According to the United States of Shame chart, I live in the nerdiest state.
I can relate to the first part of Wikipedia’s definition of nerd.
“Nerd is a term that refers to a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.”
I won’t get into the second part, having to do with being “awkward, shy and unattractive.”
I’ve always belonged to the Sisterhood of Obscure Interests. Membership naturally seems to include awkward, shy, and unattractive moments (or decades). But it makes life more interesting. For example, when I accidentally bashed my head on a shelf at the library today I “saw stars” and promptly ruminated on what visual cortex misfire might have caused those stars.
Already jazzed, I checked out what allegedly makes Ohioans nerdier than everyone else. Turns out, we have more library visits per capita library than any other state. Twice as many as our next door neighbor, Pennsylvania.
I’ll admit, the stacks of books my family brings home may be pushing up the state average. But we’re also fortunate to be surrounded by award-winning library systems. Who wouldn’t visit?
For those of you who don’t bliss out over libraries, or worse, only vaguely remember libraries as having a distinctive smell, here are a few of my reasons for being a library addict.
1. Magic water.
As a small child I was convinced there was something magical about the drinking fountain water at our local library. It tasted better than water anywhere else. I wondered if it had to do with the enviable proximity to all those books.
When I had kids I rhapsodized about the water at libraries. And they’ve always been able to taste the difference. Even though I realize there’s no factual basis for this belief, library water still seems more deeply refreshing than ordinary water. Try it and see for yourself.
A much more vital magic is evident in libraries around the world.
It has to do with a sense of history, of freely shared knowledge, and awe-inspiring architecture. When traveling I make sure to hang out in libraries. Most recently I found time to soak up the atmosphere of one of NYC’s awesome libraries.
These folks are amazing. As Erica Firment writes on Librarian Avengers,
“People become librarians because they know too much. Their knowledge extends beyond mere categories. They cannot be confined to disciplines. Librarians are all-knowing and all-seeing. They bring order to chaos. They bring wisdom and culture to the masses. They preserve every aspect of human knowledge. Librarians rule. And they will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.”
Librarian stereotypes aren’t relevant or cute. Don’t believe me? Check out The Bellydancing Librarian, The Steampunk Librarian, The Modified Librarian, and Miss Information. Still think of them as chronic shsser’s? Then read Your Librarian Hates You.
4. Library materials are free!
Our taxes pay for them whether you use them or not. Only suckers don’t get in there to scoop up the books, DVD’s, downloads, recorded books, electronic reader books, programs, classes, and more. My kids and I have strolled out after a library visit with well over 100 items checked out on a card or two.
Today’s libraries offer much more than well worn books and a chaotic Story Hour. Click over to your library’s website. You’ll find an amazing array of offerings well beyond the newest bestsellers. There are probably programs to get you started in fencing or felting or fraternizing with fellow foodies, just this week alone.
OMG, I love ordering materials. Our library systems are linked, so holdings can be sent from libraries in quite a few counties right to our own little branch. I read a review of a book before it’s released, then go to the library site and pre-order it. I order special book group offerings for our teen book group (up to 20 of the same book) that come organized by some saintly librarian with supplemental materials. I order obscure specialty books that were published back in the 1920’s and earlier.
We’ve homeschooled on the cheap thanks to our library system and the wonders of ordering materials. No way could I afford to expose my kids to the depth of information and range of experiences they’ve gained via libraries.
6. Online renewal.
I don’t know about your library system, but mine permits renewals up to five times. That gives me several months to adore most materials. Those months are necessary. I use books in my work, take them with me lest I have a dull moment, and leave them around for my kids to pick up when their eyeballs are unoccupied.
Sometimes I find books so precious that when they are finally and irrevocably due I end up buying a copy. But let me point out, I only buy books after proving their worth to myself. No regrettable book purchases here. Yay savings.
7. Library privileges.
I’ve been in a steady human relationship for a loooong time, but I’m a non-monogamous library user. Judging by the number of library cards in my name, I’m a pushover for the sweet allure of any library’s New Acquisitions section. It’s hard to unearn library privileges. Late fees are usually minimal and in many systems there are no late fees for seniors, teachers, and homeschoolers. Even when my account is labeled “delinquent” (often) I’m still able to check out and reserve materials. I don’t mind a few dollars here and there to make up for my late return crimes. Totally worth it. Unlike most human relationships, my library is always buying me something new, forgiving me when I atone, and consistently planning unexpected ways to lure me.
8. Research databases.
Library systems subscribe to pricey online database services that none of us could afford on our own. I access most of them from my home computer, simply logging in with my library card number. These databases include genealogy, academic research, news archives, digital images, health, and much more. I relied almost entirely on the resources of my award-winning Medina County Library for the research necessary to write my book.
9. That smell.
Libraries no longer smell like someone’s musty basement. The odor is something entirely different. I’ll tell you what it reminds me of, right after I tell you about how much I appreciate Russian language library materials.
For five summers we hosted a little girl from Belarus through the Children of Chernobyl project. And every summer before she arrived I called the librarian in charge of the foreign language collection at the Cleveland Public Library. We talked over Tatiana’s age and interests, then every few weeks through her three month stay this librarian sent to our rural library branch a wonderful selection of Russian materials. Harry Potter, children’s magazines, recorded children’s books, popular music, and much more. When my kids curled up with books or went to bed listening to CD’s, Tanya was able to do so as well. I hoped it eased the hunger she must have felt to hear her own language. Beyond that, it built connections between us almost immediately.
