If there is a contemporary author who reflects more wisely on the intriguing relationships that exist between people and their books than Alberto Manguel, I'd like to know who s/he is.
An author of some renown himself, Manguel is also a connoisseur of books, and he has delved thoughtfully into how collections, whether personal or in libraries, work on behalf of owners and users in their various settings.
In his 2006 work, The Library at Night (available from our library – Level 8 – at Z665 .M36), for example, he explores several metaphors (the library as space, as workshop, as imagination, etc.) to describe some of the roles that books and libraries fulfill.
Two recent circumstances – the end of the semester, and being away from home a lot - have helped me think further about some of this. It occurs to me that our "libraries" – defined here as "the sources we have reason to interact with at a given time" – can have several horizons at once. In my case, I can think of three:
- the books and resources I knew I would need during my current travels out of the country. These I carry either in my laptop bag (overstuffed even at the best of times), or (for shorter items such as articles or manuscripts for editing) loaded onto my laptop, or (this is an experiment) a few books loaded onto the library's Amazon Kindle (see entry from this blog back in February. )These constitute the essentials for my situation at present, the items I'd immediately feel the lack of had I forgotten them;
- resources which are less critical, but which can be conveniently accessed if and when I have a wifi connection. These might be considered as backup resources, for providing background or fact-checking for the first category. Wikipedia, for example.
- the actual physical library, which is for most of us the most familiar horizon. This library can be thought of as the place where there is everything I need. But its usefulness, even now, with more and better resources available online, depends heavily on my actually being in-the-building.
I'm guessing that my situation, my relationship to these three "libraries" at the same time, is not so unusual: as we travel, as we spend more and more of our time within reach of some network or other, and as we move through various phases of education and life in general (end of semester, for example) each of us is constantly having to make decisions about what resources we can, and can't, do without.
Which leaves me with two timely reminders as we make the adjustment from end-of-term to the summer:
- libraries like ours need to get better and better at understanding and fostering these various horizons. The time has passed when people can, or should be expected to, get everything they need only by physically being in our library.
- there is no better time to remind yourself of what the library offers online, and what excellent resources you can still get to wherever you find yourself this summer.