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the hard way
fond memories of the card catalog back when it had cards
by jack bradley
8.23.00
writing

I miss the library.

No, really. I do. See, I used to sit for hours on late afternoons in the North Carolina State University Library. From 1985 until sometime late in 1991 (Yes, I know that adds up to six years. It wasn’t math that I failed…), I would do research, write, and just plain “hang out” in the library. It was my getaway from the testosterone driven, towel-snapping, fraternity-mad orangutans that I had to live with in the dorms.

And I wasn’t even a nerd. I was one of the cool kids who wore black all the time and went out dancing on Fridays and Saturdays, often until the wee hours of the morning. But while my cohorts were all sleeping off the effects of a long evening, I was reading and writing. I could never find time during the week to chase my passion for the written word, so I did it on the sly in the library, where the only folks who would catch me doing it were the geeky kids who didn’t hang in my circles anyway. My friends were all in front of TV’s or in bed. I wasn’t missed, as long as I made it to the club that night.

So I went to the library. Anything I needed to research or learn was within my grasp. All it took was a walk to the card catalog, a quick search for the right Dewey Decimal number, and then an elevator ride to the correct floor. From there, I could hunt through the stacks until I found the right place, (usually to discover the book missing, in someone else’s possession, or misfiled.) Then back to the ground floor, the card catalogs, and a new search. Often I did all of this while being glared at by the myopic library assistants who thought I was up to no good. Did I mention that I had spiked hair and a nose ring back when doing those things hadn’t become cool yet? [Author’s Note: Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t freak out.]

It took me almost six months of searching like this before my keen intellect realized that I could write down a host of numbers and go searching for them all at once. I’m slow like that sometimes, but this time I think it may have been something else. I was in love with the hunt.

I enjoy the physical act of tracking down information in a library, finding a quiet corner, and learning something. It becomes special, a unique event of its own. Often learning something important or surprising will galvanize me with excitement, and the moment is forever etched right on my brain. For instance, I can tell you that I was on the sixth floor, standing by the filthy windowsills that let in the wan light of a fall afternoon when I learned that aphids (the little green bugs that are eating your rosebushes) never have sex, and are born pregnant. They produce babies barely ten days after birth themselves. Often the females begin to gestate their young while they are still in the mommy aphid’s body. Now, this might not seem like important information to you [editor's note: actually, it's damn cool]…but to me it was the first glimpse I ever had of a world where all animals did not come as “boy” and “girl.” That’s pretty heavy stuff for a teenager.

I also had the misfortune of learning that a sea cucumber can eviscerate itself, literally coughing up its insides to unnerve a potential predator. I learned this while eating lunch at the cafeteria just outside the Brickyard on central campus. I promptly put the knowledge to good use by imitating it over a trash can, and I’ll tell you right now…no predators came anywhere near me for the next couple of hours. However, I digest….uh, digress.

My point here is that the physical act of collecting knowledge is important to me, and boy how times have changed. I’m somewhat leery of the fact that I can do my writing and my research these days without moving from my desk. I often find myself keeping an Internet connection open, so if I’m stumped for a fact or a date, I can simply type the relevant word into a search engine, and voila! Instant info. This appears to be good. This helps me hit deadlines.

This is also robbing me of the long walk to the library, where I clear my head, sort my thoughts, and suddenly decide “Hey, that piece you’re writing about the evolution of the refrigerator magnet? It’s garbage. Chuck it and start over.” It seems that I often write, revise, and submit work before I have a chance to live with it. Living with a piece of work, as many writers know, will always change it. I think, hope and pray that the change will be for the better, but it’s hard to be sure. What I do know is that sitting at my computer doesn’t give me ideas. It doesn’t let me live with my work. Sitting at my computer gives me a bad back, rapid-fire SPAM deleting abilities, and a raging case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

And it makes me miss the library.

It’s late on a gorgeous sunny day outside as I write this. Three magpies and a grand lorikeet are jockeying for space along the last sunny patch of railing on my balcony. I think I’ll join them, take a walk in the sun, and find out where the library is around here.


ABOUT JACK BRADLEY

Born the son of a circus monkey, Jack had to overcome the stigma of having an address south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Struggling against all odds, he finally got his HS diploma from some guy on the corner, and proceeded to attend NC State University, where his records are now the "running joke" in the admissions office. In February of 2000, he moved to Sydney, Australia, to pursue a writing career full-time. Jack currently has a husband but no wife, no children, and a dog with great fashion sense.

more about jack bradley

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COMMENTS

tim lockwood
8.23.00 @ 2:50a

Boy, that takes me back (and I'm not old enough to have come that far!).

I can recall going to the downtown library in Fort Wayne, IN as a teenager, and wandering amidst a huge collection of bound paper, grabbing something with an interesting title, and just sitting there in a comfy chair, enraptured with some oddball book or another for hours. Sometimes, I would stay most of the day, until they started making the announcements on the PA system - "Attention library patrons, it is now 8:45 pm and the library will close in 15 minutes. Please bring materials to the check-out desk at this time." Rarely did I check anything out, because usually I would finish it there.

I hope libraries aren't being made extinct by the 'Net. There is something very good about physically going someplace in an active pursuit of some piece of knowledge, as opposed to having it handed to you on a monitor.


juli mccarthy
8.23.00 @ 7:35a

I miss card catalogs themselves. I can't tell you how many books I would never have read if I hadn't stumbled upon them in the card catalog while looking for something altogether different. Now the library has a database instead of a card catalog. It's hard enough to find what one is looking for, and those intriguing digressions are a thing of the past.

jael mchenry
8.23.00 @ 10:52a

I agree with all three of you. The best research is half accident, and learning is a physical as much as intellectual act. The internet has its purposes but the dizzing array of unreliable info doesn't exactly give me warm fuzzies.

adam kraemer
8.23.00 @ 12:12p

Wow. I haven't been to library for personal enjoyment in years. I actually managed to avoid going into my college library at all for (get this) two years. I miss getting good memories from libraries.

jack bradley
8.24.00 @ 1:45a

Wow. You guys got me all gushy and stuff. For the record, the sentiments you have all just spoken are being echoed in my email box over and over again today. I did something I've been striving to do as a writer for a long time: hit a chord with people. I'm feeling very happy right now. Thanks for that.

michael driscoll
8.30.00 @ 5:53p

OK, Jack. Tell them why you REALLY like going to the library. Sheesh. :+)

lila snow
9.1.00 @ 4:29a

Well, the good thing about the internet is that you can order books and the books come to your house and you don't have to return them at all, ever, and then the library doesn't send you nasty notes for books that you lost months ago and now you have to write a check and bring it in and when you do they take your card and cut it in half and say "Teacher! Ha! If you were really a teacher you would RESPECT this institution! My God, sometimes I think we give a teacher card to just ANYbody." Anyway, this has never happened to me, but just the same, my kids think a library is a place where only homeless people go and sit around.



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