Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wabi Sabi Library

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic valuing the imperfection in things, the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. The slow, the weathered, the authentic and the unfinished. I am very enthusiastic about Wabi Sabi and seek at all times to bring the principles and beauty of Wabi Sabi to my Library. This is why when someone comes to my desk and says "I would like to renew this book." I say "I would like for this to happen too. Perhaps if we both concentrate."

Am I being a smart aleck? No indeed. I am merely bringing a curve to our interaction, weathering it, aging it. I am saying "You have come to no slick, plastic, technologically clean library. I am not a figure of precise efficiency. We just both happen to be here. Let me see if I can help you out. I am not slow, but we must respect time."

I work in a white library, high ceilings, more white, and glass. It strives for a clean look, sometimes minimal, sometimes plastic, sometimes simple, and sometimes dreaming it is an expression of technology itself. There is little to recognize in it of the natural world, and yet ever it spills in. Real light falls through the windows. Weathered people walk through in their thousands, all snowflakes, not a single one here for the same thing. Our general plans for what we do in the library always crack. Every person in the library uses it ever so slightly to the left or right, above or below, before or after, of its intended purposes.

The books themselves start as a replicative technology. We get our small share of a thousand print run, or our few of ten thousand identical copies. But our library wears them into unique, battered, smoothed, and decaying objects. What library user who gets to choose from three copies on the shelf of the same old book doesn't know this? The cover of one is grubby and beaten. Another seems swollen and loose. A last one is stained but pleasantly squared. Our beating heart is all these books, shaped by hands into their own fingerprints, or, like the toe of a beloved marble statue, kissed away.

My library, a modern institution, is ever striving for currency, perfection, stasis, vacuum sealed freshness. It is eager to be slick and vital and rich and fresh. But it will never happen. The paint will keep cracking. I will keep letting the wind in. I will be bending the books. For good or ill we will all touch everything here, aye, the world will touch everything, and if we let it, make it better.

1 comment:

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