As I stare into the 5th floor aisles of the Boston Public Library I find myself thinking about how many words are held inside the walls of this modernized fortress of knowledge. In between moments of sifting through texts for a term paper, I ponder the unfathomable quantities of meaning in the domes of silent study and reflection we pass by each day. I think about how these behemoths facilitate generations of insight by just standing silently, accepting new people and old books.
Being in libraries always makes me reminisce about my experiences in these hallowed halls. Like when I brought home a children’s encyclopedia with my first library card and sat for hours marveling at the new words entering my consciousness: Parkinson’s, Oprah, Antelope, War, Figgy-Pudding. For those of us who tingle at the sight and sound of new words (and we are a proud few) any library is never in short supply. I also have muddled memories of my 7-year-old self being in awe that someone had taken the time to write everything down. That’s a lesson that has stayed with me, that whispers to me when I open a new book or let my fingers drag over the last words on a text’s final page. The information means more than just print on paper when I remember that people have chosen to share their thoughts so that others can know more.
If it isn’t already apparent, I think libraries are neat.
Yet there are moments when I’m overwhelmed by how easy it is to know anything I want about everything that has happened on record without truly making a dent in the information available to me. I can walk into the high-ceilinged spaces of my local library and with every breath I’ll take in the scents of all the books I’ll never open, facts I’ll never know, or perspectives I won’t be fortunate enough to understand.
In those moments, to prevent falling into an existential trance, I remind myself of the simple beauty that because libraries exist I will always have a physical reminder of the potential of human thought. I will never have to stop understanding, learning, or growing. The library will always have another story to tell me in its multicolored shelves.
These hallowed halls are stuffed with collections that dare to place eighteenth-century literature in the same room as feminist theory. These silent corners hold only the murmurings of a concentrated scholar quietly whispering their studies to themselves — partly to stay awake as they research into the early hours of the morning and party because they’ve found record of another person thinking critically about the spacing of weeds. When surrounded by the essence of knowledge, the towers that advocate for public enlightenment and human connection, I’m reminded of how fortunate we are to access gigantic spaces of endless answers to questions that sometimes only one person thought to ask.
The library is a place where it’s easy for me to see that beautiful window into humanity our access to information can be. I’ve come to know that the cellars full of grungy books are resplendent sanctuaries where one can literally feel their brain expanding with words of someone other than themselves.