In praise of public libraries

I have had the great fortune of living near two wonderful libraries within the last year – the Wellington City Library during my year in New Zealand, and now the Cambridge Public Library (above, during a recent warm end-of-summer night). I began going to the Wellington library shortly after I moved to NZ in recognition of the high cost of books in the country, to say nothing of the high cost of bringing those acquired and treasured books back across the Pacific. But my love affair with the library really flourished during my final months in Wellington, when I was writing my masters’ thesis. Days of writing were much improved when I was able to spend them sitting amidst a diverse crowd of Wellingtonians, looking out over Civic Square and taking breaks walking along the nearby waterfront. At the library, I saw school children deciding to spend their holidays reading, businessmen negotiating deals with the dreaded Australians, and older women reading books on art history. I was reminded that a library does not need to be a place of work, of stress, as it often felt during the college years. Rather, those around me at the Wellington library were, by and large, there to read materials that they were interested in without needing to financially invest in the words. At the library (when I probably should have been writing said thesis), I re-discovered my love for the New Yorker and its in-depth discussions of topics that are both random and apt, and my time there morphed from laptop-bound hours of writing to weekend afternoons of pleasure reading.

I’ve already mined the Cambridge Public Library for their New Yorkers, although I subsequently decided to split a subscription with a friend and so will no longer need to find it on the shelves. The next forgotten or undiscovered treasure can’t be too far away, though. I intend to continue my library patronage, despite the resources in Harvard’s own libraries, to remind me that the pursuit of knowledge is not one that should be wound up in the stresses of the Ivory Tower. Rather, I’ll sit among a community of which only a small minority will be studying for their qualifying exams, that spans ages and careers and interests, and with whom I might have to fight over the last copy of Harper’s.