Libraries, Passageways to the Universe

Without libraries, I would not be the person I am today. Without free access to books that libraries (and taxes) provide, I would have been bereft indeed as a child. My family only owned a couple of copies of the Bible foisted on my father by Baptist grandmother and volumes of novels from the Book of the Month Club, in highly excerpted form.

For me, as you can surmise, libraries represented Paradise. I spent many hours in the public library, huddled with books stacked all around me. I first learned of the horrors of the Holocaust in my school library. And I handled antique cookbooks from the sixteenth-century at the Library of Congress. I even became a librarian in middle age.

I can’t help but see libraries as mystical places, where other worlds appear and disappear, where where heroes and villains fight it out in fiction or real wars, where I might learn to decipher the mysteries and questions blowing through my life, where dreaming becomes permissible and incarnate.

And so for a recent assignment for a photography class, I wandered through the stacks and into nooks and crannies in the local university library.*

The iconic card catalog, the first step to exploration, now extinct (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Rare books, or libraries as museums (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Stairwell reminiscent of Escher, complete with feet (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Studying alone, seeing the light (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
An isolated carrel, a place to burrow into (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Reflections (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
The new card catalog (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Special Collections, where the old, rare books live (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
One of many globes throughout the library, an artifact in itself (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

* With thanks to Dean Tyler Walters and Associate Dean Brian Matthews for permission to photograph.

© 2012 C. Bertelsen



  • Annia, how wonderful to hear from you. I looked at the link you included and am immensely happy to be placed in such marvelous company! I have to confess I’ve never seen “Wings of Desire,” but will remedy that lack ASAP. Hope to see more of your writing soon!


  • Carstens, wonderful story abut your baby. I first felt our son move while taking my orals for my master’s in human nutrition! He’s got lots of food dislikes!


  • You’ve captured it well, the ideal and the real. But the Internet, yes, has opened up the information to us in way we could never have hoped for, right?


  • What a lovely tribute to libraries. Thank you, Cynthia. I have such happy memories to time spent in libraries, including sitting studying while pregnant and feeling my baby move for the first time. I took this as a sign she’d be an avid reader. I’m happy to say I was right.


  • Cynthia, I feel the same way you do. There is a special scent in the air upon entering a library. Many libraries have turned into community centers, and it is difficult to find a quiet place to work there sometimes. But aren’t we fortunate to have the knowledge of the universe at our fingertips via the Internet? It boggles the mind.


  • Libraries are wonderful. I remember the Carnegie library in my town, the traveling library that stopped out side our house every two weeks, the reading room and the North Library at the British Museum, the endless and scary basements of the Widener, and now the library in every Austin neighborhood. It’s so sad that globally libraries are so rare.


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