Stacks

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Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.  The only entrance requirement is interest.  

Lady Bird JohnsonOne of the great joys of my life is to be set free in the University Library.  These past two days I’ve been on the campus of the University of Montana, Missoula, Montana.  The Maureen and Mike Mansfield library contain five stories of absolute bliss.  Perhaps as the son of a career library employee, my heart is always in the hushed confines and stillness of the stacks.  

A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. 

Shelby Foote
Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana.

As an undergraduate my most frequent place of refuge was the  McConnell Library where I would spend hours in the stacks.  Running my fingers over the spines of old books that had not been checked out in decades.  I’d delight in biographies of long-forgotten Virginia Governors, the many volumes of lost cause Civil War History.  Like a drunkard, I’d wander through the stacks knowing that a book that would draw me in for hours was waiting to be discovered.  How many times did my suffering girlfriends have to wait for me because I’d lost any sense of time in the musty silent basements?  

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries. 

 ~Quoted in The Whole Earth Catalog, 1980 edition

It was in my senior year of undergrad that I was assigned a term paper for a class.  I don’t remember the prompt or the topic.  One day I had taken down a volume of bound New Yorker Magazines and came across a story about Ben Linder, an American who was killed fighting in Nicaragua during the 1980s Civil War.  From there it was off to the New York Times Microfilm and slowly a paper came together.  

The beauty of living in the stacks is to the right or left of the book you sought could be a related book that would lead you off on unanticipated and wonderful detours.  It was an education that targeted Google searches will never give you.  Will my children ever find the joy of a quiet library the way I did?

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