I don’t believe I have ever encountered a library I didn’t like. There are some libraries I feel sad about: they may be damp, dirty, moldy, and ignored, but there is still a part of me that loves them. Probably this is because I understand that there was a soul or souls who collected and organized them, whether on purpose or through neglect. The stacks and rows and boxes represent the intent of those who loved the words, the pages, the binding, the titles, and the smell. I suspect they also loved the potential exploration, shock, repose, and blessing of the collections.
I make it a point to visit libraries when I’m traveling. I’ve seen hundreds, but some libraries are particularly memorable for me. The most amazing personal collection I’ve ever seen was assembled by a man in rural Arkansas who built a climate-controlled, secure addition to his home to house a truly magnificent compilation of rare books from around the world. Hidden and interior to the shelves was a locked vault that contained his most precious treasures. No one would ever guess that this splendid library was hidden away on a back street in this small town.
Another truly amazing collection that I’ve had the opportunity to see is situated in two massive caverns dug into the Mississippi riverbank in Minneapolis. These caverns are several football fields long. The shelves host tubs of books and are stacked so high that “cherry picker” equipment is needed to retrieve them. The caverns serve as last-copy and rare-book storage and are adapted for long-term preservation. The size of the space and the collections is breathtaking.
A library that is breathtaking because of the view is a small public library situated on an island in Alaska. The windows of the library are a few feet away from the water. Patrons read books, magazines, and newspapers while lounging in comfortable chairs looking out over the most amazing views. On a good day, a whale might swim by. The library is tiny, but the seascape is overwhelming.
Of course, the library that might make me happiest is the one in my own home. I’ve collected stories that I love, books that are meaningful to me, volumes that have been gifts from dear family and friends, and works that have been autographed by authors I admire. I keep books that might have beautiful writing or are thought provoking. They may have provided solace during times of trouble or great joy and laughter during times of ease. They entertain, educate, and comfort.
I’m one of the fortunate people who get to go to work every day in a library. I love walking through the doors and knowing that I’ll be surrounded by the breadth and depth of knowledge that sit waiting on the shelves for people to discover. I’m particularly fortunate to work in the Hilton M. Briggs Library surrounded not only by the collections, but also library employees that have a sincere desire to serve the people that walk through our doors each day.
Kristi Tornquist has served as the Chief University Librarian of Hilton M. Briggs Library since 2011