I am currently in the middle of a brand-new door-stopper of a novel. It’s by Anthony Doerr (author of "All the Light We Cannot See") and is titled "Cloud Cuckoo Land." Although complicatedly plotted, the book is essentially a love letter to libraries and the preservation of books.
In over 600 pages, Doerr writes about ancient libraries, monasteries, university and private libraries preserving books or book fragments on papyrus, carved cypress-wood tablets, ancient codexes and texts discovered in catacombs beneath Rome. He writes about stories originally passed down in an oral tradition, then written and preserved through books in their many forms. He even has, as one of his major characters, Marion the Librarian. His love story to books led me to think about my own love affair with the Solvang Library and The Book Loft.
Our local library is part of a multibranch system called the Black Gold Library System. In my imperfect searching, the system consists of 33 branches spanning three counties. The libraries consist of big buildings, such as the elegant multistoried Santa Barbara Main Library, full of rooms for art exhibits and a big reference desk, all the way to small one-room libraries, such as the Los Olivos branch open just one morning a week; and even charming bookmobiles traveling to far-flung corners of our Central Coast.
If I was a librarian, I would have had more precision in the previous paragraph. My searching would not have been imperfect or cursory. This is because librarians are precise and careful people. However, librarians and me, a devoted user, all share a passionate love of books.
When I moved to the Santa Ynez Valley four years ago, I was delighted to see the two signs of a book-loving community prominent along Mission Avenue: The Solvang Library and The Book Loft.
The Book Loft, a 50-year institution in Solvang, is alive and well with its impressive collection. Old books, new books, used books, children’s books, best sellers and an interesting selection of Hans Christian Andersen, are all crammed into its well-decorated space. (Even my own recent novel is almost always kept in stock and shelved alphabetically. Thank you very much.) I love The Book Loft. I love knowing most of the book sellers by name and that I can stop by seven days a week to browse or order almost any book.
Sure, I might wait a bit longer to receive it than if it was delivered by Mr. Bezos, but I have so much pleasure in interacting with real people, most of whom are as passionate about books as I am. (Heidi, Echo, Cassie and Dawn, here’s looking at you!) We are lucky people to have you in our midst, Book Loft. I’ll buy books from you with greater satisfaction than if I were to give gargantuan Amazon more unneeded business.
But I discovered even greater joy upon moving to the Santa Ynez Valley when I got acquainted with the Black Gold Library System. I belong to several book clubs (I’m just a girl who can’t say no to a new book group). Sometimes, a group will have as its suggestion a book I am not sure I need to own; my bookshelves are already groaning.
To my utter delight, using this multilibrary system constantly amazes me. I’m no technical genius, but even I have figured out how to order a book from another branch or how to put myself on a waiting list. And, with so many branches of this multicounty system, I am astounded how quickly my requests are fulfilled. The library also pleases me with its generous renewal policy — in case I’ve bitten off more books than I can finish in the allotted weeks.
Not only books, the Black Gold System also has an impressive collection of electronic resources, large-type books, children’s books, music, video and audio tapes. My husband and I never start a long road trip (even to Los Angeles), without making sure we have an interesting audiobook to listen to. Choosing something we both like is an art and a science, but that’s another story. Just like at The Book Loft, I have a warm speaking acquaintance with my Solvang librarians: Lisa, Carey, Melanie and Mirzam. We exchange friendly greetings and recommendations of book titles.
My only negative experience with a library happened long ago when we still lived in Los Gatos in Northern California.
I have a bad, but relaxing, habit of reading in the bath. Before my daughter bought me a nice, teak shelf to hold books while I was in the tub, I occasionally and accidentally dropped a book into the water. When I was young and broke, I once tried to return such a bloated and waterlogged book to the Los Gatos Library. The librarian looked at the book, then up at me and asked, “Really?” I embarrassedly shrugged and asked what I owed. But that was a small price for the pleasure I’d been given.
Thank you to our local librarians and book sellers. And, whichever way you get it, I recommend Anthony Doerr’s new book about books, "Cloud Cuckoo Land."
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