The library is alive.
Yes, the doors closed Friday on the 15 Jackson County library branches. But amid the melancholy of that day was a sense — a determination — that this is not the end, but just an episode in the struggle to ensure that knowledge wins out over ignorance and that community spirit wins out over self interest.
A walk through the quiet main library Friday afternoon did have a funereal feel. But you could not escape the sense that what lies within these walls has a life that cannot be snuffed out easily.
It begins as you enter. On a far wall, an inscription in letters 2 feet tall reads,"When I step into this library, I can never understand why I step out." (Marie de Sevigne, 1626-1696).
Walk through the center aisle of the fiction section and the stacks pass by like corn rows, filled with more words, emotions and humanity than any of us can absorb in a lifetime.
One stack amid the dozens carries the simple alphabetical inscription on its end: "Fiction Has-Hoag." Has-Hoag alone is hundreds of books, millions of words, ideas from writers long dead and writers still living who push us to reconsider the boundaries in our lives. Has-Hoag does not need our permission to live; it lives and breathes as surely as the readers who pick though its choices.
Visitors to the next room over are greeted with another message: "A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." (Chinese proverb). Beyond are shorter stacks and, moving among them, shorter, much younger people.
Here in the children's library, three Hispanic girls who look to be 6 or 7 are clustered around a computer. An older girl, perhaps 11 or 12, talks quietly with a librarian — she likes "fiction ... but nonfiction, too." In the back, among a scattering of soft chairs, a mom points out pictures in a book for her pre-schooler.
Up the wide stairway now to the second floor. An older man wearing a hat sits in a chair just past the top of the stairs, reading Sky Telescope magazine. Beyond him, along the windows that look out over Medford, a woman reads a newspaper. Beyond her, another woman alternates between reading a book and gazing out the window. Three young women sit at tables in the middle of the room with laptop computers, immersed in study. A dozen other readers ponder magazines, books and newspapers. Above them, a clock ticks toward 2 p.m., three hours from closing. The man in the hat at the top of the stairs is now reading Astronomy.
Beyond a "Maps and Atlases" sign, a half-dozen community college students sit at computers. Nearby, two men are on electric typewriters. Microfilm readers sit next to them and behind, drawers filled with reels of history. The first one opened produces a microfilm box labeled "Central Point Herald, April 26, 1906 - July 25, 1912."
The irony is inescapable as you pass by a magazine shelf labeled "Life-MacWorld." One now gone, the other riding the Internet wave that helped kill it.
Pass into the nonfiction room, where shelves hold oversized books with titles ranging from "The Complete Work of Michelangelo" to "Hollywood Musicals" and the "Pictorial History of America." Follow the aisle beneath the "Quiet Study" sign. A dozen people of various ages and descriptions sit at computers in a windowed corner, the only sound the clicking of keyboards.
Across the way, west-facing windows offer the view of a sunny day in a city that looks more alive than ever. "Art in Bloom" banners hang from lampposts. Students make their way across Riverside Avenue, from parking lots to community college and back. You can just hear the hum of cars passing and see the signs of protesters blaming the library closure on environmentalists. That somehow seems wrong, out of place, like protesters at a funeral.
Two paintings by Betty LaDuke of migrant workers hang on a wall near a small table. On the table is a paperback book with the title "The Complete Guide to MMX Technology."
On the way out of nonfiction, random glances pick up the book titles, "The Way Things Ought to Be," by Rush Limbaugh, and, nearby, "Library Marketing That Works." Living, breathing irony.
A couple of stacks away, a mother helps a teenage girl — daughter, most likely — find a book on crop circles. Sounds like a senior project in the works.
The library is quiet, as libraries should be. But there is unmistakable life in this building, life that won't be stilled by the temporary decisions of politicians and me-firsters.
Listen quietly. You can hear its heart beating, patiently waiting for us to return. The library is alive.