July 2003

Michael Farrelly

library rakehell

Thrice the column

This month the Rakehell is lazy. Actually I'm jet-lagged, ill, and sore of foot thanks to the cruddy sidewalk maintenance around Westminster Abbey. So, falling back on my bag of literary tricks from the days when I wrote three editorials a week for my college newspaper, I am going to give you (cliche drum roll please) three columns for the price of just one. These columns never grew out of the idea orphanage, so here they are, hungry for soup and love. Be kind.

Column the first: The lonely library.

So I walked into this library, looked up the book I wanted, found it, searched for more materials, reserved a seat at a computer, checked out my materials and even got a spiffy bag for my copious takings.

All without actually talking to a single human being.

Automation, they call it. It's the new trend. An all but self-service library that slices, dices, and juliennes for you. I call bogus on this.

Libraries aren't just about books; they aren't just places to get stuff and leave. Just because Target and Wal-Mart have lowered the quality of human service interaction to an autonomic level doesn't mean everyone should follow suit.

Americans are a busy people. We fill out lives with twaddle from cradle to grave and love to complain about the work load. Libraries should -- ideally of course, and what is a columnist if not the last of the idealists -- be a place of rest. A place of dialogue, common cause and kindness. The best librarians will chase you down after you've left the reference desk to give you more information. I'd like to see a repeater terminal do the same.

Second Column: In love with a librarian

It's not all crackers and cheese-whiz loving a librarian. We're a solitary breed in many ways. We can spend hours scrying the minute details and tracking down the facts.

As Short-Round tells Indiana, "No time for love, Dr. Jones!"

This is not to say that you can't love a librarian. We're actually a fiercely loyal breed, me in particular, since I'm not only a librarian but also a Chicago Cubs fan. Dedicated to helping others, great listeners, fascinated by stories, full of exciting and varied information, knowledgeable about the world in ways that most folk only dream of being... all this said, librarians are quite the catch.

As I tell my girlfriend every...single...day.

Third column: Library Music

Spin magazine did a piece with one of the most literate bands out there, Radiohead. There was a line in the article that stuck with me hard.

"Talking to Radiohead is like getting stoned with a bunch of librarians."

I think that's one of those double compliments. Librarians compared to arguably the most "important" band in the world and Radiohead compared to one of the noblest professions out there. I'm sure Thom Yorke is already writing a nine-minute soundscape on the topic for the band's next release.

Books and music are a natural fit, really.