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Why you should become a ‘library tourist’

10 June 2018

From TreeHugger:

A few weeks back I wrote about how you should set yourself a ‘secret mission’ when traveling in a foreign city. The idea is that, by pursuing something interests you, you’ll escape the usual tourist traps and see more of a city’s local side. For me, that’s often food shops and market stalls. Others seek out supermarkets, pharmacies, music stores, and bakeshops.

Now I have another suggestion: Why not engage in library tourism? This fun idea comes via an article in The Daily Beast, titled, “We Took Our Young Children on a Library World Tour — And It Was Marvellous.” Stuart Kells recounts his family’s quest to visit several of the most prominent libraries in the world, including,

“In Switzerland: Zurich’s Bibliothek and the wonderful 18th-century Abbey Library of St. Gall. In London: the British Library and Lambeth Palace. At Oxford, the Bodleian. In the U.S., the Morgan, the Folger, the Houghton, the Smithsonian, plus the great public libraries of New York and Boston, and the ‘head office’ of them all: the Library of Congress.”

With their two young daughters in tow, Kells and his wife traveled from Melbourne, Australia, to the U.S. and Europe to acquaint themselves with these stunning architectural masterpieces and focal points of culture.

While plane-hopping around the globe on a mission to view libraries might strike you as excessively privileged (Kells acknowledges that it was very much a ‘first world’ library tour), the core idea can be adapted to wherever you are. Make a point of visiting the library in whatever new city you’re in, and get a feel for that library’s role in the city’s life.

There is a practical side to it, too. Libraries are free, quiet, relaxing, air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter. They offer a pleasant respite from the streets and sometimes a great view. Many North American libraries have good play centers for young children, when they need a break from touristing, and they’re full of locals who can dispense valuable recommendations.

Link to the rest at TreeHugger

PG suggests that worrying about the privilege involved in visiting a library while taking a trip seems weird to him.

He would be surprised if a great many public libraries around the world do not contain some people who don’t have much money AKA the underprivileged, so visiting the same places they do would seem to include a suitable amount of virtue signaling.

PG suspects the Privilege Police would be more fixated on spending a lot of money traveling while there are poor people anywhere who can’t afford to take an international vacation but he understands none of the nuances of privilege.

TPV isn’t going to become a political blog, but something intangible that can’t be observed or measured yet which can be a terrible wrong seems ideally suited for the totalitarian wing of the Revolutionary Social Justice Brigade. Privilege crimes are so much more useful than thought crimes because, if PG understands the concept, you can never purge yourself of most of the privileges you received before you understood privilege was a thing. Re-education camps can’t remove your white skin or your college degree.

PG says if you’re really worried about judgment, go enjoy yourself by visiting all the libraries in France, but tell your friends that you spent your vacation working among displaced African Arabian slaves and ate nothing but mud and stones for three weeks. Smear a tarry black substance on your teeth as proof of your anti-privilege bonafides and tell your friends you’re being tested for leprosy. You have no photos documenting your abasement because white police hired by Donald Trump confiscated your iPhone at the border.

Books in General

14 Comments to “Why you should become a ‘library tourist’”

  1. Terrence OBrien

    And what about the privilege of literacy?

  2. Unless it’s was designed/built/painted by an artist – why?

    Same for churches and all the other buildings. If they’re in/famous for some reason then there ‘might’ be a reason to look, but it’s not like they’re going to let me check out a book. 😉

    My bum knee tells me when it thinks I’ve gone to far – sooner it seems each day. So I’ll check out my local library ‘online’ so I can save my knee for that garage door opener I need to replace and the gardening that needs to be done (the cherry tomatoes did well for us this year! 😉 )

  3. Sorry, but it’s clear (to this reader, at least) that the “privilege” refers to “plane-hopping around the globe,” not to visiting libraries.

  4. Ah yes, as our “betters” tell us – we are supposed to respect, appreciate, and, in fact, celebrate cultures other than our own.

    We just aren’t supposed to actually visit them.

  5. Thank you, PG, once again, for the insightful commentary. You said it better than I ever could.

  6. Richard Hershberger

    For many years, if I found myself in a new city with an afternoon to spare, I went to a local university library. This wasn’t for the architecture, which for most university libraries is merely utilitarian, but to look at actual books. I had my obscure hobby interests, and a random academic library might well have books I had not seen before, or even known of.

    This is vastly less true today, with the internet and the opening of the Worldcat database to the public. Those delightful discoveries of twenty years ago today would merely be evidence of my inattention. I am far less likely to make that side trip.

    As for architecture, the old downtown main libraries often are worth the trip, though not necessarily as an escape from the tourists. Most of the pretty parts of the Library have their share of tourists, though they do a good job of not letting the main reading room be overrun. For architecture, I am a complete sucker for church, and usually don’t work my way around to the library.

  7. Maybe it’s because I read almost all fiction as ebooks, but this article reminded me of taking a tour of museums. Except, instead of “Let’s go look at the paintings,” it’s “Let’s go look at the books.” The difference is, you can browse through a museum, ooh and ahh at the dinosaur bones or sculptures, but what you’ll probably be limited to in a library tour are the spines of thousands of books. The spines are not the essence of what you’re looking at.

    That’s not to say I don’t appreciate libraries. I remember my jaw literally dropping when I visited the Adams National Monument in Quincy, Massachusetts and we entered the Stone Library, a beautiful room holding a collection of books from four generations of Adamses, starting with John Adams.

    With the world going digital, I’m afraid all these beautiful libraries have literally become museums of books rather than living, breathing places.

    • Richard Hershberger

      The pretty libraries typically are still very useful as research libraries. My research involves reading a lot of 19th century newspapers. Some have been digitized, so I can read them from the comfort of my home computer, but a lot have not. That means a trip to a library to read (or, nowadays, scan) microfilm, or even bound volumes. Anything that might plausibly be characterized as “archive” or “manuscript” probably requires a trip to a library to see. Only a tiny fraction has been digitized, and most never will be.

      Those big downtown libraries frankly never were all that great as sources of light fiction. You could get some of it, but it was massive overkill for finding something you might pick up in an airport news stand.

  8. LOVE that last suggestion – have your fun, but – lie to your Leftist friends about the ‘noble’ jaunt you did NOT take.

    I may start doing that when I get together at holidays. Point out that I GAVE AWAY my contribution to the feast to a camp of disabled Feminist Romany.

    Beg off helping with the work, as I’m still weak from the parasitic infestation I suffered while bathing illegal immigrants – er, I mean UNDOCUMENTED lepers.

    This could be FUN!

  9. I did once, by chance, wander into a library in Copenhagen and was impressed with the design and environment.

    And I will throw out recommendations for the libraries of two cities I’ve lived in: the recent upgrade to the Seattle library (probably 15 years old by now) and the very recent new San Diego library. Both worth seeing inside and out.

    No politics here 😉

  10. I think this could be fun. You could see what sorts of books people in that area read, and if anyone speaks English, I imagine some nice conversations could be had. I’ve always had the idea of traveling and staying in places that aren’t just for tourists so I could learn about the everyday lives of the people. It would be fascinating.I don’t see it as being “privileged”, but rather being part of a greater humanity.

    I love libraries. I’ve had a card everywhere I’ve lived — including my rather brief stay in San Antonio during basic training, where I read one book — and I’ve found some of the nicest, most interesting people in libraries, both patrons and staff.

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