Friday, March 12, 2010

MEME 8: Use Your Library

Let me share with you what I am learning ....

All my life, I've loved books.  I was a voracious reader.  I still have many of the books I was given as a child from my Uncle Art and Auntie Mary, and I was fortunate that my parents bought me the classics - not the dumbed down versions of great children's literature.  My first piece of personal identification was my Library Card to the Port Arthur Public Library.  It was a proud day for this little bookworm when I made my first trip to the library on my own and came home with 10 books - the maximum that they would allow me to take out at any one time.  I read them - returned them - and took out 10 more.  Rinse - Repeat.

My summers in between University school years, I lived in a smallish town in Northwestern Manitoba -and my goal was to read every book in the town library, starting with the A's.  I got bored long before I completed my task (many of the books just weren't very good) - but at least I had a goal.

Books have always been magical - sacred to me.  Burning books is a heinous crime against humanity - killing ideas and potential and diversity and creating mental homogeneity and a type of cultural sanitation that is not healthy.  I can't write in the margins of my books -but love some of the rare old hardcovers where I have the previous owner's thoughts carefully noted in the margin.  But then - they were wiser than I.  

Over the years, I have amassed a sizable library of both tunes and tomes - which is why I hire movers to help me move and don't burden my friends with the mountain of liquor boxes (study and small!) of mixed media.  Had to have the floors reinforced on my second story house to accommodate the collection.  And yes - I want an iKindlePadreader doo-hickey at some point - but mostly for newspapers and magazines (news junkie).  And you can put it in a Ziploc bag and read in the tub.  FTW, baby.  With Bubbles.

Working in a big box bookstore was "not" the ideal job for an avid reader (other than having some product knowledge) - you don't get to read when you are at work - but we did get a discount and that helped.  Some people mistook the cozy atmosphere for that of a library - we would routinely find people copying out sections of books (recipes usually) or asking if we had a photo-copier so they could take the information they wanted without having to buy the book.  They were so shocked when we said "NO".  (hello - bookSTORE).

Like bookstores, libraries are in deep trouble.  People just aren't reading the way they used to.  Hell's bells - I'm not even reading the way I used to.  I'm writing more - but I also get more information from the 'net.  I read 1/10 the magazines I used to (you will pry Vanity Fair from my cold dead hands) and far fewer books.
Lots of reasons for that -  but I don't want to digress too far off the beaten blog topic.

I used to think of libraries as repositories of knowledge - the place to find a book on everything - and some are.  But most local libraries (like the ones here in our fair city) are NOT like the Library of Alexandria.  I remember being shocked and appalled when I heard that the Library was having a book sale - selling off parts of their collection that didn't demonstrate adequate turnover.  What are they doing? How can I possibly find the answer to all my questions if they are getting rid of books?  The next trauma I had was learning that bookstores and publishers PULP (meaning mash up/destroy) unsold books.

The Horror! The Horror!

These days, libraries (and bookstores) are in big trouble because the Internet has become the biggest repository of knowledge (both correct and incorrect) in the world.  For Free - from the comfort of your living room / bedroom / computer screen wherever you are.  Plus - with some extra permissions (paid or just requested) the average Jane can have access to immense databases, reference libraries, and institutional resources.  It is totally wild what we can find out about absolutely anything or anyone.  But the physical brick and mortar library is struggling.

Part of that is "the nature of things" and all things have their seasons (for instance, books are no longer copied by hand in monasteries - that just wouldn't be practical.)

So how do we use our libraries?  We can use our bricks and mortar libraries as places to read, learn, gather, study, write - and take advantage of their programming - meaning their schedule of events and programs.  But their hours are limited, you have to "buy in" to their organizing system (Mr. Dewey had good intentions, but things just got right out of hand! The Librarians of Congress get an A for effort, but they just muddied the waters a little bit)

We can use our virtual libraries by being smart about it - cross-checking and verifying facts; just because something is written on the intergalactic bathroom wall that is the Internet doesn't mean that it is correct.  (ah the magic of the printed word is now part of our DNA - from the time Meister Gutenberg printed the first bilbios, the easily reproducible physical manifestation of the oral tradition Made It Truth.)

Our personal libraries reflect the history of our intellectual journey, and tell others a lot about us by manifesting what we read for pleasure - we can outgrow both fiction and non-fiction books as our tastes change, or our skill set increases, or new information becomes available.  What was the first book you bought on the Craft? the second? the third? Still have them? Still use them? Find new truths that mitigate the first learning? Gone beyond See Dick Cast Circle, See Jane Cast Spells Wicca Beginner books?

