Saturday, January 7, 2012

Libraries Don’t Vanish

Several hours of Internet outage this morning stopped my habit-world dead in its tracks. My mornings are spent on the web, and the outage made me feel as if someone big had sat down on my chest. It took me a few aimless circles around obstructions down in this basement before vague memories returned. Ah, yes. Back in the Long Ago. I used to write on paper with a pen under a bright light. And all else equal I might have read a book. I had worked in the Long Ago. Back then the telephone facilitated communications, but the work proceeded on paper. The institutional support was the publishing industry and libraries. Libraries sometimes closed, but they did not disappear. Nor did the books of publishers when they went out of business. The books remained on shelves. Answers were difficult to get, to be sure, and it took longer to get them.

Back when the world began, thus in Tirschenreuth immediately after World War II, we had no libraries; indeed it took two or three years before even a tiny bookstore opened. At first we had no newspapers either. Later on, living in Staufenberg to the west, the nearest so-called library was in Gernsbach three kilometers away, and we paid a small fee there for every borrowed book. Indeed, when I come to think of it, that was the only library I ever visited in Germany. In Kansas City, after our arrival here, weekly trips to the downtown library became a sacred ritual.

I went upstairs to commune with Brigitte. Libraries. In Europe. She is some years my senior and remembers more about those times. The war had no sooner ended, she relates, than the occupying powers caused all libraries to close. Bang. You can hear doors slamming and the locks clanging shut. Why? Well, libraries were ordered to sanitize their contents—to remove all traces of history-rewritten produced by the Nazi powers. In her school library in Weissenfels, whole shelves were actually covered with signs forbidding even touching books. A small set of shelves were open to the students—while ideological cleaning proceeded. The city’s main library, a grand structure, stood dead and mute for years. Call it a library outage. But the physical structure still remained.

Everything has a silver lining. Last time this happened I went half crazy talking to recorded voices at AT&T and resetting two computers at regular intervals for the better part of a day. But it turned out that the Internet returned miraculously all on its own. Did so again today. I wrote on paper. I read a book. A novel experience in the morning. Brought back memories of another time. Not all bad, the Long Ago. I seemed to have a lot more time this morning.

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