At the Cleveland Public Library a long time ago — ‘Cranks, Hacks, Poverty-stricken Scholars’

Oak Park Chronicles

The boy wanted “to become one of them.”

That is probably where I learned to feel at home in a library. I would already have made a list of the books I wanted, and in those pre-internet days I relied on the massive card catalogues and trusted in serendipity.

Some of my fellow library-goers at first seemed scary to this suburban kid. Old men, perhaps younger than I am today, wearing too many items of clothing, murmuring and reading close to the page with magnifying glasses. I wished to become one of them.

They seemed free to ignore what others thought of them, intent on the words they held to their noses. I read Louis MacNeice’s “The British Museum Reading Room” (1939) and thought again of those contented old men:

“Cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars,

In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards
And cherishing their hobby or their doom . …

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