From Point No Point to Deception Pass: Libraries are sacred spaces of knowledge

I came by my bookishness rather honestly. My mother was a bookworm. There was nothing she enjoyed more than retreating into a cozy chair at home with a good book. She dutifully maintained her household, raised us kids and was a loving wife, mother and friend to those around her. All the same, it seemed like she saw all that as the obligatory things of life, and once they were attended to she would return to her real passion in life. Reading all of the amazing things that others had written, ranging from stories of crime to discoveries in science. It all fascinated her.

I tend to fetishize books. I have a large glass book case that sits prominently in our living room. I take a certain pleasure in simply glancing over at it occasionally, scanning the titles, immediately reminding myself of all of the accumulated wisdom and pleasure in those works. I carry books wherever I go. Ready to pull one out in the event of a lull or a wait. I always have a book by my bedside to read a little before falling asleep. Bedtime stories, I suppose.

Each book is a window into a world that I only have easy access to through reading. An author creates a character, say an African woman detective from Botswana, someone I am highly unlikely to ever get to know in real life. The book offers me access to thoughts and feelings that are not at all my own. Good books can promote empathy, understanding, and a degree of tolerance of others.

This book worship also finds expression in frequent visits to public libraries, and occasional visits to island bookstores. Libraries are almost sacred temples for someone like myself. Their collections are far larger than anything I can hoard at home. They provide access to even larger collections through interlibrary loan.

The keepers of these temples are the guardians of knowledge. They are always prepared to protect and defend our right to read books that this or that segment of the politicized public would ban. They are always ready to help one of us gain access to some difficult to find, obscure, or rare volume, or just suggest titles for those of us with a curiosity. And they try to carry out their duties with as little judgment or prejudice as possible. They try to make all feel welcome in the temple. The rich, the poor, the ragged, the homeless, the disabled, the angry zealot or the frightened recluse, all are welcome in their sanctuary.

What is not to like about these keepers of the temple. They are often modest, reserved souls, with eyes often hidden behind a pair of glasses, not known for excessive adornment or ornament. Their very demeanor emphasizes their message for us: look to the bright, shining works that surround us in our temple of knowledge, to the incredible things in the words upon the pages of our books.

Immediately, upon entry, we know this is no ordinary place. No coffee shop or grocery store or bank. We must speak in hushed tones here. We must not waste the librarian’s time with trivial conversation. They are eager to serve us in their capacity as the keepers of this storehouse of pleasure, knowledge and wisdom. So it is our duty to behave as one should in holy places, honoring and respecting both the keepers and the riches they keep. The books themselves must be handled with all due respect. They must be protected from all harm. Handled only with clean hands. Never lightly tossed around.

Our local Whidbey Island libraries, part of Sno-Isle libraries, see a fair amount of use. Any day of the week one will see people reading newspapers in easy chairs. Kids with parents going through the children’s books. People surfing the internet or exchanging bits of news in hushed tones. And increasingly our libraries are a meeting ground for activities of all sorts, workshops, lectures, discussions and the like, serving a wide range of public interests.

I understand that there are parts of our country where there are movements to close public libraries and deny the easy, free public access to books. There are also book bans spreading across the country aimed at our public libraries and the libraries in our public schools. These can range from a ban on positive images of the LGBTQ+ community, to a ban on anything that offers up evidence of white supremacy in our history or culture. Recently I heard someone say, “It has never been the good guys who banned books.” German Nazis, the Spanish Inquisition and the Putin regime in Russia have all banned books. Our librarians on the island have always defended our right to open, free access to books and, hopefully, they always will.

Dr. Michael Seraphinoff is a Whidbey Island resident, a former professor at Skagit Valley College and academic consultant to the International Baccalaureate Organization.