I consider myself quite a connoisseur of libraries. At one time during a vagabond stage of my life, I actually had library cards from various different counties throughout Colorado including big resort name library cards such as Aspen, Vail and Telluride.
And I hate people who call them ‘li-berries’ dropping that essential ‘r’ from the pronunciation.
While living in Washington, D.C., I also obtained a library card to the Library of Congress. That is the big-dog library in the nation’s capital, and it allowed me to flash my card and bypass long lines of tourists waiting for just a glimpse of the central reading room in which they were not actually even allowed to enter When I was whisked through security ahead of them, I tended to put a busy, important, bustling type look on my face as if I was doing research on deep important matters. I was actually even termed a researcher, I think.
Once in the central portion of the library, you would order the books you wanted (there are no visible book shelves) and then in an hour or two, your books would be delivered in a stack to the exact desk you had specified in the giant rotunda main reading room. Apparently there were tunnels leading out from the Library of Congress itself, funneling beneath the streets of Washington to other nearby buildings where many of the countless books were secreted away. I imagined gnome-like librarians scurrying around in those tunnels wheeling carts of books back and forth underground.
One book I ordered was in a special collection area. I had to store all of my belongings in a locker since I wasn’t allowed to have any sharp objects or chemical substances on my person by which I could damage pages. Couldn’t I just go mad and tear the pages up if I wanted to? Then I was allowed into some inner sanctum of the Library of Congress. I was directed to sit at a table and after an appropriate amount of time supposedly to heighten the suspense, the book was finally brought out to me and placed on a small stand in front of me. I was to leave the book on the stand and then directed on how to turn the pages. Stuff like, you know, don’t spit on your fingers to get a page to turn or dog-ear a particularly memorable page to come back to. Finally under the watchful eyes of the curator several yards away and I am sure a dozen cameras, I was allowed to look at the book.
The book itself, although old, wasn’t that good. But I felt obligated to spend some time and look interested (I even pretended to take some notes) after all the effort they had gone through.
I like libraries. I like the solitude they provide, a place to study, a place to think, a place to learn new things. At least in the United States, a long time ago, they were quiet places where people talked in hush, half-whispered voices if they dared speak at all. Now people don’t seem to care. They speak in their regular voices. They actually yell and scream. Children run around noisy and unrestrained. And at least in public libraries, it seems more movies are checked out than actual books.
And the whole library experience now is punctuated with obnoxious ringtones and people answering their cellphones with that same slow drawn-out ‘hullo’, and then you having to listen to their inane conversation in the background about what they did on that singular and particularly boring day of their life.
The downtown library in Colorado Springs in particular where we were from had become overrun with homeless people. They aren’t really homeless; they all have someplace to stay. We just call them that. Mostly they are just people who don’t feel like working. Initially, they were allowed to bring their huge backpacks and duffel bags inside the library, essentially camping out there, but the library eventually put the kibosh to that. But the homeless people now ensconce themselves in all the chairs in the library while waiting for the nearby soup kitchen to open. Then after they’ve eaten and the soup kitchen closes, they return once again this time to fall into deep slumbers preferring the heavier, upholstered chairs. A large picture book, usually something like “Spiders of the Amazon”, remains open on their laps as they drift off. I think that’s because there is some rule that you just can’t hang out and sleep at the library. You have to actually be reading something or look like you are reading something.
Now it would seem that the sine quo non of a library is that the books are free to the public. After all, isn’t that the purpose of a library, to help educate the public and encourage reading, and so that you don’t have to go out and buy every book you want to read. So that people can, in a sense, share the same books. Also, if you live in a more isolated community, libraries give you access to new books that you otherwise might not be able to obtain. But here in Tauranga, New Zealand they seem to see things a little differently. While many of the books are free to check out, for newer books you have to pay to check them out, generally $3.00 for two weeks.
You want to read a bestseller? Well, that will cost you. Not a whole lot but still—it’s supposed to be a library, not a Rent-A-Book store. Same thing with DVDs—those are $2.50 to check out too. New magazines—$2.00 for two weeks. Overdue charges on any book are 30 cents/day. Kids get a break; their overdue book charge is only 20 cents/day.
Here’s a poster encouraging us blokes to read. They got lots of topics we’d be interested in. I think I’ll get some books on war and—then let’s see—maybe cars.
There is free WiFi at the library however and the library has some computers you can use for a price. They apparently used to charge you for WiFi too, a few bucks for one half hour. Thankfully they handled that before I got here. Oh, the password in case you ever happen to get here is—probably shouldn’t tell you this—the password is WIFIFREE.
Notice how the sign for the Internet computers is written both in English and in Maori. Did the Maori have the Internet when the Europeans arrived? I guess so except it was called Te Pae Tukutuku. Why didn’t they let us in on it? And when the Maori said those words to the Europeans, did the Europeans just shake their heads not understanding what was being talked about. Part of the gulf when two cultures meet.
But there are no restrooms—actually they call them toilets here—in the downtown library. You have to actually leave the library, pass between several buildings, cross the street by the bus stop to reach a large metallic public restroom complex which everyone downtown uses. Rebecca apparently actually did find a toilet hidden in the children’s section but I guess it is frowned upon to use it.
In the nearby Maunganui library, part of the same library system, the librarian rings a small, irritating bell fifteen minutes before the library closes. It is like a bell a spinster schoolteacher might use in an ancient schoolhouse to mandate attention, or that an infirm person in the 1800’s might use to call for assistance.
The first time I heard it, I jumped up in alarm. She walked around ringing the bell frantically like a mad woman contorting her face and putting her whole body into it. Before I knew that this was a sign that the library was closing, I thought maybe it was a signal that a tsunami was coming and we all needed to evacuate.