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The Librarian in Winter

January 11, 2019

Of the many lulls librarians experience during the academic year, none feels as pronounced as the semester break that hinges on the turn of the calendar. In mid-December the suddenly quiet library recalls the bygone days of solemnity that the new era of open commons replaced; for a time, even new libraries feel older than they are. The librarian knows this is temporary, a mere hibernation, yet by January the quietude proves intoxicating.

Like Janus, the Roman god of transitions, endings, beginnings, and other dualities of time, the librarian sees the past and the future, often in the same moment. In January, we are like Janus, the month’s namesake. We catch our breath, reflect upon where we have been, and simultaneously consider how to move forward.

These thoughts were apparent to me when I recently undertook a weeding project, a task perhaps best performed by librarians, and gardeners, during the summer. Slowly walking the stacks, pulling and examining specific volumes, I was weighing the past against the future, looking like Janus in two directions at once.

In a sense we are always doing exactly this. Libraries were once lone repositories of knowledge; now libraries provide access to thousands of remote repositories. Librarians were once lone guardians of knowledge; now librarians are less guardians than guides to entire galaxies of information. Whether we hold a book or a smart phone in our hands, we bring the blurry past into focus for the present.

It is very cold today; it feels like January should. There are few people in the library, but they will return in great numbers in just a few days. The quiet will end and the future will be here. Though the calendar calls for several more weeks of winter, librarians will emerge from their dens. For us it is already spring.

 

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