observations reading

Pandemic Woes: I Miss the Library

This pandemic is a drag.

When we first went into lock-down in March, which meant closing the museum I run, figuring out how to work from home, getting used to Zoom meetings, and dealing with shortages at grocery stores, there was such a flurry of new activity that it was difficult to reflect on all that was happening. In addition, we had to get used to masks and social distancing, including avoiding stores and other public places and not visiting with family members and friends.

That’s a lot to deal with, but heaped on top of all that is an uncoordinated leadership response, with some government leaders (including Minnesota Governor Tim Walz) doing their best to keep people safe and figure out how to prop up the economy, while other leaders, particularly at the national level, having denied the existence or severity of COVID-19 and encouraging people to engage in unsafe activities.

If we’d had a coordinated federal government response that included consistent mask-wearing, social distancing, adequate testing, contact tracing, and a full-on shut-down with plenty of financial support for the first 2-3 months of the pandemic, we’d not have 176,000 deaths and over 5.68 million cases in the U.S. at this point in time. We’d also likely not still be living in a netherworld wherein social events continue to be off-limits, attending school is a scary prospect, and public places like museums and libraries remain mostly closed.

You know what?

I really miss the public library. Like, really, really miss it.

Wandering through the book stacks, browsing through the titles until something grabs my attention, and checking out several books is one of my favorite pleasures in life.

The closest I’ve been able to get to this experience during the pandemic is to browse the book section at thrift shops and one recent trip to Barnes & Noble. The book section at thrift shops doesn’t really compare to a public library because the selection is limited. The visit to Barnes & Noble was closer in terms of selection and atmosphere, but you’ve got to exchange cash in order to take books home. The beauty of a public library, of course, is that you can take home as many books as you like for free if you’ve got a library card.

There are plenty of books I want to read but don’t want to own, and the library is the best way to get my hands on them. It’s one of those publicly funded services that we taxpayers share the cost on in order to give everyone access to knowledge and entertainment. (Shh, some might define public libraries as socialistic.)

In terms of lives lost and the social and economic upset caused by the pandemic, missing the library might seem to be a small and insignificant woe. But it is a woe, nonetheless, and contributes to my sense of malaise 5 months into the pandemic.

I ran across a wonderful article yesterday that explains the psychological impact of an uncertain, long-term event like COVID-19. It’s called, Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful: Here’s how to pull yourself out of despair and live your life.

Have a read. It made me feel better and will hopefully do the same for you.

What are your pandemic woes? What are you really, really missing right now?

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Woes: I Miss the Library”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! Our library staff is doing a terrific job of coordinating loans via pick up appointments, but standing outside those closed doors and only looking in is sad. But I’m a guy who gets happy just smelling the scent of paper in archives or library sections with lots of older books.

  2. Yes, John, the scent of books is divine! You just don’t get that with an e-reader, as convenient as they can be for carrying lots of books in a small package. My default is a physical book, although I am very glad there are options like e-readers and audio books. Libraries with physical books make great third spaces, like museums. You can hang out in the same space as other people with very little stress and not much expectation to interact. So long as you’re behaving yourself and it’s not closing time, you can stay as long as you like.

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