A library is a dangerous place

The Cecil H. Green Library at Stanford

Libraries are dangerous places. You step into the stacks, pick up a book and you never know what you're going to learn.

A library is a dangerous place

Fujifilm RVP 100, Sinar F1, 90mm f/8, 3:30 exposure, pulled 1.0 stops. I had to sign a release and speak with the administration to be allowed to photograph here - but the folks at the Green Library were very helpful.

Libraries are, in some ways, transforming. I came from a university that built a library where robots retrieve volumes from an underground labyrinth and I now work at one that built the first "bookless" library.

Be that as it may, for as long as I live, I will still remember fondly the firm stone floors and darkened hallways leading from the reading rooms to the stacks. There's something about the smell of old paper and the chill breeze; every corner is a new intellectual adventure.

It's a simple bit of magic, really. A matter of curiosity leads you to a cryptic number and through the winding maze of onionskin and tattered, yellow pages. Then, somewhere, in the bowels of the place, you find the callnumber at the end of a long row of shelves that recede into soot and pitch. On the bottom of a dusty shelf, crammed between like volumes you find communion with an expert often long passed. But the magic goes beyond this first act. The stacks are, in reality, a system of positional information. Next to your tome are 10 others in varying degrees of utility directly related to your quarry. And so, rarely, have I headed to circulation with the one volume I sought.

And speaking of magic, I will write more in the future about the experience of 4x5 color film photography, but, for now, let it be said that the scan you see on this page is an attempt to faithfully recapture the luminosity, saturation and vibrance of seeing the frame of film through a loupe on a lightbox. The attempt invariably falls short in the same way that a well-brewed cup of coffee only partly recreates the aroma of the perfect roast.