Posted by: Emily | May 8, 2008

Library nostalgia

I spent yesterday afternoon at Columbia’s Butler library with what turned out to be only one graduate student–nobody else showed up; long, aggravating story–and ended up steeped in nostalgia for my first academic library. I didn’t have the memories you would think I would have, of nights spent in the reading room huddled over Kant or sexxxy nights in the half-stacks, up against the wire cages. Instead I had lots of nostalgia for the card catalog. My first work study job at Columbia was as a card catalog weeder. My boss (Olga!) would print out a list of discarded books on her dot-matrix printer. Each entry would include a list of author, title, and subject cards that had to be pulled. And I would pull them. Columbia still has a set of of the catalogs, in the same reference reading room. So I wandered around in there, struck by the sense-memory of pulling cards related to Reynard the Fox, cards full of pencil markings collating all the different spellings (Reynaud, Reynart, Reynaurd, and on and on).


I’ve long been concerned about nostalgia and libraries and the way sentimentality works against the ‘hard-nosed’ realities of libraries–we need more money, more buildings, more staff, and too often the warm memories of the library stop right there at the level of memory. How might we catch people at that romantic moment, bent over the old catalogs, smelling the same musty smells of a decade ago, and channel that energy into material support?



  1. […] nostalgia and Nicholson Baker May 10, 2008 — Maria Emily’s post on library nostalgia brings to mind Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold, a book I had to read when I was in library […]

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