Our inner libraries - our professed mental knowledge deserves the same rigorous housecleaning as our bookshelves from time to time.  We get so comfortable with "the truths as we were taught them" that we can reiterate what we have learned by rote - in fact it can almost become a regurgitation of previously digested truths that may no longer really serve us.  It may mean giving up old familiar volumes (like that quaint fable about the 6 million women in the Burning Times).  It may mean doing the usual things in an unusual way (Banishing Ritual of the What Direction Do I Draw This Pentacle When Facing this Direction?) It may mean going where no Witch has gone before (ah, interfaith research as part of the Third Degree Mystery).

Do you "use your library" - all the resources at your fingertips?  Do you pass on the books (and teachings) you have outgrown?  Do you gather together with others to learn and grow -as opposed to socialize and gossip? Do you read critically (meaning critical in a good way) - or do you believe that just because it is in a book that it must be right (unless contradicted by a post on the Internet)?  Can your own personally held beliefs stand up to some rigorous push-and-pull?  Do you know enough about a broad enough base of cultural practices, religious traditions, societal habits that you can share (not shout) your own journey in ways that someone who doesn't speak the same internalized faith-based language can understand?

Are you willing to take a random book off a random shelf and just open it to see what it really is all about? Or to take something that everyone is talking about and read it / research it to form your own opinion?  (substitute person for something in that sentence and read it again.)

A word often associated with books is "bound" - how the individual pages are held together.  If one of those pages goes missing - the story is incomplete.  You'll never know what great wisdom, what perfect imagery, what twist of plot or perversion of character development it may have contained.  The quality of the binding makes for the longevity of the book - and keeps the story intact.  Hard work, bookbinding - and it will soon be a lost art in this digital and disposable age.  The transition from leather bound hardcover to dime store paperback to digital download file that goes "poof" at the click of a button - you don't need a Fireman to know which way the flame goes.   (sorry, Mr. Dylan, I couldn't resist the play on words).  Anybody up for a late night viewing of Fahrenheit 451?  (and what book would you save? let me know - I'm curious! mine is Gone With the Wind only because Jacinthe picked As In the Heart So In the Earth by Pierre Rabhy - and since she can memorize it in the original French, she gets to pick that one.)

What binds your spine to the individual pages of your daily life experience, the people, the ideas that make up your life when you look at it from cover to cover?  Got any loose pages?  Need to find the gap in the story? Use your library - see if there is a resource to help you reclaim that lost bit that helps fill in the gaps.  And if you are coming completely unglued - get rebound - to your Gods, to your commitments, to your own sense of purpose and progress.  Renew your relationships, get out the adhesive tape and patch those torn pages, see if they fit back into the mix - they might - they might not.  Check your habits and uncurl those dog-eared corners that no longer serve you.

In my imaginary world, I wonder what the original Library of Alexandria might have looked like.  I wish I could be given the gift of fluency in all the ancient languages, and transported through time to see it's treasures, and hold some of those precious documents in my hot little hands.  (the closest I've ever come was to hold an autographed first edition of Gardner's High Magic's Aid - the Wiccan Old Testament if there ever was one).  My personal belief is that a lot of the lost documents of antiquity are hermetically sealed in the Vatican Library (a la Angels & Demons).

One last thought - I wish that we had a true Pagan Resource Centre - where we could donate our used books for the benefit of the learning curve of the Greater Pagan Community - a reading room where we could gather and read and write and learn together without any teachers or agendas - just discussion and scholarly research.  Kind of like what we started at the Witchery except the books would never leave the premises (they rarely find their way home - most of the books on the Craft purchased by the Public Library system are stolen - strange bad karma building choices for people studying about a religious path based on cause and effect.)  Where can our books go - other than recycling through the used book stores?

And on that note ... I'm off to organize a shelf or two of tomes, and see if any old friends need a re-visiting.  The only books worth keeping are the ones worth reading twice.

Enjoy the day,

1 comment:

  1. I have also been an avid reader since early childhood. Going to a bookstore or library is a treat for me.

    I think community reading rooms are a great idea. However I believe Pagan books disappear from public libraries not because of people who want to study The Craft,but because of others who think it "evil". More than one library or bookstore has had to take measures to deal with people who steal Pagan books thinking that's the way to keep "bad influences" away from other people.

    I think used book stores are actually a good idea since they're a good venue for rare gems people wouldn't see in "traditional" stores that tend to stock only new titles and books that sell consistently across time. The one thing I discovered, to my horror, is that much of the stock even they can't sell is sent to the recycling company to be turned into pulp.

    Besides reading rooms there are options such as Book Crossing. I haven't done it yet but I imagine it would be interesting to send various books on "travels" and see where they go, and who reads them.