Opinion

Marysville library mirrors community

The parking lot was jammed, every computer station was taken. Only at one table was there room for my stuff. That wasn’t unusual at Marysville’s public library where a high-decibel toddler was testing his lungs while momma checked out a small mountain of kiddy-literature. Good for her. I’m sure she was hoping her child wouldn’t scream and listen to stories at the same time.

Our library is, hands-down, the most democratic institution in town. You have to be young to go to school, old to visit the senior center, pay a membership fee to get into the YMCA or commit a crime to go to jail. No such prerequisites for Sno-Isle libraries. Come one, come all. They’ll fix you up with a membership card that gives access to millions of dollars worth of books and non-print media. If you can forget for the moment that libraries are tax-supported, it’s all free.

Overqualified librarians lurk behind the reference desk, waiting to pounce on anyone looking confused. I say overqualified because librarianship is such a fulfilling occupation that bright young minds flock to schools of librarianship and flood the job-market with an overabundance of talent. Librarians with even masters’ degrees find themselves competing for short shifts at low pay. They love their work.

If our library doesn’t have what you want, just ask. A reference librarian will do a nation-wide search and see to it that what you need is shipped into Marysville from wherever it might be found. No charge. Although internet research is great, there are times when it pays to have real documents in hand.

Walk into Marysville’s library, turn right and you’re into fiction. Or turn left past the children’s section and you hit non-fiction. While fiction is sorted by authors’ last names, non-fiction collections were chopped into ten subject-sections by Melvil Dewey back in 1876 — the 100s, 200s, 300s and so on up to 999. Duck around behind the library’s reference desk and you’ll find numbers telling which section you’re entering posted at the ends of aisles. In theory, a tiny library should be able to have ten aisles of bookshelves, each filled with books representing one of Dewey’s big number classifications.

At one time that was true. But across the years between horse-drawn buggies and hybrid automobiles, attitudes and knowledge changed so much that Dewey’s system is no longer a good fit for today’s library collections. Like a mis-fitting garment that needs altering, some sections burst their seams while others are nearly empty. Dewey sliced each of the ten big divisions finer to get a thousand divisions. From 000 to 099 you’ll find 19 shelves of stuffy books about books. It takes 36 shelves to hold the Dewey subjects from 100 to 199 that tell how and why people think the way they do. But if you count the shelves occupied by 700 through 799, you come up with 168 shelves! What could account for such a pregnant explosion of books in such a tiny portion of Dewey’s plan?

Check closer and you’ll find most of those shelves are limited to books labeled 793 to 796, a teeny slice of Dewey’s numbers for a huge collection of books. It’s like thousands of starlings choosing to roost in one tree while most ignore other trees. What’s the attraction? What’s more, that one slim category, from 793 to 796 is so popular with readers that it attracts a lion’s share of our library’s book-budget. And it is all about Games and Sports.

There’s so much written about games that whole numbers won’t do. To give each sport its own label, Dewey numbers get sliced and diced into smaller and smaller categories until it takes a number like 796.3578 to give special space to girls’ baseball. But Sports isn’t the only swollen topic. If you count the books in Travel or Self-help you’ll find them nearly as over-crowded as sports. For instance, the little span of numbers from 910.4 to 918 is stuffed with an amazing 59 shelves of travel books.

Like the recently released ratings of public schools, the contents of Marysville’s library mirrors our town’s intellectual activity. Because libraries budget only for books the public is interested in, what you see on our library’s shelves reflects what this town reads, thinks about, questions or dabbles with. The library is a true reflection of what goes on in the minds of the readers among us.

Bloated sections speak of hot interest areas. Where there are no books in a Dewey classification, the message is that we couldn’t care less. Take the span from 400 to 422 which is totally empty of books — which says Marysville readers can’t get too worked up about linguistics or Old English.

As National Geographic points out, archaeologists get their kicks from sifting through ancient tombs for clues to what people did in ancient times. Just so, if future archaeologists dug up Marysville’s library, it wouldn’t take long for them to discover exactly where our priorities and values lay. Who we are, what we value, what we desire and how we choose to spend our time — all of that is racked up on the shelves of our public library.

Comments may be addressed to rgraef@verizon.net.

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