For many the public library is synonymous with tranquility; it is a place where one can find things they may have lost and find things they may not know they wanted. It is one of the few places left where you can receive something without giving back anything except your time.
What a wonderful establishment, rows and rows and shelves and shelves of books; all maintained by others, cataloged in a way where they are easily found, and allowed to be taken home with little more than a promise that you will return them within a reasonable about of time. So much so that if one wished they could renew the book for many weeks thereafter.
Yet, with all its positive attributes, it has been threatened like an endangered species; for as much as many praise its existence, patronage and funding has been reduced in many communities where its very existence may soon become merely a memory of the past. And oh what a shame that would be, for though we may enjoy our digital ebooks and a coffee shop attached to the bookstore… wouldn’t it be a disgrace to lose such a dear and faithful friend, the one place where tranquility resides, the good old library.
Today’s blog returns the the esteemed thinker: A.A. Milne (1882-1956); an author whose books you may have first encountered at your earliest trip to the library. Poet, journalist, playwright, and writer, Alan Alexander Milne was born in London, England. After serving in the British army in WWI, he devoted his career to writing. His best known works include the children’s poetry collections in the 1920s, When we were Very Young and Now we are Six.
From his book, Not that it Matters, I have selected the essay “My Library”. Having carefully snipped and strung together some of his fanciful words, I hope you will find them to your liking. Take time from your hectic day to read and enjoy A. A. Milne; I believe you will find him still quite entertaining…
“When I moved into a new house a few weeks ago, my books, as was natural, moved with me. Strong, perspiring men shovelled them into packing-cases, and staggered with them to the van, cursing Caxton as they went. On arrival at this end, they staggered with them into the room selected for my library, heaved off the lids of the cases, and awaited orders. The immediate need was for an emptier room. Together we hurried the books into the new white shelves which awaited them, the order in which they stood being of no matter so long as they were off the floor. Armful after armful was hastily stacked, the only pause being when (in the curious way in which these things happen) my own name suddenly caught the eye of the foreman. “Did you write this one, sir?” he asked. I admitted it. “H’m,” he said noncommittally. He glanced along the names of every armful after that, and appeared a little surprised at the number of books which I hadn’t written. An easy-going profession, evidently.
So we got the books up at last, and there they are still. I told myself that when a wet afternoon came along I would arrange them properly…
If I gave you the impression that my books were precisely arranged in their old shelves, I misled you. They were arranged in the order known as “all anyhow.” Possibly they were a little less “anyhow” than they are now, in that the volumes of any particular work were at least together, but that is all that can be claimed for them. For years I put off the business of tidying them up, just as I am putting it off now. It is not laziness; it is simply that I don’t know how to begin….
Let us suppose that we decide to have all the poetry together. It sounds reasonable. But then Byron is eleven inches high (my tallest poet), and Beattie (my shortest) is just over four inches. How foolish they will look standing side by side. Perhaps you don’t know Beattie, but I assure you that he was a poet….
You see the difficulty. If you arrange your books according to their contents you are sure to get an untidy shelf. If you arrange your books according to their size and colour you get an effective wall, but the poetically inclined visitor may lose sight of Beattie altogether. Before, then, we decide what to do about it, we must ask ourselves that very awkward question, “Why do we have books on our shelves at all?” It is a most embarrassing question to answer…”
First image: At the children’s library, John Collier, Date Created/Published: 1943 Aug.