CLOSER THAN YOU THINK: THE TALE OF ONE MAN'S FORAY INTO THE CSULB LIBRARY
Last Updated on Sunday, 17 March 2013 22:44
Photos by Wes Verner
One of the great paradoxes of growing up is the development of a thirst for knowledge of the outside world, but one which goes unfulfilled due to our ever dwindling amount of free time. After studying and working is done, we have scarce time to fit everything else in. When this is combined with the effects of rapidly expanding technology in our daily lives making things available at our fingertips, we see instantaneous gratification becoming more valued. Knowledge is something that we only have time for if it’s available on our phones in between classes. Why learn about anything completely when you can read a “top 10 list of things you didn’t know about random crap”? It’s no longer knowledge that is valued by society, but having the ability to find answers on Google or cha-cha. With instant queues pushing us to watch dozens of movies and shows a month, who really has time for the written word? What’s there to value in ancient relics like libraries besides their computers? I went on an exploration of our campus library to find what about libraries, if anything, is still relevant. I immediately make my way to the maze of books on one of the upper floors. One thing I love about libraries is you don’t have to have any direction in looking. If you wander down the aisles long enough you’ll come across what you need instead of what you want. In fact it’s better if you don’t know the Dewey decimal system, which we all know no one does. You’re presented with the chance for adventure and knowledge that can’t be simply shown to you as it is on the Internet. To quote the greatest movie of the '90s, The Pagemaster: “I was nearly torn to shreds by a crazy doctor, I was made a slave to a bunch of mangy pirates, and eaten. Got that? Eaten! By a fire-breathing dragon!” “Yet you stand before me.”
At this point I reflect on how funny it is how much effort was put into us as children to make us use the library. Matilda and so many other movie heroines made the library seem like some place of refuge from the ignorance of Man. Our favorite celebrities even took the time to appear on posters to advocate for reading. We were encouraged to read, play, imagine, and listen.
As I walk down the aisles of forgotten books I can’t help but feel like their efforts were in vain. I begin to feel completely alone in the graveyard of words until I turn down an aisle and jump back at what looks like a motionless corpse. But really it’s just someone catching up on sleep. Just as discouraging, pick any book at random and open it up and you’ll probably see a most recent check out date from the ‘80s or ‘90s at best.
With every aisle I step into, the cacophony of colors calls out to me. My eyes glaze over at most of the technical manuals and government weather statistical analysis handbooks, as they would for most people. My eyes seek out the books that are obviously from another century. The older and uglier, the better, even if they eject plumes of dust that make me sneeze. These ones offer a primary source of history that I am able to hold in your hands, the very book other generations held in their hands. That’s a feeling you can’t achieve from any document online. Being able to pick the brain of someone from another time offers a truth not distortable.
I’m eager to see even more of what lies in the library. I begin moving down the aisles so quickly that the colors of the covers whirl by me like a dizzying, psychedelic rainbow. I see things that would appeal to everyone. They’ve got everyone covered from anarchists to alcoholics and sexaholics. They even have a section for every major offered at this school. The lines of NASA documents and Aerospace Engineering books particularly call my name. It’s the one place I could see myself coming back to long after I graduate from here.
One of the most peculiar sections is that little occult section on the second !oor. Upon picking up a book and reading one of the satanic lines, my friend promptly dropped the book and ran out of the library. Few things can be as realistically frightening as something read in a book.
Somewhere in the back on the third floor, you can go down one aisle and let your fingers stroll across the entire works of Matisse, Picasso, and Van Gogh. On just the other side of that, the rhymes and rhythms crafted by history’s master poets will speak out to you. We’re privileged to have so many other great things at our library. It’s the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria, which served as the center of knowledge of the entire ancient world. Now, like many of the other books in the library, they are forgotten relics, only symbols for what our species once treasured.
The Children’s section is also one of the best places in the library, as it contains the majority of the books I’ve read in my life. The librarians prize this collection for having a marvelous display of books banned and challenged during times in our history. People are more afraid of books than any other media because of the concrete truth they can communicate to readers. As they tried to communicate in Network, “Television is not the truth! Television is a Goddamned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players.” Seeing these books here reminds me of their importance as a tool of freedom.
Hitler and every other dictator struggling to control the citizens always went straight for the books to crush people’s liberty. Now all they have to do is turn off our internet to shut us up. How easy it is for propaganda to manipulate us now. In some ways, books are the last defense against corruption.
What John Steinbeck wrote in a letter regarding books reminds me how great it is that we have all these books available to us. You can read a book and pass it along to someone else, creating an experience that cannot be replicated by Kindles. There really is no media substitutable to a book. As he said, “There is something untranslatable about a book. It is itself—one of the very few authentic magics our species has created.”