One of the occupational hazards we librarians have is the obsession to visit a library no matter where we go. I look forward to trips as visiting other libraries will remind me to read a book or listen to a record I meant to years ago but never did. However, since I’ve been a director, my visits have become more important as they also give me new ideas to work with.
I admit that most of the time, my visits are uneventful, but a few have been inspiring. I recently visited my daughter and went to the San Francisco Public Library. I have to admit I was awestruck as the main library is a six floor building. In response to changing demographics, their website is available in Spanish and Chinese.
Obviously the New York Public Library has to be a highlight; you’re not a real librarian if you don’t get your picture taken in front of Patience and Fortitude, the world famous pair of lion statues that have guarded the entrance since the building was opened in 1911.
And no visit to our nation’s capital is complete without a trip to the Library of Congress. It’s the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. I think it has to be the world’s greatest library. According to their website its collections hold 29 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages. It has more than 58 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.
Traveling for the military has allowed me to see world class collections held in the West Point Library, the Nimitz Library at Annapolis, and the Army War College library at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. Everyone knows the military has long understood the need for information, but I don’t know if the public realizes the hard work that the staffs of the Armed Forces Libraries put in to help keep our soldiers informed and our nation safe.
Going to libraries in other countries such as Korea, Germany, or any of the 20 or so other countries I’ve been to made me appreciate even more what we have here in the States. In many of the outlying areas they were still using paper card catalogs, had no cooperative lending agreements, and the collections were minimal at best. Still, these small libraries impressed me. They were there to offer a glimpse into a world of ideas that otherwise may have been unavailable.
Anyways, back to the original purpose of this column. First of all, I’ve changed the way I look at the collection. Instead of simply going to the catalog to find if a particular item is in, I now find that I spend much of my time browsing the aisles. It seems to give me a better feel for the community I’m visiting. More importantly, it helps me sometimes find a gem of an item that we’ve missed here in Chemung County. The second thing is that I now find myself browsing the collections at each of the branches. It gives a better sense of what our community likes, what the dislike, and helps our purchasing decisions.
So I’d like to invite all patrons to come in and walk around. Browse the shelves or the media bins. You may find a book you never thought you’d read, or an old book you have always wanted to but just never got around to. In other words, come in and discover some hidden gems.