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Our Reading Lives

Learning to Love a New Library

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

A branch of the Baltimore County Public Library opened in Owings Mills and it has that gaseous, exciting new building smell of cellophane, and carpet remnant. All the books are new: so glossy, so brand-spanking, so fresh that when you open them they rustle. Getting my paws on them would be like plundering the New World or, my version of it.

I’ve never experienced a library like this: scrubbed, suburban. The walls were emphatically white. All the libraries I’ve known have been scruff-beige, smelled like wet newspaper, leather, and other people’s hats; all their books have been signed out a thousand times and bear evidence of that experience in accidental dog ears, pen strokes and coffee drips. Old city libraries. College libraries. In other words, shrines.

So it was a big deal What Book I Would Choose As My First Book from this new sterile suburban place not really yet deserving of the appellation Library, saved that it housed books, and a staff of well-meaning iPad wielders, eager to help one and one’s children, carved out of former woods and farmland to make a new multi-use development anchored by a Wegmans.

I chatted with the librarians. Chatting with librarians is, for someone like myself, akin to rubbing shoulders with household gods. One of the librarians recommended The Best of P.G. Wodehouse: An Anthology, on account of my query for something summer: light, witty, British, and pre-war.

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.”

I have been, ever since, as Wooster, B., would say “all of a doodah” over my new library, going back there, even before my books are due, “straining at the leash,” “panting like a hart” to take my place in suburbia, to be among the denizens of the forest of the Dewey Decimal System.


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