14 May 2020—It had to happen. We “went” to our first online lecture “at” the public library last night. It was a presentation on rabbits and foxes on San Juan Island given by one of the National Park Service staff members. We signed up through Zoom (wish we had stock in that company!) and watched from the convenience of my office. The advantage was that we could mute our audio and video and talk throughout the lecture. The disadvantage was—well, everything, as anyone now participating in such “meetings” can tell you. (Iconic photo of eagle and fox battling over a rabbit, taken by local photographer last year.)
Even though I can’t walk down to the public library to check out books and DVDs—or, more to the point, engage in the important work of shelf reading—the library has been reaching out to me with offers of its free online services. Publishers are also making lots of books and magazines available free-of-charge, as we know from reading the Washington Post and New York Times without benefit of the dreaded “you have only one more free article left” message.
A few years ago I visited the Boston Athenaeum with my friend Denice, who lives in Dorchester, MA. She had shelled out the money for an annual membership. But why? Why pay to go to what is basically a library with dusty, moldy old books? I’ll tell you why: an athenaeum is not just “a building or room in which books, periodicals, and newspapers are kept for use,” as Merriam-Webster has it; nor is it simply a literary or scientific association. An athenaeum is, simply put, a house of worship for bibliophiles (booklovers), generally without children present, though the Boston Athenaeum does have a fantastic collection of classic children’s literature. And art galleries, lectures, concerts, and, yes, books!
March 23—I had forgotten that for almost four years I lived four blocks from the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s. Researching George Herbert Putnam (1861–1955), the eighth Librarian of Congress and the inventor of the Library of Congress (or LOC) catalog system, brought up lots of memories. Most I am willing to share.
Rebecca Moore is Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. She is currently Reviews Editor for Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions and Co-Director of The Jonestown Institute.