By Jessica Hancock
The library has always given me a sense of security. Everything has its place, there are no loud noises, and there are plenty of nooks to hide away. But as the world becomes more digital, I find I miss the libraries of my childhood. Maybe the old school ways were “inconvenient” or “outdated.” To me, they are nostalgic.
- The Old Book Smell
There’s a very distinct smell that hits you when you walk into a poorly lit book heaven. The smell of pages that have touched by a million hands and of shelves that need dusting. Because no one has used that set of encyclopedias from the 1950’s since the 1950’s. There’s nothing quite like the smell of well-used stamp pads and old paper.
2. The Poor Lighting
Our library had the worst lighting. The building had very few lights and almost no windows except for the glass doors at the entrance, but that awful drop ceiling light also gave the place a cozy yellow glow. I’m not sure whether the lights were actually that color or if the boxes just looked that way because they hadn’t been dusted in 30 years. Either way, I miss it
3. Limited Seating
Finding an open seat was like hitting the jackpot of all jackpots. There were only a handful of stand-alone chairs where you could lounge, and they were always taken up by the same four people who seemed to always be there. But because I had to search for a place to sit, I ended up finding my favorite reading spot. It was at the back of the last “American History” row. I’d sit propped against the shelf and the wall, in my own world.
4. Shelves to the Walls
Our new library has its shelves set up so it feels like a supermarket. End caps and outward facing books with the covers visible. And now, when you get to the back of a row you can just go around it to the next row. This makes lounging at the back impossible. There’s nowhere to sit without people walking around you. The whole place becomes a labyrinth with twists and turns. One minute I’m in sci-fi, and the next, I’m in foreign languages. I have no freaking clue where I am. Shelves that went all the way to the walls gave me a sense of security in an insecure world. There was an end and a beginning and somewhere to sit.
5. The Water Cooler
There was no fancy café or coffee shop in the library of yesteryear. We had the water cooler with little cones that only held water for a few minutes before disintegrating. And there was no food allowed. This is how I learned how to eat out of my backpack. I’d stash a few candy bars in my bag (because chips were too loud), and quickly take a bite when no one was looking. Survival skills!
6. The Line at the Check-out Desk
Self-check is now the norm in most establishments. You don’t have to have any interaction with people if you don’t want to. But it wasn’t about the small talk with the clerk that I enjoyed. It was the people watching. Everyone waited their turn with a book or three (or six, if you were me) in hand, and I could check out what they were reading. I loved to see someone carrying a book that surprised me. The guy in the sweater vest with all the Stephen King books, the little old lady with the Harlequin novels. I got a little view inside their worlds, one cover at a time.
7. The Card Catalog
For some people, it was a nuisance, a chore even. For me, it was a treasure hunt. I could spend all afternoon perusing those little drawers. There were so many subjects, authors, titles. I could end up choosing a mystery when I was looking for horror because a card happened to end up in the wrong file. Sure, it was frustrating if you were in a hurry or it could be overwhelming if you didn’t know where to start, but, also, the possibilities were endless. I miss the triumph of finding exactly what I needed amidst those pages and cards.
8. The Check-Out Card
This is the big one. The thing I miss most of all. Walking up to check out my books, signing the cards, and hearing the sound of the date stamp to seal the deal. It was like Christmas! Then, I could go home and read the stamp card. It was like the life story of the book. When it was last checked out, if it was late, how many months or days since it had been read. I also loved getting a fresh new card. I got to be the first. No smudges and no weird stains. Just crisp, clean lines and a good stamp. No amount of convenience and technology will ever fill the nerdy little void that old school library left in my heart.