Today, I was doing some more work on one of our library summer jobs-- shifting books from shelf to shelf. The purpose of this particular shifting job is to fix a long-standing anomaly-- the Irish fiction shelves turn around a corner, in a very counter-intuitive way. Or at least, they did until today-- ever since I came to the library in 2001. This anomaly had been described as "embarrassing". As a lover of irregularities, and a hater of rationalism, I rather liked it, and felt a pang of loss today as we finally fixed it. However, library work is not the best place to indulge one's love of irregularities.
But that's by the by. I was moved to write this post by something I realized today-- or, realized in a clearer way than I had before. I've always loved libraries, but today I realized that libraries aren't just uplifting, or stimulating, or inspiring. They're actually exciting. I'm excited by libraries.
Now, I'm not so much talking about the general fiction section of a public library-- which is fine, as far as it goes, but doesn't posses the particular quality of excitement I'm talking about here. Every novel is a stand-alone book, or at the most one of a series. But, in the literature shelves of a university library, or even in the non-fiction section of a public library, you get something else-- you get sequences of books together on a shelf which all expand on a particular subject. For instance, a shelf of Winston Churchill biographies, or a half of a shelf of books about prehistoric Ireland in the history section, or shelf upon shelf of Dickens criticism in the literature section. At the risk of sounding affected-- the books on those shelves are talking to each other.
This struck me today as I was shifting books in our Jonathan Swift section. If I could break it down, I would break down this sense of "excitement" in such a way, using the Swift books as an example:
1) Wow, this library has four or five shelves of books about Jonathan Swift. He must be a big deal.
2) They come from all different periods-- old books and new books. Swift has been a big deal for a long time, and he still is.
3) The books about Swift come at the subject from all different angles; it's not like each one is a biography, or a general work of criticism. Jonathan Swift and Ireland, A Political Biography of Jonathan Swift, even The Account Books of Jonathan Swift-- Swift is such a big deal that lots of people have written books about one aspect of his life, confident that people would find them interesting. At any given time, quite a lot of people must be thinking about Swift, and relating the ideas of Swift to everything else in life!
4) Some of the titles are very poetic. The Pen and the Sword: A Year in the Life of Jonathan Swift. Swift obviously isn't just a dry, academic subject...a lyrical title like "The Pen and the Sword" suggests that he's worth getting quite worked up about.
Multiply this sense of excitement by all the other authors and subjects on the shelves, and you have a very stirring sense of "hype"....a sense of life being, to use the poet's great phrase, "the many splendoured thing". Indeed, sometimes this sense of excitement can be quite overwhelming.