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.




The view from today

Makara Beach, a short 30 minute drive from home:

And a sunset on the way back to Wellington:




Wellington words

Sketches of Aro Valley

He sits on a folding chair that is too small,
and watches, motionless, as businessmen and techies walk past;
their attire broadcasts their affiliation.
He wears a gray knit sweater, loose around his thin frame,
and glasses that are perfect for peering over as he surveys his kingdom
full of “one of everything”; items that are “unique and affordable.”
He observes a curvaceous woman as she struggles to maneuver
between carefully yet precariously piled books, themselves supporting
enormous film posters concealing piles of abandoned appliances.
He says they all still work, and always guarantees a full refund if your purchase
is not to your liking.
This seems a generous offer from a junk shop. But I don’t think
he sees the same shop as I do, filled with random pieces.
He has constructed an empire of objects.

Like a parade of ants bearing too much of a load,
the young students cradle 12 packs of cheap beer
in their skinny arms, propelled forward by skinny legs in skinny jeans.
The uphill journey is long.

The sun only warms one side of the street,
so I find myself there
like a cat moving lazily through the day.
Black coffee in white ceramic
resting on roughly hewn wood.
The smell of freshly baked bread.
There is warmth in the winter sun.