Library Nerd’s Appreciation

Library appreciation week winds down tomorrow and I’d like to add my encomium to the din. I am a heavy-user, hard-core library patron. My appetite for the written word far outpaces my book buying budget, and space restrictions necessitate constraints on the number of books that line my shelves. I purged 75% of my personal library last summer, leaving my shelves stocked with only the books that provide me joy (or anticipation of joy, such as the copy of Infinite Jest I’m slowly easing into now that I’ve redacted the “With Forward by Dumb Egghead AKA D Eggers AKA the source of all smug emanating from San Francisco”). The public library remains a critical component of my reading life- I get recommendations for books from a variety of sources: trusted friends, vetted websites, bookstore staff; I then queue up books via the library’s online system then acquire/consume/digest and squeeze out a review here. Once consumed at the library, if it’s a book I’d like to read again, I’ll purchase a copy.
Tangent to briefly rage against people who keep books as status objects, lining their rooms with thousands of books they’ve never read. You can pinpoint these vanity libraries quickly by judging the contents of the shelves or by assessing the quality of the displayer’s brain. There is no point in owning something that stage-whispers “Look how smart I am!” when 98% of the books on display have never been finished. It’s like a peacock displaying with feathers rummaged from Goodwill.
Another fantastic feature of the library system is the network of other libraries it connects to. “We don’t have a copy of the 1920s out-of-print book you’re looking for that we were sure no one would ever want to read again? No problem, order it up for free from Sonoma College via the LINK system and it’ll be here in a few days.” Granted, it arrives with a scary sticker on front that promises a $115 fine if you lose the book, but you also get to interact with an actual librarian when you’re picking it up and dropping it off.
The library has saved me many times during the months of my not being shackled to a cubicle. During my months in NYC, the 5th Avenue library (map room on Floor 1 and reading room on Floor 3) provided an inspiring spot to write, read, and shelter from the snow. This and other NYC branches provided welcome warmth, internet access, and lectures/film screenings/art exhibits. One particularly great day at the mid-Manhattan branch, I remember listening to an author discuss the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Station before I hightailed it downstairs to see a viewing of Tarkovsky’s The Mirror. Libraries are havens that provide intellectual stimulation, quiet, comfort, and calm. The Mechanic’s Institute Library in downtown SF functioned as my living room/office during the hellish nine months that I lived in SOMA. There was nothing better than looking up from my laptop to see that I was surrounded by walls of books.
Random thoughts about SFPL branches:
* Anza: a branch tucked into the Avenues that I work from whenever I’m planning a visit to the Legion of Honor
* Chinatown: this used to be my go-to branch when I worked in the FiDi. I’d take a break from work, walk up California street to Powell, inhale the gorgeous view and peruse the shelves before deadening my soul and heading back to cubeville.
* Mission: my local branch from 2010-2013. One interaction stands out: the librarian checking me out made several judgmental comments about the books I was borrowing. I stuck to the Self-checkout machines thereafter.
* Mission Bay: the newest of the branches, I was excited to see it open. Sadly, my only interaction with this branch was them losing the book that I returned here, so I went to the shelves to find the book and “return” it again.
* Park: my new branch! One of the benefits of moving is switching up your neighborhood branch. This branch is newly renovated in a way that makes it seem like all the other renovated libraries, but with more transients due to proximity to GGP.
* Richmond: another Avenues branch that provides needed internet access during work days when I spend the morning in the Botanical Garden or at Baker Beach
* Main library: harbors an unfortunate cesspool of humanity with bike thieves hovering in the wings. Lost a bike seat here, am under constant olfactory assault, usually I just pop in to pick up books on hold then flee. 6th floor research library has some treasures.