An American Bookworm in Wonder

Or a stone bench built for monk butts that I can’t relate to. The bench, not the butts. Heh.

We are running out of room. The library has somewhere upwards of 877,000 volumes of books, 645,000 of which are in paper format. Just under half the collection resides in the underground addition and for the life of me I cant see where. I mean, sure there are books here but there is also a ton of study carols, offices for the entire library staff, offices for the journals, a classroom, copier rooms and a lot of open area. I suppose it was designed this way so that it wouldn’t seem like the “first” floor is actually three flights below ground level (and that’s the closest floor to the surface).

Unlike the stacks, which house slightly more than half the collection, the underground addition doesn’t carry with it the weight of libraryship. By that I mean if you go into the stacks you can see rows and rows of floor to ceiling books for the entire length of the building. If you are really clever, you can also see through to the other floors and see their rows and rows of books. I have no doubt in my mind that the stacks house 350,000 or so volumes, I mean just look! But the underground addition is sneaky. Somewhere it manages to stuff books and space and manages not to come off with that overstuffed pillow feeling.

Except we are running out of room. Recently they were deciding what and how to break up the collection and where to put what…whether more was to be stuffed in the stacks or sent to an offsite location or even if the last of the raw space needed to be developed. That involved me marking up a list of books into books published between 1850 and 1900, books published between 1800 and 1849 and books published before 1800. It was an interesting list and in doing so, I had a uniquely American-centric moment.

Going through all these volumes I found myself looking at the publication dates and thinking 1850, that’s Civil War era. 1820 around then there was the pioneering push, perhaps Little House on the Prairie days. 1770 Ahh, the American Revolution kicks in a few years later. 1700 the colonies should be thriving about now if they haven’t already. Lots of exploring still. 1680 …Jamestown? Yeah I think Jamestown was this early. 1500. 1500. Hmmmm, 1500. And there was a big blank spot in my mind. Oh sure, it was the beginning of the renaissance or end of the middle ages but that didn’t mean anything to me. There was no connection. My personal sense of history pretty much stops somewhere around the late 1600. I know stuff happened, of course, but it seems like “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away”.

In a way, it made me envious of the older countries. TheMan went to Europe at one point in time and told me about a bench he sat on that was carved in 1200. 1200?!? It is just a number. It’s a “Some things happened over in this country here” date. What was happening in North America during the 13th century? Couldn’t tell you (except it involved the Indians). I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to come from a place where you could have a sense of history that goes back to the 900s? Or even a couple thousand before Christ? Weird weird feeling to run into something that made me acutely aware of thinking like an American.

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