In Episode 11 of Cosmos Carl Sagan escapes from the somewhat dreary exploration of Eastern mysticism in Episode 10 and gets back to the wonder of the actual world. There are (again) so many things I love about this episode – Sagan singing a whale song, the trip into the living brain – but my favorite part has to be Sagan’s time in the New York Public Library.

“A book,” Sagan says, “is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

PS OK, full disclosure. My wife Julie works at a library. But that’s only one of the things I love about her. There’s lots of others, too.

Sagan also shows just how much of a typical library one might read if one reads a book a week for a lifetime. It’s something like a tenth of a percent of the books in the library. The trick, Sagan says, is to know which books to read.

Life is a gift, a lucky accident, a chance to crash the party, however you want to look at it. We find ourselves in this world with limited tools, limited time, limited abilities. We can’t have everything of the things we want. We can’t go everywhere, we can’t meet everyone, we can’t experience all there is to experience.

But, amazingly, we can read just about any book we want to read. All we need is a local library.

I use the local public library A LOT, but for the really rare or unusual book (the collected papers of Henry Cavendish, for instance, which I needed for an article I just finished writing), I use the State Library of Ohio. The State Library doesn’t have much itself, but it is free to all citizens of the state, and it is tied to OhioLink, a system that lets me borrow any lending book from any library at any state college or university. It is astounding – there’s virtually nothing I can’t get. All I have to do is decide what I’d like to learn about, and it’s at my fingertips.

Libraries are where the magic lives.

Advertisements