On the Products of Libraries

There’s something charming about reading a library’s book.  There’s a constant awareness that the book is borrowed.  If it’s new, there’s a nagging feeling that someone else is probably waiting for it.  If it’s old, like really old and should actually be replaced, there’s an entirely different feeling when reading it.  My Hermann Hesse book has the dust jacket only taped on by the back flap.  The front one keeps falling off, but it’s comforting to read it this way.  When you open it, all of the binding is perfectly worn in, like that moment you secure on your favourite pair of jeans to go out for your every day excursions.

And the imbibed library scent, is a fragrance all it’s own.  Once a book reaches a certain number of years on a library shelf, it graduates from new book smell, to vacant of any reader’s perfume, to the musty scent and finally to the imbibed library essence.  It’s the natural aging of a book.  They need to bottle this stuff and sell it on the campuses of PhD students to remind them why they devoted their lives to becoming a scholar.  

Once a book reaches this highest state of scent, every library’s essence carries the same fragrance.  It’s nostalgia blended with a nerd’s packrattery with the undertones of the community who probably had to write a paper with this same book.  Perhaps retiring teachers can even recall whenever this same book is referenced in their students’ bibliographies.  These books become a beacon of the town’s education system.  The close to retirement teacher can relax a bit because their job is almost complete.  But they can think to themselves, our students’ papers have gotten a little dry over the years.  That library book must have annotations in it.

Eventually though, a new & dynamic librarian gets a promotion and vows to purge the library of all the broken down books.  The shelves will be replaced with more current titles or do away with any packratted books, let’s make space for more computer work stations or community spaces.  They want to clear out some of the library’s dim corners for sparkling modern ideas.  Grants are written, some of the funding may be received.  And these books that have served for 10 or 20 years are desensitized for the last time.  They’ve evolved with the library’s technology from those card catalogues and their own sharply distinct woodsy paper scent, to sense-free bar codes to hidden magnetic strips.

The aged, sepia book is now retired along with some teachers who followed it via students’ bibliographies.  The teacher no longer hopes that when their students choose their topic for the year, that they’ll discover this very book on the shelves.

(These images are from Pexels.)