Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Just something nice

I drove to the main branch of the Nashville Public Library today to get some material I needed for an article. I slipped in, hunted down the necessary books, and scurried back out again. No time for browsing, since I was mentally on the clock and in a hurry to get back home to the computer. The library was as mobbed as I've ever seen it. The weather today was chilly and wet, so the homeless folk were there in force. They were clustered around the computer terminals or sitting at the tables reading with friends. Little groups were hanging out in the stairwells and hallways, talking quietly, intensely. (Go here to read reflections from Kevin Barbieux, Nashville's 'Homeless Guy,' on the importance of libraries to the men and women who live on the street.)

Stay-at-home mothers with kids--mostly white, prosperous, and worlds apart from the street denizens--were also heavily represented, since school was out. The kids all seemed to be having a pretty good time, as kids generally do in libraries. I love the way young children struggle with the protocol of the place, running around and squealing, then dramatically shushing each other. The mothers had that harried-but-satisfied look that parents get when they are providing their children with virtuous entertainment.

I'd guess that those two groups made up easily 80% of the patrons. Together they turned the library into the most pleasant, cordial place I've been in a while. The trouble with living out in the sticks is that you don't often get that urban experience of diverse people happily jostling each other in a shared space. Actually, you don't generally get much of that in Nashville, since it is as socially segregated as most sprawling New South cities--maybe more so. It was nice to see it and to share in it briefly before heading back to semi-rural solitude.

"Pococurante's Library", illustration for Candide, ou l'Optimisme (Paris: Sirène) 1759


stella p said...

I really enjoy libraries, of all kinds! This sounds like a great place to be, with its mixture of people. (here it is rather similar, but the homeless are few, the asylum seeking people & immigrants from the middle east/africa are many) When my children was younger we used to visit the main communal library each Friday, and often delaying our breakfast to the library cafe. It was really a nice period of life!

stella p said...

ps: I meant Saturday

Bozo said...

I live in a prosperous county, the richest in the state (though not because of me), and it has a pathetic public library. It built a new facility to great fanfare a few years ago - a really beautiful building - but it houses a collection of tattered old romances and pot-boilers, some military history, some political biography, and very little else. It seems to have inherited its entire stock from some little country library down the road. It never seems to get anything new, except for recent releases (of the same general ilk) which rotate through for a couple of weeks on their way to somewhere else. Whatever you were looking for at the library, BG, I'd give odds you wouldn't find it here. People use our libabry mostly for computer access and DVD rentals - there's barely even any loafing going on. On the bright side, there is a good children's collection. It's also good that the library sits quite close to one of the poor sections of town, giving easy access to people who can't afford a bookstore.