The first day she arrived, exhausted from long flights and weak from some medical problems, there was no way we could really communicate. It became obvious that our efforts to learn Russian had been laughable and as an eight-year-old her grasp of English was limited to “yes” and “thank you.” Then I remembered those blessed library materials. In a few minutes all of us were dancing to the Russian version of “Hokey Pokey” and laughing before collapsing in a heap on the couch together to giggle as we paged through a Russian/English picture book, challenging each other to pronounce the words. That stack of Russian library materials smelled, more than anything, like home. To me, every library smells like my place. Bet they smell like your place too.
26 thoughts on “The Nerd State of Blissful Library Addiction”
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this (and yes, I will shout it)!!
Um, actually is a chart of what your state is the WORST at, meaning Ohio has the least nerds. Interesting to know that Colorado (where I live) has the lowest Cocaine use in the nation. In any event, the rest of your post is right on — just thought I should point out that your original premise is backwards.
Benjamin, you should take up your beef with the folks who put out the chart. They designate Ohio’s “shame” as most library visits per capita, which they decry as nerdy. Sounds good to me, especially compared to the “shame” labels on other states.
I absolutely agree about the library smell.I always feel more comfortable and at home wandering through the library stacks than I do at a bookstore.And I thinks its the smell.Undefinable but so comforting and safe.I love how that smell clings to the books.
So among states noted for high rates of suicide, AIDS, crime, violence, we Ohioans get bookworms? The horror!
It’s kinda sad that there are people that think that having a book-friendly and literate population is a BAD thing.
Or that nerdiness in general is a bad thing.
I do think it’s a little unfair that I live only just over the border from the nerdiest state. I don’t have a thing for arson at all. Well, maybe not much. But I’m pretty much summed up by BOTH parts of that definition of “nerd”
…which may be why I became a librarian.
I think it’s amazing (and kind of sad) how many people don’t realize how much we’re there to HELP them. How we’re totally not going to judge you by what you check out (Well, maybe we are, but we’ll not TREAT you any differently)! How we’re totally willing to cut you a deal if you’ve got a horrendous overdue fee (we just want the BOOK back, dear!)! How we have SO many more resources and programs than just books (NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH BOOKS)! How if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, we’re actually trained in asking questions to help you figure that OUT! And yes, we’re not being killed off by eBooks, because we’ve already HAD eBooks for ages before you regular people even knew what they were!
What we DO get killed off by is lack of funding. It’s not just tax dollars, either; it’s donations and sales and grants. But when people don’t REALIZE what valuable resources libraries are, that money starts disappearing, and then the Struggling to Balance Stuff starts. I’m willing to bet public librarians are the most underpaid profession in relation to the amount of education required (most true librarians– we’re not talking check-out clerks– have Masters degrees; I make $8.50 an hour). We do it out of LOVE!
Librarians are saints in my book (saints with great vocabularies and a wicked sense of humor).
But I do quibble with the assertion that librarians are the most underpaid profession in relation to the required education. My background is in social work. A masters is basic for employment and pay is often poverty level. Plus job-related despair is a regular occurrence. I gave it up for editing, writing, and farming—actually finding a way to make less money!
Now TEACHERS on the other hand are one of the most underpaid professions for how both TOUGH and IMPORTANT the job is, but that’s another story…
Public libraries are amazing learning spaces that go way beyond books. I’m lucky to have a science library nearby that lends microscopes, biological specimens and more.
I am concerned that more and more small public libraries are closing or severely limiting their hours due to budget cuts. In fact, if my public libraries were open late on Friday night, that’s where I’d be!
I’m experiencing science library envy.
I adored my library as a child, I thought it was magical and that librarians were the smartest people ever.
I think that they are still important in today’s world and I’m always saddened when I hear of cuts in the budget and how people don’t “get” what wonderful places they are.
I encounter a lot of people who have NEVER stepped into their public libraries. They associate libraries with some small dark stack of books back in elementary school or with difficult assignments in high school. Some folks, honestly, act like they have Library Avoidance Disorder. When they’re looking for something to do they head to the mall or movie theater. I have dragged many many friends and their kids to libraries (because I have Mall Avoidance Disorder) making new converts.
The reason water may taste so good in libraries is because either intentionally or unintentionally libraries have low humidity, either because of air drying and air conditioning systems, or simply because the mass quantity of paper products drawing moisture from the air.
In areas of low humidity your thirst feels like it’s being quenched at a much fuller level.
Just my 2 cents.
Greater thirst quenching power (even due to low humidity) seems pretty magical to the one who thirsts.
I’m always happy when I hear of someone else who loves the smell of books. I can still remember the smell of the little library we visited when I was a child. It was a combination of old books & water cooler. And I loved it.
Oh–and I am a librarian. 🙂 Thanks for a great post.
I’m a Library Tech who has worked in many libraries as well as for the Library and Archives of Canada. The smell of old books has always given me comfort and a sense of excitement. What will I find in the stacks, boxes and piles of old books? Also I love my local public library. It’s near enough that it’s a nice outing for my daughter and I to take a walk to on a nice sunny day! The article was great!
YAY! I love this post! I just came home from my last day at work (at my local library). It was the best, most fun, inspiring job I’ve ever had. If I weren’t moving, I’d probably work there forever!
This post spells out so many fabulous things about local libraries. Great writing, my friend! I’m sending the link on to my former boss, the director of my local library.
May your new home bless you with another amazing library and just maybe, another fun and inspiring job.
What a brilliant piece in adoration of an institution that deserves it!! I’ve loved libraries all my life and I’ve worked in libraries for the past 25 years. And I’m still in awe of them and thrilled that 5 days a week I get to spend a lot of time in one and then I can go visit my local public library on the weekend. Woo hoo!! Thanks for writing this piece. I will be sharing it with fellow bibliophiles 🙂
Cindy, you’re exactly the sort of librarian we all adore.
Thanks for the shout out! I haven’t updated that Bellydancing Librarian page in YEARS but it remains quite popular.
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