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Out on a Limb: Shelf Life
10/1/2002
Checking out the lure of libraries and archives.
I was the kind of kid who hung out in libraries. Some kids hung out in pool halls (or so I imagine — I never associated with this kind of rough crowd), others in gyms (again, I suppose — I avoided the gym with the same fervor with which the gym kids evidently avoided the library). But I liked the tall, sheltering stacks of books, the riffle of library cards, the inscrutable precision of the Dewey Decimal System. I made friends at the library, both real and fictional (sometimes the Hardy Boys, more often out-of-this-world pals like Lucky Starr, whom author Isaac Asimov sent to The Moons of Jupiter and The Rings of Saturn — and I, of course, went along).

Not even I much enjoyed hanging out at the library to labor over research papers, however. All that hand-cramping note-taking and tedious citing of sources. It was almost as bad as going to the gym. So I never would have envisioned the grown-up me ever going to the library to research — for fun. Much less going on a weekend!

But there I am, on a Sunday afternoon, grappling with microfilm reels and photocopying pages out of books at the public library. (I wonder if the pool-hall kids, now grown-up delinquents, still spend their free time down at the pool hall?) And nobody's making me do it — unless you count the relentless pressure of all my ancestors, imploring me to dig out answers about their long-ago lives.

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