A lost book found, and the need for li­braries Hamil­ton’s li­braries help make our shared ex­pe­ri­ence — our collective story — real

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - EU­GE­NIA ZUROSKI

I re­cently be­came un­ex­pect­edly “In­ter­net fa­mous” overnight, when an ex­tra­or­di­nary thing hap­pened to me and one of my best­loved books and the story went vi­ral. Ba­si­cally, I de­cided to fi­nally re­place a book I’d lent out years ago and never got back, or­der­ing a used re­place­ment copy on Ama­zon, and the book that ar­rived in the mail was the very one I’d lost, my name in­scribed on the cover page, my margina­lia scrawled on the pages.

Peo­ple loved the story be­cause it seemed like such an un­likely event, but also, I be­lieve, be­cause peo­ple feel close to books — close enough for such a re­union to feel “mag­i­cal,” as some­one put it on Twit­ter. Not ev­ery­one (I’ve learned) writes their name and the date of pur­chase in­side the books they buy, but many, many peo­ple imag­ine be­ing re­united with a lost book as a kind of fam­ily home­com­ing. We de­vote our time and our at­ten­tion to favourite books; we hold them close and with our gaze. They are “loved ones.”

I gave a bunch of in­ter­views and nearly ev­ery one asked: Will you con­tinue to lend out your books, af­ter nearly los­ing this one for­ever? And my an­swer has been un­equiv­o­cal: Yes. Yes, of course. Yes, now more than ever. Be­cause one of the rea­sons books be­come bound to us by love is be­cause books, and acts of read­ing more gen­er­ally — of a news­pa­per op-ed, of a tweet — are things we share with other peo­ple. We be­come at­tached to our books be­cause our books bind us to one an­other.

For me, this story is less about the joys of book own­er­ship and more pro­foundly about the won­der of a book’s cir­cu­la­tion. Our collective cap­ti­va­tion with this book’s in­cred­i­ble jour­ney is, for me, strong ev­i­dence of the im­por­tance of pub­lic li­braries, in­sti­tu­tions that or­ga­nize and fa­cil­i­tate these mirac­u­lous pas­sages of texts, mu­sic, movies, and in­for­ma­tion through count­less hands. The pub­lic cir­cu­lat­ing li­brary over­sees these won­drous pat­terns of re­lease and return on a daily ba­sis. It al­lows ev­ery mem­ber of the com­mu­nity to be a part of the book’s jour­ney.

In a re­cent city coun­cil bud­get dis­cus­sion, Ward 7 Coun. Donna Skelly ques­tioned a would-be $518,000 bud­get hike for the li­brary and ex­pressed “con­cern” over how much of the city’s bud­get is de­voted to it. In an­swer to this ques­tion: I can’t imag­ine a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion more vi­tal to the city than its pub­lic li­brary.

In fact, Hamil­ton’s Cen­tral Li­brary is one of the city’s great­est ac­com­plish­ments and sites of com­mu­nity prom­ise.

The HPL’s Cen­tral Li­brary is a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of how a city can de­sign pub­lic spa­ces that al­low all res­i­dents — of dif­fer­ent ages and de­mo­graph­ics, of vary­ing lev­els of priv­i­lege, pur­su­ing dif­fer­ent projects, liv­ing dis­tinct lives — to be with one an­other, lit­er­ally. In the same room. A mi­cro­cosm of the city it­self, our Cen­tral Li­brary does a mag­nif­i­cent job of host­ing our city’s di­ver­sity. It mod­els a vi­sion of shared re­sources and peace­ful co­ex­is­tence that doesn’t de­pend on a sin­gle agenda or set of needs or in­ter­ests or abil­ity to pay money. We may not even speak the same lan­guage, but we can sit in a room to­gether and read, or not read. We are bound as a com­mu­nity by breath­ing the same air, be­ing shel­tered by the same walls, and shar­ing this space for re­flec­tion, play, learn­ing, and rest.

One def­i­ni­tion of a com­mu­nity is a group of peo­ple liv­ing within the same story. We don’t all fol­low the same plots but we oc­cupy the same world, whether we re­al­ize it or not. The Cen­tral Li­brary is a vi­tal in­sti­tu­tion be­cause it gives us a ma­te­rial space to live our story to­gether and it makes this story read­able. Here we all are, be­cause this is where we go when we need to read a news­pa­per, use a com­puter, find a book, meet a friend, copy some­thing, ap­ply for some­thing, oc­cupy the kids, sit down for a bit. From mo­ment to mo­ment in our sep­a­rate lives we don’t know how much we share, but our li­brary makes our shared ex­is­tence pal­pa­ble. You and I, we’ve never met but we may have held the same book in our hands, for hours. It be­longed to both of us just as we be­long to each other. The li­brary knows this.

Eu­ge­nia Zuroski is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of English and Cul­tural Stud­ies at McMaster Univer­sity.

The Cen­tral Li­brary is a vi­tal in­sti­tu­tion be­cause it gives us a ma­te­rial space to live our story to­gether and it makes this story read­able.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

A li­brary pa­tron browses in the Hamil­ton Pub­lic Li­brary’s cen­tral branch in this 1997 file photo. There is no pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion more vi­tal to the city than the li­brary, writes Eu­ge­nia Zuroski.

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