Why My Library Will Always Have Maps

“But I can tell you, speaking for every librarian in this building, we wish they would call us more.”
-Glen Creason in “Los Angeles Librarian is All Over the Maps” by Larry Harnisch in LA Times (September 20, 2012)

I’ve been meaning to write about this article since I read it a few weeks ago, because I found it so interesting and inspiring. The quote above is my favorite, because I think Creason is not just speaking for every librarian in his building: I think he’s speaking for every true librarian everywhere. He’s speaking for library staff in general. We’re here, we know things, and we want to share what we know. We want to help you follow your curiosity and your interests. That’s what we do.

Last week, we were doing some brainstorming at HPL about what we’re good at and what we hope to achieve, and we talked about how we’ve become one of the only places where people can come when they have questions and expect to find a human being who will help them find an answer.

That’s kind of awesome.

This article’s kind of awesome, too, about a private map collection that Glen Creason and LAPL were wise enough to acquire.

1924As much as I think libraries’ future is rooted in our ability to successfully and effectively navigate the world of technology and innovation, I think we need to remember that libraries have always been about physical objects. It’s essential that we can help people figure out how to use their Kindles. It’s more than essential: ebooks are interesting and fun and open up all kinds of new possibilities for us and for researchers and for your average reader. But it’s equally essential that libraries still have things. Important things. The kinds of things people don’t keep. Things like this awesome map we have at HPL that shows who owned what in Henrietta in 1924. That is something that is interesting; it’s the kind of thing people care about. It’s information that’s hard to find in other ways.

There’s another quote I love from Creason from that first article. He gets regular requests for maps of the secret tunnels under LA, and in response he says, “They are secret tunnels and they do not appear on maps.”

It’s funny, of course, in the way that it’s funny that once every few years I get someone who wants me to help them find a photograph of Jesus. But it’s profound, too–the human expectation that everything might be knowable, even though we as a species are so very far from knowing even a fraction of what is or may be.

Libraries sit in the intersection of all that is knowable and unknowable, right smack in the middle of certainty and confusion.

That place is uncomfortable and chaotic and always changing, but it’s where I live.

I love it here.

9 Comments

  1. Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I got all tingly reading that story! How incredible! I wonder if the LA Library will do an exhibit of some of the interesting, rare, maps they found.

    I don’t know what came of it, but at one time my mom had aerial photos of part of Monroe County taken in the 1950s. These were huge photo prints that she used in her classroom as a way of using geography to find current points of interest. Very much like a map :-) When she retired, I think she left those maps to whoever took over. I hope they never threw them out.

  2. adrienne
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Wow, yes, those photographs would be worth something. What did your mom teach? She must have been a creative and energetic teacher to find a way to get that done.

    I’ve been to the main branch of LAPL several times–I even taught a class there once–but I never made a point of visiting the map room. I am totally doing that the next time I go.

  3. Patty
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Someone once asked me for a map of the secret tunnels under Pittsford.

  4. adrienne
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Now that is hilarious.

  5. tonderdo
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    I like living near the intersection of all that is knowable & unknowable, after all “never buy a house on the corner.” The trick in my job is having the kids figure out what they don’t know & where to find it or what they know & how they know it. I direct them to libraries ALL the time, of course many of them are afraid because they have overdue fines…at least they know that.

  6. jp
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I wish we could figure out a way to take the shame away from library fines. We can work with your library fines, but not if you don’t come in at all :(.

  7. adrienne
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Tammy, I perpetually had overdue fines when I was a teenager. It was constant.

    Jason, True.

  8. Chad
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I want to develop a ninja fine style where people who quietly pay their fines get a break amd people who bitch and moan just to get their fines reduced are made to pay in full.

  9. adrienne
    Posted October 24, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    I like this idea. Do we all get to wear black ninja outfits in this scenario? I’d like that, too. Ninja outfits are basically like pajamas.

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