Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An alumna returns to. . . the library, of course

Writing from study carrel 5749A, Northwestern University Library, 5th Floor South (aka "5 Green"). 

The approach from the South, gardens beside the Deering Library

Actually, the student assistant who gave me my computer password wrote "alumni" on her form, so that's what I entered on my guest log in as well;  so today I am a collective noun.  Probably I am representative of the group, since I came seeking both nostalgia and inspiration -- and to see what has changed.

Approach from the north -- the new library and the Deering Library

South Tower Stacks

Study Carrel

The carpet on the 5th floor is still green, though I'm happy to say that it is not the same carpet that was here when I was in school.  It also appears to be ecologically green, in that it is made up of replaceable squares, though I imagine that is true in the 'red' and 'gold' towers as well.  There is no west tower -- don't look for it -- though in the imaginations of those devising pledge pranks, it has blue carpet. 
North (Gold) Tower
 Digression. . . it's an art form.  It has taken me several hours to get from the first floor to the fifth, in part because I was taking photos, and in part because I allowed myself to be distracted by the "new acquisitions alcove."  That has an element of nostalgia, too -- I loved the new book display (then in a different location) as an undergraduate, and I loved the new book shelf in UNC's Library School library -- and I like the new book section of my public library.  The appeal is it's a library in miniature -- all the subjects, in manageable numbers.  Northwestern does not keep its dust jackets nor wrap its books in plastic, but they have used the book jackets to market the new books, so you find the book near its cover on the shelves.  After all, a lot of money goes into book marketing and design -- why not use it? 
New Acquisitions Alcove

New books!!!!!                 
I am drawn in, and I find a lot of books that I am interested in.  Actually, I'd like to read most of them, but I make a selection.  Then I sit down in the comfy chairs and read the introductions to see if they are actually as interesting as those cover artists and title writers suggested.  They are, and I copy the ISBN numbers into Goodreads,  to my "to-read" shelf, which has a lot of books on it already. I love the search and scan features of the web site, since I've spent a lifetime copying ISBN numbers on the edges of bookmarks and other pieces of scrap paper in lots of book stores.   I'm proud of my use of technology and that I was actually able to move on -- to lunch at the Plaza Cafe (a brilliant re-imagining of space that had been intended as a 2nd entrance to the library but which never worked for that purpose.   In  part, staffing two entrances was a problem, and in part because, with only one building to the east of the library, there was no natural foot traffic from that direction.)

Plaza garden (a replacement for the original fountain and an end, I hope, to leaks into the library)
One of the many interesting things that Jonathan Kozol said about libraries in his article:  The Other America: giving our poorest children the same opportunities as our richest,  is that they should be beautiful, and inviting.  He goes on to say that most school libraries are not either one in our poorer schools.  I came to
Now the Cultural Center, this was Chicago's Central Library 
Northwestern as a scholarship student, but my Chicago Public Schools had decent libraries, and teacher-librarians.  Furthermore, I came from a family that valued education above all else.  I was taken to the Chicago Public Library at a young age, and had the great good fortune to have a sixth grade teacher and a public librarian who introduced us to the basics of research through a series of weekly lessons.  To complete our final project, we had to take ourselves to Chicago's Central Library (then on Michigan Avenue).  We learned a lot about research, but we also learned that an amazing piece of architecture, dedicated to books and learning, belonged to us.

I have now whiled away a lot of time here at the library -- enjoying the pleasure of reading and thinking about new ideas -- learning for its own sake.  I will return, at least in this space,  to the library to discuss what is the same and what is different -- and what important lessons lurk in the Kozol article.

First floor learning commons:  where the card catalog once stood


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Circle of time: I remember being puzzled by your "Five Green" t-shirt when you first wore it back to the ancestral manse.


Fortune Cookie

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.
Frank Zappa