April 2004

Michael Farrelly

library rakehell

The Sexy Library

Libraries are terribly sexy.

Now that sentence may baffle you for just a second, but trust me, it is true. There is an innately sexy pulse to libraries. If youíre still operating under the dated stereotypes of the profession or perhaps locked into the notion that librarians are all liberal flag-burners who love Michael Moore and hate the government, then you are going to miss my point. But if you fall somewhere in the middle we can talk about your sexy library. A word of warning, this is all more of a meditation on libraries than a sexual call to arms. Iím sure you can look up Dan Savage for that sort of thing.

What is sexy? Weíre not talking about the latest pop tart whose dancing skills and choice of barely there outfits supersede their ability to sing. Weíre not talking about what Madison avenue, thereís a dated little turn of phrase for you, defines as being sexy this year (and for those of you not in the know the spring line is usually thinner, blonder and surlier than last year). Sexy is simple. Sexy is promise and potential. Itís the walk into a bedroom with a stranger and all that could happen inside. Sexy is sly and quiet. Sexy is hushed and possible. Libraries are sexy.

Think about the space of a library for a second. You have some large common areas where people can mingle and chat. You also have the stacks. The stacks at some college libraries are rife with sexual activity, but thatís not what Iím getting at. The next time you need to go to the library, which is of course on a weekly basis, go later in the day before closing and wander into the depths of the stacks for a while. Thereís this wonderful feeling of mischief back there. Older and large libraries give off this feeling better than the shiny new libraries of recent years. Libraries are amazing places where something just barely legal and permissible seems possible at any moment. Surrounded by high piles of knowledge you could be doing just about anything.

My favorite experience of this sexy feeling was in my grad school library. While renovating the old library building many of the books had to be relocated to an annex. The annex had once served as a chapel and was poorly ventilated and dark as pitch. Now lack of oxygen and lack of light may go miles towards enhancing a religious experience but it does nothing for a library. God was I wrong.

I had to go deep into this library one evening during a break in class. Passing through the swinging doors into the dank heat of the night library I saw a couple of my classmates scrounging for books. There we were, in hot silence looking for something. I remember two of my fellows exchanging playful smiles, they were flirting in that obvious and terribly cute way that only the over-educated can, as they cruised the stacks. It all felt so desperately sexy and titillating. The musky smell of the books in the humid air, the looming piles, the chance run-ins that blind corner stacks encourage, add that all together and there is more than a little bit of a current running through the library.

Perhaps itís the forced formality of a library. The pressure based both on rules and inherent public space formality, to keep quiet and focused. Like a held in giggle or a repressed dirty joke libraries are just brimming with this undercurrent of the impossible possible sexual urge and action. The next time someone rolls their eyes at library funding or makes some silly remark about the hair bun and sensible shoes set think of your warm dark library and see if you can hold it all in too.