interior of the Berkeley Public Library's North Branch(built in 1936, designed by James Placheck; restored in 2012)

interior of the Berkeley Public Library’s North Branch
(built in 1936, designed by James Placheck; restored in 2012)

Few places can both cure and inspire farsickness like a library. Now, we all know — or have been firmly told — that print is officially dead and the Internet has killed the research desk. But what Google, e-books, and their ilk can’t provide is the location for our experience of reading. And location matters — the imaginations that created the place, the people we find there, and the discoveries its design can foster. Pictured above is my thriving local library, Berkeley Public Library’s North Branch, a light-filled, 1930s-vintage Spanish-California beauty. It’s just a pleasure to be in, for kid and adult alike, and hosts readings, performances, and movie nights (my son saw his first screening of The Princess Bride there) geared to us North Berkeley types. This must be the key to any successful library in the Cloud-based Information Age: offering an alluring and distinctively local public space for our quest for new “content”– or what we humans until recently called books, music, and movies. Also key: plenty of comfy chairs.

And libraries can be the scene for all kinds of interior, imaginative travel. I recently read a tricky, lovely poem that captured this phenomenon by the French poet Yves Bonnefoy, crisply translated by Hoyt Rogers in AGNI. “Learned Libraries” begins with the speaker at the library of the French School in Rome, then vaults into the matter-of-fact leaps across time and space a library can conjure, set off by this mysterious find in the stacks:

“…And I have just made a discovery: one of those old guidebooks on a shelf, unknown to me a moment before and probably to anyone, since it’s not a printed work or a manuscript, but a cup, filled with water to the brim. I pick it up with all the caution of a scribe, a philologist, and carry it to my table—which I enjoy finding free on these sultry mornings, because the window to my left overlooks the belfry of La Sapienza…”

Read the poem at AGNI Online.

French Academy in Rome, located in the Villa Medici

French Academy in Rome, located in the Villa Medici