Come to think of it, my years at school and graduate college too weren’t without the ‘library love’ as it were. In the school I went to, the ‘Library’ was a weekly ‘class’. This meant that once every Friday, we would be herded like sheep into the library where we could pick any book we wanted and read it for 45 minutes and borrow or return books. I invariably headed to the P.G. Wodehouse stack. There is something torturously funny about reading PGW in a somber, silent, fully occupied library room that you can only understand if you try it yourself. Silence was enforced by this ruthless, female monster of a librarian, whose stern voice caused goose bumps among the more strong hearted amongst us.
In my engineering years, I spent disproportionate amounts of time reading management and marketing books in the rather modestly stocked library we had. I occasionally sneaked in the Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth novel and enjoyed quite a few afternoons of solitude when there were no classes about mundane stuff like Object Oriented Programming.
I think I go to libraries to get away from what I normally do. This explains the PGW in school, the management books in an engineering college and the Org Behavior & Philosophy addiction during the MBA phase.
Today’s substitute for a library would be Google, but it can never give you the kind of experience that a real brick and mortar library can. There is also the visual element to it. Just looking at endless shelves stacked with tomes from over the ‘ages’ covering subjects you had no idea existed is a humbling experience. It draws your attention to the infinitely small spectrum of your existing knowledge vis-à-vis what the world has to offer. It also offers you your own space to explore what you didn’t know without the threat of a quiz or an exam to test your knowledge. I have learnt more from the hours I spent in the library studying “whatever I felt like” than from my formal education. However, I do owe to my formal education, the gift of language – that key to the numerous unknown secrets contained in those shelves.
Having recently moved to Mumbai, I have tried to find a library that has the kind of atmosphere and books that excite me. I hear there are a few places around here, but haven’t really researched enough to find any. Until then I shall look back on those great memories of the past and make do with the cheap paperback editions!