I can hear the rain coming down on the roof above me. It’s been pouring all day here – much-needed rain for Southern California. Earlier in the week it was nice out, winter finally giving way to sunny days, temperatures in the low 70s. Each day I’d check the forecast before getting dressed, elated that it would be nice enough to wear a blouse and cardigan rather than a heavy sweater or flannel. Not so, today.
I went two places today: a Thrift Store that used to be a Library, and the library that replaced it. The new library is beautiful: it’s clean and colorful and modern. It was easy to locate the book I had on hold and I checked it out to myself with their self-service kiosk. It was my second time in the building, but my first time really taking my time to browse the stacks, and my first time checking anything out. I liked the library, until I visited its predecessor afterward. I was struck by how much I missed the library being in its old location, how alien it was to see wood floors and shelves of dirtied cups and outdated technology for sale where I’d browsed for books in the past. The new library, while modern and vibrant and beautiful, lacks a soul. The old one has been gutted and changed and converted, and will never be the same. The soul of the library no longer lives there, and it’s not in the new building, so where did it go? Where do libraries go to die?
From a professional standpoint, the new library is vastly superior. It’s larger and modernized and was full of people, which is, of course, the point of libraries. I would much rather work there than the old one, given the choice. From a personal standpoint, though, the sense of nostalgia when I walked into the former library was overwhelming. I think it’s driven by the same sense that leads to the love of the smell of old books over new ones and the desire to hold a book over an e-reader. The old library had been there a long time and had history.
I purchased a hardcover book for a dollar at the thrift store, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. I cleaned up the jacket when I got home and put it on the shelf with all my other books, or at least the ones I have shelf space for. I wondered where it came from, who used to own it, whether they read all of it or only part of it, why they chose to get rid of it. That book has history. It has a story, a soul.