, oh man – their main branch is the consummate city library. So Santa Monica. It has floor to ceiling windows on all floors, with the 2nd floor creating a landing to let more light in. There’s self-checkout that works, organized shelves, clean air and helpful people. And did I mention the delish Bookmark Cafe?

Recently, I was there with a friend and unsure if I could bring my latte from the courtyard of the cafe into the library. My friend asked a security guard about it and he said, “Of course, so long as it has a lid!” This made me fall even deeper in love. I remember to walking into Boston’s Central Library and being yelled at as a crossed through the metal detectors that “No Drinks!” were allowed.

So today I found myself at a SM location on Ocean Park. It’s a retro ranch-style building that blends into the trees. There’s no parking and the ceilings are low. The librarians aren’t nice. When it’s hot outside, it’s quite muggy inside. Still, because it’s so small, every book seem familiar and interesting.

I went to check-out a book for my In2Books assignment. Even though the digital catalogue said it was there, I couldn’t find it. No worries, just an excuse to hit up another branch. I couldn’t let this detour go without leaving with something. So, I started perusing.

One of the best things about the library, for me, is that it feeds my instant gratification without any buyer’s remorse. I just return what I don’t like and renew what I do. Add to that the fact that I don’t have to store all those books and yet can have unlimited access to them, and I’m in bliss.

Today’s random pickings include:

I probably won’t read all of these before they’re due back, but it’s thrilling to bring them all home. As I type this they are scattered around me in a big arm chair, silent supporters of my mental and emotional state. Just in the way writing with your non-dominant hand can open up your creative spark, walking through library stacks, absorbing and thinking, letting titles and ideas splash around in my brain – it brings me outside of myself and somehow deepens me as well.

And the trip home is just the beginning. Now I’m off to indulge in the random combination that serendipity drew me to today. To sink into the lusciousness of actually reading books.