The following post was written by Chelsea Connelly, a student Fellow at the Center.
As an employee of the library and an art history major, I am practically a religious devotee of the Harold B. Lee Library. I spend the majority of my school day there. Every semester since my freshman year, I have either hit the limit or come very close to the limit of books allowed to be check out at a time. There was a week a couple of semesters ago when I slept more in the library than I did in my own apartment. A common conversation with my friends revolves around the miraculous invention that is known as Interlibrary Loan. I often eat two of my three meals in the Snack Zone on the third floor. I have used every single women’s restroom available to students because I decided one summer to try them all out and figure out the best one (fourth floor in the Asian studies section in case you were wondering; fifth floor comes close). Since I don’t often come onto campus on Saturdays, I make up for the separation between the library and me by spending several hours on the library’s website and reading books I checked out from the library. I try to tell as many people as possible that the library has been consistently top ranked by the Princeton Review for over ten years. (It was even ranked number one in 2004. That means BYU outranked the libraries of every Ivy League institution as well as every other large state school in the nation!) The library’s Twitter account follows me. You could say my relationship with the library is getting pretty serious.
So you can understand my surprise when I recently had an acquaintance, a fellow senior at BYU, proudly declare to me, “I have never checked out a book from the library! I don’t even know how!” Thus, this blogpost is an ode to the Harold B. Lee Library. It is a post about why our world increasingly needs libraries and why every single major on this campus should love and treasure the library.
I grew up in a midwestern town that was so small that the police had to direct traffic when the first Arby’s opened. Despite my town’s size, we were fortunate enough to have a Carnegie library. Every summer of my childhood was centered on this library. From reading contests to book sales to the “innovative” ability to check out movies, the library provided me with endless entertainment and resources. As I grew up, I stopped using the public library as much because I had a library at school, but I had plenty of friends whose parents did not have Internet at home, so they were often found at the public library using the computers to do their homework or simply chat with friends on MSN Messenger. You might think that the use of a library for Internet is a thing of the past now that the Internet has become so requisite in the twenty-first century, but this remains a fundamental reason for the existence of public libraries. Most cities in the United States don’t have the luxury of free Google Fiber, which means that many households have to choose between buying groceries for the month or paying a costly Internet bill. Libraries provide a free option for Internet access for the entire community. Beyond providing Internet access, libraries often provide storytime for children, technology or language classes for adults, and most importantly, access to the written word. Public libraries are community centers. As Andrew Carnegie put it, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”
And in this same way, the Harold B. Lee Library is the center of BYU. Geographically, it is the heart of campus. It is also the place where books are housed on every single topic imaginable, from car mechanics to fashion to neuroscience to contemporary art, making it the one place on campus where everyone can find something that interests him or her. Just like public libraries, the BYU library offers a variety of services including 3D printing classes, one-on-one research or writing help, a green screen filming room, and equipment rental. They even have vending machines now, so you really never have to leave.
This week I read a New York Times article (provided to me for free through the library) about refugees in Calais, France, who established a small library in the refugee camp because, in the midst of horrible circumstances, they recognized the power of books to take them out of the world for a brief moment and educate them or simply entertain them with a good story.
Our ability to use language is the thing that distinguishes us from animals. It is the thing that makes us sentient beings. And that is why books and libraries are important. We have this amazing ability to think, reason, learn, and enlarge our minds, and books and words are our primary means of doing so. That doesn’t mean just reading the books that we are assigned for class. That means reading everything we can get our hands on. Because if we truly believe in the importance of learning and truly want to gain a thorough education at this institution, we will want to read. Whether that means checking out the new Twilight book (I’ve already placed a hold on it, so you will have to wait) or checking out a book on chemical engineering, it doesn’t matter. Reading expands your vocabulary and teaches you about new perspectives on the world, regardless of the subject matter.
So take a trip to the library today. If you have a specific book in mind, grab it, sit down, and read for thirty minutes. If you don’t have a clue what you are looking for, pick a floor, pick a section, and just wander. You will be amazed at what you will find. Going to the library is attempting to understand the human condition. To read is to truly be human.
Photo credit: MS 091 C286b 1490za, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University