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Inner Calm

January 12, 2001

Driving north from Santa Fe in rush hour traffic, I spied a witty bumper sticker on a big SUV: “Inner.calm”.

I can’t say if it truly reflected the spiritual state of the inhabitants: two laughing young women. I was already interpreting the speed limit liberally, since a five is not always a five, and they passed me quickly and weaved their way happily through heavy traffic. I suppose it takes inner calm to do that.

I was returning from Arizona, where I heard a familiar complaint. The local library had purchased the beautiful two-volume set called “African Ceremonies,” but they had put it in the Reference Room! It could not be checked out!

“I feel your pain,” I told my friend, and in fact, I really do. This is a legitimate complaint. Reference materials that require hours, days, or even weeks of contemplation are less useful if they can not be checked out and taken home to the quiet of one’s comfy chair.

The person who voiced this complaint is an artist and a collector. His home is filled with beautiful things, including African art, and he has a fine collection of his own books. He wanted to take “African Ceremonies” home to compare.

He asked the librarian why the books were placed in the Reference Room. She said, because of cost, which was $150.

I don’t know that library’s circumstances, but I think he has a good case here. Really, the books are $75 per volume, and I’m sure I saw other library books in this price range that were available for check out.

More and more, the Salida Regional Library places books out for circulation that might once have stayed in the library. Cost can be a consideration, of course, but so is utility. We are primarily, although not wholly, a circulating library. Our own copy of “African Ceremonies” can be checked out.

Developing an appropriate reference collection is tricky in a small library that tries to fill a variety of shoes. The main branch of the New York Public Library is entirely “reference.” Nothing can leave the building. Local branches of some library systems don’t keep reference collections at all. Inquiries are directed to the main branch.

We thought “African Ceremonies” should circulate. Sometimes, we will buy two copies of a book — one for the reference room and one for check out. Even some directories, which are typically placed in reference rooms, can be more useful when taken home. We put older editions of directories such as “Colorado Grants Guide” on the circulating shelves. We buy two copies of some books, such as the Peterson college guides, de Anza’s diary, “Forming limited liability companies in Colorado,” and so forth.

My friend made one other understandable but incorrect assertion. He said, “Nobody else in Sierra Vista is going to use these.” He meant this in two ways, one being the inaccessibility in the reference room, the other being that the esoteric nature of the book wouldn’t interest anyone else.

However, I had to disagree, because one satisfying thing that I have observed in our library is that nearly every book gets used by more than one person, no matter how arcane the subject matter. The pool of interested parties is not fixed. In fact, we want it to grow. Part of the joy to be had in a library is in discovery and, through that discovery, the unanticipated fruits that new information, or inspiration, can grow.


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