I spent some time this afternoon reading and enjoying the essays included in the book The Library as Place. I've been haphazardly curious about this notion of "place," for some time now. My wife, Cathy, took a fascinating class when she was a Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning graduate student at U.C. Berkeley called Sacred Landscapes. In their first class they drew maps of their favorite childhood places. For many, this was the route they took to buy candy. Places of sugary enchantment. The class came with a hefty reader, some of the articles of which I've returned to again and again. Randy Hester's Subconscious Landscapes of the Heart, Peter Smirniotopoulos's The Meaning of Place and Yi-Fu Tuan's Topophilia and Environment. I'm especially interested in those places we value the most, for reasons we rarely ever think to articulate. They effect us emotionally, we react viscerally to them, these unconscious attachments to certain places.
One of the quirkier essays/papers included in Library as Place explores "the meaning of library space in the life of the mind." The essay, Stimulating Space, Serendipitous Space: Library as Place in the Life of the Scholar, written by Karen Antell and Debra Engel, reminded me of this unconscious emotional connection we have to place. They write that scholars deeply value "the physical library, often for intangible but nonetheless crucial reasons such as 'conduciveness to scholarship.'" Concerning this nebulous "conduciveness" the authors write:
This theme is where our results got interesting. "Conduciveness to scholarship" was different from other themes because it revealed how scholars used library space independently of library resources.
So, it's not because the library offers a myriad of information resources, the books, the databases, the eager reference desk librarian--it's something else that brings scholars to the library to do their work. Something that, according to the scholars the authors interviewed, helped them to channel their minds and allowed for them to have a "dialogue" with their resources. Something conducive.
And not just for the old timers. The young scholars, too. You might think they'd conduct their research wherever they could get a decent WiFi connection. That sitting at home in their pajamas, accessing online databases and texting their peers would be more conducive. Not so.
"Contrary to all expectations," the authors write, "we found that younger scholars, by both age and scholarly age, were far more likely than older scholars to comment on the physical library's conduciveness to scholarship."
The library put them in an "academic attitude," helped to "increase their attention," it was, in fact, highly conducive, a live wire sparking the intellect. What power! The library has the ability, it would seem, to physiologically orient the mind of innumerable scholars over time so as to work optimally when in its embrace.