An intoxicating aroma walloped me across the face as I entered the Edna Barnes Salomon Room inside the New York Public Library. Although I couldn’t quite nail down the scent precisely, the room “smelled of rich mahogany” as Ron Burgundy would describe it, combined with a drop of vanilla mixed in between the pages of an old, musty book. I froze for a split second when the smell blasted me back in time as I found myself standing in the center of my middle school library surrounded by card catalogs and microfiche machines.
I thought I was nuts until a woman walked in right behind me verbally expressing the same sentiment. She couldn’t describe the smell but spoke of how it was invigorating and mysteriously nostalgic.
The library is a powerful place and not just because of the soothing aromas released into the air from aging book collections.
Please allow me the opportunity to geek out for a moment and explain the 6 reasons why you need some library indulgence in your life.
I think I hear Ogre shouting down at me from the balcony of the Alpha Beta fraternity house:
1. Aisles Upon Aisles of Visual Stimulation
Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better. -Sidney Sheldon
Sure we now have instantaneous access to enormous amounts of information with just a quick swipe of a thumb, but the library offers a different old-school perspective for information gathering. Take a break from the digital screens and try taking a stroll through the countless aisles of books, magazines, and newspapers on display. An aimlessly wandering mind often welcomes creativity. Pick up a book that tickles your curiosity, a magazine that speaks to you, or a newspaper headline that calls out to you.
Each week I roll into the library looking like Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones when he discovers The Citadel library for the very first time.
And each time I leave with a handful of ideas and a week’s worth of inspiration. While I try to limit my interaction with technology during my visit, mainly flipping through books and periodicals, I use my Evernote app to take snapshots of anything I find interesting or will use later for research. The snapshots are stored in Evernote and searchable through the app’s OCR (Optical Character Recognition) for easy retrieval whenever you need them. No more throwing change into the copy machine.
2. Members Only Online Databases
Armed only with a library card, you can tap into a network of library databases which contain countless scholarly and credible articles to feed your hunger for information. “Morrrrrre input” as Johnny 5 would say. These databases can help your research drastically and open up options outside of the typical Google Scholar search. Use the scholarly databases to defend against an internet onslaught of so-called fake news.
Some libraries will also grant you special privileges to access normally paid subscription online journal services such as the New York Times. Other privileges include local job listings, online tutoring programs, and language learning software programs like Rosetta Stone.
3. History and Architectural Beauty
Be greeted by massive marble lion statues and mahogany bookshelves that touch the sky. An abundance of arched windows projecting plentiful daylight, which highlights the vaulted ceilings encompassing fabulous classical murals.
So maybe your local library looks nothing like the New York Library. Perhaps it’s the beat up old building you pass on your way to the grocery store every Sunday and inside contains a few shelves of Sports Illustrated magazines from the 90s and VHS movies available to rent for a dollar. Odds are though with 126,881 libraries present in the United States today, you are bound to have one of these magical structures nearby, built to deliver an experience which will satisfy your thirst for knowledge, creativity and curiosity.
Appreciate the rich history and stunning craftsmanship as you soak in every bit of knowledge your brain can handle. There’s a certain energy radiating throughout the sea of surrounding classic books that empowers us to want to revitalize our minds. The environment becomes us.
Next on my wishlist is the marvelous Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland.
Image by David Lliff – Trinity College Library
I’m jealous of the fortunate ones who happen to reside near 15 of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
4. Never Underestimate the Power of the Librarian
Gone are the days of the stereotypical shy librarian, with horn-rimmed glasses slid down the nose, usually found hiding behind a cart full of carefully stacked books. Libraries are adapting to the twenty-first century and so are its librarians.
Library Science programs have evolved, spawning a generation of skilled library scientists who do more than just help us find books. These information professionals are the needed lifebuoy that can save us from drowning in a tsunami of information overload. They can teach us information literacy skills.
According to American Library Association, information literacy is the foundation of lifelong learning and can enable us to:
- Master content and assume greater control of our own learning methods
- Access information effectively and efficiently
- Critically evaluate information and its sources
- Incorporate the selected information into our own knowledge base
- Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
Librarians are masterful content creators and designers of knowledge-organization systems which can help us locate resources that are reliable and trustworthy. In no time, you will be able to spot those Russian fake news stories that have taken over your Facebook newsfeed.
On top of their information expertise, librarians also teach our youth to develop a love for reading and learning, help community members find employment, and are the architects behind the design of many of the inspirational spaces like the story time rooms, teen hangouts, robotics laboratories, and virtual reality rooms.
During your next library visit, stop and chat with your librarian. Ask questions. Tap into their brains and learn how to master the art of information management.
5. Emerging Technologies
Today’s libraries are finally catching up with cutting-edge technology trends. Aside from the usual computers and free Wi-Fi offered, modern libraries are now offering its members 3D printing, robotics, virtual reality and coding workshops, recording studios, access to software and specialized library apps.
Denmark’s Dokk1 library, crowned the best public library in the world by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, gives us a taste of what the library of the future will look like.
Image by ©Villy Fink Isaksen
6. Community and Education
The coffee shop or local library are usually the only options available when looking for a remote spot to spur creative thinking. The library is able to bring together an intimate sense of community like no other establishment can.
Libraries have turned into networking and community hubs where members can form meetup groups, take classes and attend special events. It’s a place where people with like-minded interests can connect with one another to share ideas.
They are also a nice retreat from the typical loud coffee shops and buzzing espresso machines. Although white noise can be a good thing, there’s something uniquely special about the quiet solitary confinement felt in a library reading room. You feel alone but are not alone. It’s as if everyone around you is part of an underground John Wick type secret society adhering to the one golden rule: to remain silent.
Solitude can be your greatest stimulation.
A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life. –Norman Cousins
I once knew a guy who wore the dorkiest pair of glasses I had ever seen with lenses so thick they could stop bullets. He told me a story of an unfortunate overnight prison sentence in which he was greeted by a tatted up, big burly inmate who asked, “What are you in for geek? Stick up a library or something?”
The library isn’t just for nerds and geeks. It’s a place for anyone looking to escape to a playground full of knowledge and creativity—opening doors to worlds you never thought existed. A place built to inspire, motivate, educate and unite communities while bringing ideas and people together. Now if only more of them would start selling coffee………ahh bliss.