The Library

Farewell, n.d., by Sam Hood by State Library of New South Wales collection.

Beautiful World War 2 picture by Sam Hood, from the State Library collection. This couple possibly never saw each other again. The title of this one is "Farewell, n.d.", so a bit evocative for me. (Hopefully it shows up on the FB version of this post.)

Went to the local library this morning so the kids could get some books. I remember getting the archive newspaper microfiches out in the State Library and reading the daily news from various days in history. Day I was born, day war broke out - any interesting date, to see what the everyday concerns of people were at those times.

I love libraries, this morning brought back memories of the time when I lived in Sydney and would spend a lot of time in various libraries, usually as part of study, but also just for the heck of it. It's not so much the books and other media you can spend time with, although there's always something amazing lurking in the collections. It's the atmosphere, and above all the quiet. (It also doesn't hurt that they tend to be beautifully air conditioned in summer.)

I love quiet. Some people are intimidated by true silence (if you can find any). It's very difficult to get genuine quiet, even at home the background noise of fridges and other devices is always there. Sailors sometimes find it on becalmed seas. 'Nature' is rarely quiet, sound is one of the key territorial devices of animals, and breeze is rarely completely absent, rustling things.

If you spend much time outside walking you'll see that maybe as many as 90% of people out walking or jogging or doing anything these days are plugged into a music player of some sort or another. They want to take their noise with them. Sometimes they almost walk under buses, or jump 3 feet in the air when they don't hear you walking past them.

One simple exercise I've seen suggested for people is to spend 10 minutes each day just being with themselves, in the quiet. Doing nothing, listening to nothing, just being aware of themselves, their body, and the space around them. It's interesting to see how many people can do that without feeling agitated - try it yourself. We're generally not very good at just being. We like doing. We're all wound up like springs, so sitting still and doing nothing, particularly when it's quiet, can drive us nuts.

The quiet of libraries is not absolute quiet. But the small noises you do get are (for me) very relaxing. I love hearing the soft murmuring of other people, and particularly listening to them turn pages. There's something about that quiet, crisp sound of paper being turned that relaxes me deeply. (I once sat in a material shop waiting for somebody, and hearing the customers leaf through the pattern books had me nearly asleep.) Voices are another profoundly relaxing sound for me, soft voices especially.

I record sounds in different situations now, and listen back at different times. Rain is a favourite, the sound of soft rain falling is something babies apparently love too, it's a sort of 'white noise' that apparently soothes our nervous systems. Whatever the reason, it's beautiful. Binaural (see this post) soundscapes reproduce whole worlds, and close your eyes when you have one of those playing on the iPod and you really are there. All of our senses reveal miraculous, beautiful things, if we remember to use them.

Got a bit sidetracked from libraries. They're like modern-day refuges from the noise and stress and speed of modern life. Even if you just go in to read the paper, you'll come out feeling more relaxed and alive. Often they're not used by many people, which makes them even more quiet and relaxing, and a bit of a secret special place that's all yours. If you want it.


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