What is between the stacks?
Libraries and I
When I was a small person, my biggest joy was to spend time at the public library in my neighbourhood and the library at my school.
I still remember the first time I sniffed books at the local public library. It was a euphoric sensation like the stimulating smell of coffee in the the morning to my child brain. As the smell came over me, I started to run my fingers across the spines of the books on the shelves I could reach. The paperbacks, the hard covers, the embossed titles, the weathered bindings, the call number stickers - my sensory was overwhelmed with the physical signs that marked the life the books have led. My right index finger landed on a pocket-sized feature on the shelf at my eye-level. It was not too thick - about 2 cm - one of the volumes of a pocket-sized, illustrated encyclopaedia for children. I was stupefied. As I realized that I stopped breathing for two seconds, I gulped in all the air my lungs could hold. The air must have been electrified because a wave of electricity lit me up. And then my heart fluttered like a little bird taking its first flight - tentative at the first split second, but soaring at full speed in the next. But this was infinitesimal compared to what came next.
I. Opened. The. Book.
It was as if the words in the books came alive, left the the pages, crept through the pores of my skin, and assimilated to be a part of me. I was transported through a portal to another realm. I was floating. I was hovering. I was flying. It was an out-of-body experience. The exaltation of words, stacks of books, and the library blew the breath of life unto me. It was the best feeling my little self has ever experienced. This was one of the many encounters I have with libraries and books.
I spent a lot of my childhood at the local public library. It is not surprising that I swiftly submitted the application to the junior librarian volunteering programme there when I saw the call. I was elated when I was informed that I was accepted to the programme. I got to see and learn about the other side of library services - the people that make libraries happen. The complexity and sophistication put into running a library fascinated the 12-year-old me. I just decided at that point that I wanted my future career to be somehow related to libraries. Although I ended up studying public health instead of library sciences, I kept finding ways to direct my career to libraries wherever my life took me.
As I grew older and wiser, I realized that something more than the stacks kept drawing me back to the libraries. It is the non-judgemental and inclusive atmosphere. Libraries make me feel free and safe. Being an introspective child as I was, I liked to be left alone with my own thoughts in some peace and quiet, but the school environment sometimes could not offer me what I wanted. The open doors of the school library and public library were like a warm hug that kept giving. It was like having a loving and caring community that believed in me when things in life were difficult. Libraries have sustained me and I soared high and far ... so far that I am doing my Ph.D. research on the public health value of the public library.
Between The Stacks
While my story is unfolding, a million other stories are also unfolding between the stacks. These are stories worth listening to as libraries are so much more than their collections. The people who make libraries happen deserve our recognition too and this is why I created Between The Stacks - a podcast about library people. In each episode, I invite a guest to tell their library story and share some current news in the library field.
It is my great honour to bring you their stories and everything in between. I hope their stories inspire you.