This article is by Lauren Du Graf and it appears on the Literary Hub website and it offers MS Du Graf’s take on the Library as a Metaphor and Method.
“The last time I saw the inside of a library was the afternoon of March 12. Crocuses were peeking out of the ground. The neighbors were out for a stroll, the sidewalks strangely dense with pedestrians. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was a holiday.
The looming pandemic had propelled me out of Brooklyn and back to my hometown of Seattle. Mask wearing was underway, though it all still felt a bit hypothetical. It wasn’t until I walked into the library that day—the same stately, brick Carnegie library I grew up around the corner from, a branch I’d been going to since I was in grade school—that it hit me.
I walked inside and smelled the air, the scent of old pages from my childhood. And then it dawned on me—if I could smell the books through my mask, what other particles were also floating in? All of a sudden, paranoia. I sensed germs everywhere. Right next to me, over across the room, on the book of essays I was holding. There was a dispenser of hand sanitizer at the front—a comically puny intervention, when you think about it, against the manifold surfaces of a library book, an object defined by its passage through countless, anonymous fingers. I asked a librarian if I could use the restroom to wash my hands. Sorry, she said. Restrooms are closed. The next day, Seattle’s chief librarian announced the closure of all branches.
Partial services have since resumed. Materials are quarantined for three days after they are returned. A handful of library restrooms have reopened, a critical service in a city in the midst of a dire homelessness crisis. (A crisis inseparable from the rise of the city’s largest employer, the erstwhile online bookseller Amazon.) But ever since that spring afternoon, the library has existed for me mostly as an abstraction, one of several places that my mind knows but my body no longer experiences. A phantom limb. I wistfully place online holds and schedule curbside pick-ups. I swipe through e-books on my phone with the twitchy impatience of an online dating app. It is a privilege someone is paying for, and for that I’m grateful; I’d rather read a book in a mobile browser than not. But it’s not the same.
“I go to libraries because they are the Ocean,” wrote Susan Howe, who compared her experience of libraries to Thoreau’s woods—wild, ripe for exploration. When Howe writes about libraries and archives, she uses words like “mystic” and “telepathy”.But ever since that spring afternoon, the library has existed for me mostly as an abstraction, one of several places that my mind knows but my body no longer experiences. A phantom limb.
The internet is vast and it is deep, but not mystic. Our experience of libraries, as Howe reminds us, is physical and material. The way we encounter an idea there can be traced to the moment we find it on a shelf, the warm light that hits your thigh as you sit in the oak reading chair with the flat, broad arms while strangers drift in and out of the periphery….”