Did you know they have zillions of BOOKS in the Boston Public Library? I know that sounds embarrassingly stupid and pathetic, but I really had forgotten just how many books they have.
Years ago, I was in the stacks on the first floor, looking for a novel, and two security guards came up and nabbed a guy standing not far from me, near the end of my row. He had a knife in his hand. I saw it as they each grabbed an arm and dragged him away. While this didn't exactly traumatize me — it was a library after all, so as I remember it, the whole episode never went above a whisper — it ended my browsing career at the BPL. I hadn't been the least bit on my guard when that guy came toward me. Since then, the place has given me the creeps.
But a girl has to read. Even a girl too cheap to buy cheap used books. The BPL has an excellent online reservation system, so for years I reserved books that sounded interesting and picked them up at the front desk. I'd nearly always get in line behind several people filling out paperwork for new library cards. I passed the time wondering why the library didn't dedicate one associate to the time-consuming task of assigning cards. Or better yet, dedicate one associate to hunting for reserved books, a high-level skill that usually involved looking in at least three different places, or looking in the same place at least three times. And then disappearing into the back room for 10 minutes.
Now the BPL has a self-service system for reservations. The books are shelved just beyond the lobby and there's never more than one person in line for the checkout machine. It's quick, easy, and smart.
Although my current freelance writing assignments come with packets of research, neatly compiled by someone with a better brain than mine, I still need more. And while I've always been able to find all the medical and health information I could ever want online, this is not the case with history and art history. When I found intriguing references to books that would answer my questions last weekend, I also realized they were all at least 10 years old and I wouldn't find them at Borders. So I tried the BPL. Of course they had them all.
I needed them right away so there wasn't time to reserve them. I took a body guard (husband) and went there with my call numbers on Sunday afternoon. We went upstairs.
I had no idea how book-starved I'd been. I hadn't browsed the stacks since the guy with the knife. We roamed around and it seemed like every title was calling out to me. From the time I learned to read I loved browsing library shelves; the taller I got, the better it got. When I outgrew my hometown library, I moved on to local college libraries. The BPL will never be too small.
I love spotting some random, appealing subject with a small collection of books and exploring it. I was running my fingers along the titles. "Look! Sarah Bernhardt! Paperweights! India! The Great Depression!"
We'll be going back, as soon as I have time to read again. In the meantime I have some cool books about 18th-century American society and 19th-century American family life. Yum.