In the next few weeks, I’m hoping to write a few blog posts that spotlight different sections of the library’s collection that patrons seem to be less aware of, but that are just as worth checking out as the bestsellers (no offense to the bestsellers!). Libraries have so much, but sometimes we need someone just to point to these things, to say “hey, look at this!,” so we can become aware of things we haven’t noticed yet, or weren’t even aware existed. William James, one of the greatest, most original, perceptive and creative psychologists who ever walked the earth, pointed out a long time ago that all human beings have blindspots. This series will be an attempt to point things out we might have missed because of our natural human blindspots. In order to jumpstart this series, here is an introductory post.
Maybe it’s a cliche, but I’ve always taken seriously the idea that the best way to know if a book is any good is whether or not it passes the rereading test. What’s the rereading test? Just what it sounds like, really – if you read a book for the second time, does it still hold up? Has it “grown with you”? Does it still help you to learn, think, grow? Or is it, alas, juvenile, dogmatic, immature? In other words, when we read a great work of literature as an adolescent, say – Jane Austen, or Dickens, or “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” by Whitman – and then read it as an adult, we find that we have completely different interpretations of said work. In that sense, the work has grown with us, changed with us. The best works of literature are always a step ahead of us. What we experience from Don Quixote in our thirties will be very different from what we experience in our sixties – I’ve actually heard it said by one reader that Quixote read in old age is a much sadder book.
I wanted to start this blog post with the analogy of how, as we age, we notice entirely new things about books we reread, because if we really think about it, the same can be true about our experience of space itself, of the physical, perceptible world. How do I mean? Well, have you ever heard the idea that you can never step into the same river twice? It’s really a wonderfully incisive insight. Why? Because if you think about it, it’s really true – if you walk to a gas station at 9am, say, and visit the same gas station at 9:45am, in a way it will not be the same store. There will be different people, different conversations. Less coffee in one dispenser, more coffee in another. Different music playing. The light itself in the place will be different, in accordance with the different time. It might seem like the same store – the cardboard box holding the Three Musketeer candy bars is still there, and it looks like the same amount of Three Musketeers are there as well – but in a way it’s really not. (I’m not a big science guy, but I’m sure we’ve heard of the idea, in a similar way, that our bodies themselves are constantly changing.)
Okay, that was quite a detour! Why am I talking about this stuff?
In the same way in which our experience of ourselves and the physical world is constantly growing and changing, the same can be said for our experience of libraries, as well as the stuff inside libraries, i.e. books, among other things. In other words, I’m not sure people see libraries as places that are so utterly ripe for discovery, in the same sense in which a walk in nature can be, or reading a great book. And I wonder if this is because many people don’t realize what libraries have and/or offer. And, among many important and beautiful and life-giving things, libraries have books: good books, books that are important and can change how one sees the world. And these books are free. Which, for me at least, never gets old.
So the question then arises, what kinds of books can be found at libraries? Because the library doesn’t just have books in a big random pile! No, we have books that are organized a certain way. Here at RRPL, we organize our books according to the Dewey Decimal System. There are other ways of doing this – many academic libraries use the Library of Congress organizational schema – but I want to focus today on Dewey. Well, what is Dewey? Here is the breakdown of the Dewey organization. We might not have books on every category here at RRPL, but we are a part of CLEVNET, and CLEVNET has a staggering amount.
Did you look at it? It’s kind of astonishing, honestly, isn’t it? I mean, knowledge isn’t everything – I think who someone is matters more than what they know – but it’s still just sort of dumbfounding to look at and contemplate. And, when we pause and think about it, we might conclude that, yes, we can’t help but have blindspots, considering how much there is to know, think about, wonder, discover, imagine, experience. So, this series of blog posts aims at pointing out sections, categories, books, that we’re probably not aware of – not crazily obscure or outdated things, just hopefully interesting and alive things that might pique our curiosity and even, eventually or suddenly, broaden our reading, thinking and imagining lives, and make those blindspots slightly less blind, or oppressive, or just annoyingly in the way.