Library. Revisited.

April 23, 2009



With this oh-so enjoyable LSAT business on my agenda, I find myself at the public library about three days a week, trying to train my inherently illogical brain in the fine art of logic. (If A—>B, and B—>C, then C—>B. No wait, that can’t be right.) 

It comes as no surprise that I associate libraries with a certain sense of nostalgia. I have fond memories of my undergraduate days buried inside of UC Berkeley’s main stacks, where my masochistic yet focused and productive all-nighters brought out to bring out the best of work ethic.  

And yet, as I have realized in the past few weeks, public libraries don’t really work in the same manner.

Whenever I enter a public library, I frequently end up asking myself the same basic questions: Does anyone else think the Dewey decimal system is rather inefficient?  Why is that man shaving in the bathroom? Do they just throwaway the old card catalogs or are they stored in the basement in case a virus wipes out all of the computers?  Oh, and I don’t really get the whole sexy-librarian fetish. Something about being shushed just seems like a condescending turnoff.

Particularly in the midst of America’s favorite recession, public libraries across the country have become a safe haven for the young and recently unemployed: kill a few hours, read a book, apply for a job or two, people watch, or, as I seem to be doing at the moment, try to figure out if the correct answer to standardized test question happens to be A, B, C, D, or E.

Keep in mind that in my specific case, we are dealing with Los Angeles, a city that, with the exception of a few scattered parks and beaches, lacks a coherent semblance of public space. And the last time I checked, no one was really hanging out at City Hall, so I guess by default, public libraries in Los Angeles have become a hot-spot of sorts. 

My local library has transformed itself into the (very) frugal-hipster’s alternative to the coffee shop. (Which makes sense to a certain extent when you take into account the fact that at libraries you are not forced to shell out $3.50 for that latte and endure unbearable sounds of the barista’s I-Pod.) In fact, this particular biblioteca seems to have a surplus of aspiring screenwriters, cool-than-thou-art graphic designers, unemployed academics, and painters, painting pictures with paint…. and a paintbrush. 

The problem is, the public library cannot possibly be everything to everyone all at once. And consequently tension ensues.

I recently witnessed a quarrel between two patrons. One was a Hollywood type, chatting about a prospective script with his friend while chomping down on what seemed to be a delicious tuna sandwich. Sitting at his table was also a frustrated 45-year-old academic, who was trying to read Goethe but was obviously distracted with the talking writers. The Goethe-fan obviously wanted to tell the chatterboxes to hush up but instead asked the tuna eater to throw away his sandwich. I was lucky enough to be sitting at the table and witnessed the verbal brawl:

Goethe fan: Excuse me, can you please dispose your sandwich?

Tuna eater: Why? Food is allowed in this library.

Goethe fan: Oh.

(Tuna eater keeps on eating his meal. The Goethe fan starts shaking in his chair.)

Goethe fan: The smell is just unbearable. Please have some respect. I am trying to do some work. 

Tuna eater: Umm. Can’t help you there buddy.

(Goethe fan is raged at this point.)

Goethe fan:  What is your problem? You are stinking up the scent of this room with this dead fish scent and you and your buddy have no respect, chatting up a storm. So please, throw out your sandwich, shut the fuck up, and let me read.

Tuna eater: You know what? I don’t….

Goethe fan: What?

(Goethe fan takes the tuna sandwich walks over to the trash can and throws it out, comes back to the table and presume reading Goethe like nothing has happened.)

As the primary witness to the occurrence, it’s safe to say that the tuna eater was somewhat inconsiderate and the Goethe fan lacked the basic tenants of tact. But instead of placing blame on any one individual, I just figured to write this very-awkward encounter as yet another victim of the recession.

It’s become apparent that public libraries are their own beast and I am not really sure how to navigate this seemingly comforting but entirely disorienting setting. So much for serenity and concentration. But as long as a complete stranger doesn’t decide to throw out my sandwich, tuna or not, thrown out, I am OKAY with this sense of the unknown.









4 Responses to “Library. Revisited.”

  1. Amy Says:

    Maxwell, you obviously aren’t spending time at the LAPL Central Branch downtown, or you’d know that they use the old card catalogs to line the elevator shafts. Which is awwwessssooome

    • mbaumgarten Says:

      most of my time is spent at beverly hills public library because it is an easy bike ride to and from my house but maybe i will head downtown tomorrow.

  2. Nikki Says:

    Funny story, for the past two days I have eaten my lunch at the local public library. One part of me feels bad for disturbing Maybe-Homeless-Guy Shredding Paper and Smelly-Old-Lady Reading Trashy Novels but mostly I feel badass and cool for eating in a library.

    • mbaumgarten Says:

      At the New York Public Library – Humanities & Social Sciences Library? That’s my favorite one!

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