Monday, July 16, 2007

Library as a Social (and Intimate) Space

Sometimes we forget (or too preoccupied with "real" library matters) to realize that the library is a social space. As much as librarians are the gatekeepers of silence and studying, the fact is, libraries have always been spaces of intimacy. Particularly in academic and public libraries, we often witness relationships igniting, mending, and ending, all within in the interiors of libraries. Tears of romance and tears of sorrow grace the spaces of libraries all over the world, regardless of size and specialty.

The Time Traveller's Wife, a book that I've read recently, is about a pair of lovers who meet in a library in Chicago. The main character, Henry DeTamble, is working at the Newberry Library while Clare Abshire is looking for The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

When 20-year-old Clare meets 28-year-old Henry in 1991, he has never seen her before, even though she has known him most of her life, for Clare's past is still in Henry's future. Henry begins to experience the events in Clare's childhood at the same time that he experiences life with the adult Clare in the present. This heartrending story is only a reflection of the many relationships that take place in the library.

Which leads me to my point: librarians should be very proud of the silent role they play in society. Not only as educators and information providers, but also as managers of social space. Libraries are very sensitive and special places - it's not all about gate counts and user surveys. Librarians have a very unique responsibility even though they are often not aware of it. They are not only guardians of books, but also of community and intimacy, both virtual and physical.


Anonymous said...

I too just read this book.

Several things stand out about it:

I was left wondering why this character is a librarian in the first place? and how was it related to the story at hand? I decided that it was because society views librarians in a sentimental light and this book is nothing if not sentimental. "The Librarian" is the perfect literary device to encapsulate all that is not said about Henry by the author. She relies on a cliche to fill in the blanks.

And how did he manage to get through library school???

It's sad enough that the book was terrible, worse still that the author dragged librarians into it.


Allan said...

I enjoyed the book overall, although it was a bit long...too drawn-out for my liking. Some parts were unnecessary.

I picked up the book not only because of the rather intriguing story-line, I was also captivated by a librarian as a main character.

You make a good point, I never thought about the reason why a librarian is chosen. Perhaps sentimentality has a role in it. I thought one interesting thing is that Henry breaks the stereotype of the librarian - that intrigued me a bit.