A love letter to the library

Florianne Jimenez
It taught me that curiosity is an intellectual reward, and that part of learning means being open to new things

TREASURE TROVE OF INFORMATION. Our libraries and archivists don’t have the resources to digitize and upload wonderful treasures like old manuscripts, periodicals on microfilm and newsreels

MANILA, Philippines – This will sound terribly old-fashioned (and perhaps pretentious, because 24-year-olds don’t have any right to sound old-fashioned), but I wish we lived in an era where libraries actually matter.

What I mean when I say that is: I wish people used libraries not as nap rooms, xerox stations, computer terminals, wi-fi hubs or places to watch the NBA Finals, but as repositories of knowledge.

I wish people still appreciated that libraries are are full of interesting, enriching ideas, where one can walk through the shelves and take out books that have interesting titles.

When I was in grade school, I spent a lot of afternoons waiting for my ride home in the school library. I remember it was a big room, with heavy wooden tables and shelves full of yellowing books. In those days, which were the late ’90s, things like Open Access Catalogs, digital records and barcode-scanned IDs didn’t exist.

We had the Internet, but it was this slow, noisy thing — “dial-up” meant that you would hear a literal bleep-bloop from a heavy brick called a modem, and that nobody could call your landline for an hour because you would be online (an hour felt like such a long time to be surfing then).

For library users, not having Internet meant that we had to flip through a card catalog, find the author or title we wanted and locate the book using the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system. Then we had to write down the call number and accession number on our library card (and of course we had to know the difference between the two), show it to the librarian, get a stamp on our card and then go.

Perhaps I romanticize it, but the way I perceive knowledge and the way I see research are heavily influenced by those afternoons in the library. When I’d idly browse the shelves and pick up an interesting looking title, or an author I’d heard about but hadn’t read, it taught me that curiosity is an intellectual reward, and that part of learning means being open to new things.

In research, it’s what you’re not looking for that can ultimately be the most rewarding. If you just take some time to see what else is on the shelf, if you just let yourself be curious and open up a book with an interesting title or cover, you can discover whole new worlds of knowledge.

Today, the world is different. I see it in my students; sometimes, in myself. Even if I take the time to give them a library orientation, I’ll still receive papers with entire bibliographies culled from the Internet.

When I ask them why, they look at me curiously, as if to say, “Why would I go to a hot, musty-smelling, stuffy library where I have to check my bag, when I can do all my research from home and go on Facebook at the same time?”

I’m not saying that I don’t trust knowledge that comes from the Internet. It’s a fantastic resource, and I can’t imagine doing research or creative work without it. I just feel that the knowledge available in a library isn’t always replaced by the Internet.

It’s not true that “if it’s not on the internet, it doesn’t exist.” This is especially true for local knowledge and research on our country. Our libraries and archivists don’t have the resources to digitize and upload wonderful treasures like old manuscripts, periodicals on microfilm and newsreels. You’ll have to go to archives or special collections sections yourself, and ask to see physical copies of these records.

Yes, it’s tedious, and it’s less convenient than using Google — but think about all the knowledge out there just waiting to be used.

In an era where e-books have already outsold foreign books, the library as a physical space doesn’t seem to make sense anymore. Devoting resources to building and maintaining one might even seem wasteful.

But libraries aren’t always about what’s most convenient, or what’s practical. Because the pursuit of knowledge isn’t about that either: it’s about discovering what other people haven’t, of finding new ways to use old ideas. 

So the presence of a library is about hope and optimism. Having one means that we hope our students and our public will reach for higher-minded ideas, and will learn that the acquisition of knowledge is something they should value. – Rappler.com


Book page in heart shape with library background photo from Shutterstock

Bo Jimenez

Florianne L. Jimenez teaches Literature and College Writing at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is a Palanca award-winning non-fiction writer, with a creative interest in the self, places and consciousness. She has a massive to-be-read pile dating back to 2008, which includes such titles as ‘The Collected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez,’ ‘Book 5 of Y: The Last Man,’ and ‘The Collected Works of TS Spivet: A Novel.’

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