When I was about 6 years old, I wandered down the hill to the Echo Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. (Apparently the library I used as a child has been replaced.) Even then, I thought in all those books in “stacks” (as library shelves of books are called”) contained some essential answer to the puzzling questions and frustrations of life (#1 Belief in something you cannot see or prove exists).
As a moderately unhappy child in a moderately unhappy family, I used books as my drug of choice by which to escape reality. I am sardonically amused as a long-time user of many libraries and eventually an employee of one to see how enthusiastically this particular cult preaches READ READ READ READ READ READ to its acolytes. Indeed, reading provides many virtues and benefits, but as with any substance, overuse and misuse can be harmful. I don’t recall attending any library “story-times” as a child, but most libraries today do introduce children to the reading cult by telling them and reading them stories in groups.
There are many interesting contradictions and paradoxes in the library cult. As the song “Marian the Librarian” coyly captures, a librarian (at least in earlier incarnations) was a demure woman, something like a nun, who eschewed the dress and mannerisms we normally associate with female sexuality, thus turning her into a very desirable woman.
On top of this, at some point in their evolution, libraries became ardent defenders of “freedom of speech” and ardent opponents of censorship. In plain terms, this means that libraries defend their right to include dirty books and books telling you how to overthrow the government and commit terrorist acts. For example, I just checked the catalogs some of the libraries I use for books once controversial and often banned because of explicit sexual content, finding in their catalogs books such as Fanny Hill by John Cleland, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabakov, My Life and Loves by Frank Harris, and The Happy Hooker, by Xaviera Hollander. One of the most notorious books for people who wanted to learn how to construct bombs, perform assassinations, and engage in similar types of terrorist activities was titled The Anarchist’s Cookbook. In case you harbor similar inclinations, the library for whom I used to work includes this manual in its catalog.
On the whole, the people who work for libraries are very modest and well-behaved members of society. I worked for a library for over 10 years, and most of the time, I was not particularly excited, aroused, or frightened by my colleagues. There were exceptions, as far as the demure image. One librarian I knew, engaged in a week-long “job swap” with a Las Vegas dancer. After a little “crash training,” the librarian danced and displayed her body on a stage in Las Vegas for a week. After a little crash training, the dancer checked out books and answered reference questions in a library for a week.
Libraries do attract some interesting “patrons,” [library-speak for customers]. During my time working for a library, I encountered on a regular basis at least half-a-dozen people who struck me as seriously mentally ill, although I did not feel threatened by any of them. As repositories of information, libraries attract many people pursuing their obsessions, trying to research questionable ideas. I encountered one gentleman who asked for assistance with an extensive document he was writing about his experience with being abducted by space aliens. A woman earnestly explained to me that the library computers were spying on her, and asked me to alert the library system’s data processing department to investigate these sinister activities. However, only one person struck me as dangerous; a colleague of mine (in teaching computer classes), who behaved so erratically and disturbingly that he was eventually fired. One day after his discharge, he came to work, walked into the system headquarters, and started fixing himself lunch in the microwave. [I wasn’t present the day of his bizarre return.] It sounded like a prelude to a violent workplace rampage episode (such as you read about in the news). However, a supervisor, encountering him; politely asked the ex-employee to leave; and without causing any difficulty, he peacefully left the premises.
So even though I started my membership in the library cult over sixty years ago, I am still a member. I went to a cult meeting a couple of days ago (to talk about promoting a book about crows), and I am going to another meeting today, to learn how to collect arcane information (how to download books for my wife).