I’ve often felt that my library explained who I was, gave me a shifting self that transformed itself constantly throughout the years. And yet, in spite of this, my relationship to libraries has always been an odd one. I love the space of a library. I love the public buildings that stand like emblems of the identity a society chooses for itself, imposing or unobtrusive, intimidating or familiar. I love the endless rows of books whose titles I try to make out in the vertical script that has to be read (I’ve never discovered why) from top to bottom in English and Italian, and from bottom to top in German and Spanish. I love the muffled sounds, the pensive silence, the hushed glow of the lamps (especially if they are made of green glass), the desks polished by the elbows of generations of readers, the smell of dust and paper and leather, or the newer ones of plasticized desktops and caramel-scented cleaning products. I love the all-seeing eye of the information desk and the sibylline solicitude of the librarians. I love the catalogues, especially the old card drawers (wherever they survive) with their typed or scribbled offerings. When I’m in a library, any library, I have the sense of being translated into a purely verbal dimension by a conjuring trick I’ve never quite understood. I know that my full, true story is there, somewhere on the shelves, and all I need is time and the chance to find it. I never do.
- Alberto Manuel, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions (2018)