Harry Potter’s library

Wit: “To keep all of the books that I pay for and don’t read.”

While we can give our friend Wit partial credit for his answer, he’s left out some vital aspects of libraries: like aesthetics, environment and organization.

Having about 20 distinct library locations on campus must seem like a waste of space and money to some, but the closing of the Geography and Map Library in the near future raises larger issues of library usage and importance.

Although it’s true that we don’t know what we have until we’ve lost it, perhaps the loss of one IU library can awaken in us a new appreciation for the remaining libraries. These libraries function not only as repositories of tomes and journals, but also as environments for reflection and enormous file cabinets for organizing knowledge.
And the Geography and Map Library is a unique kind of file cabinet.

Paper maps and their usefulness may be on the decline in a society reliant on Google Maps and MapQuest, but maps can do much more than show current street levels or spit out the shortest travel time. Some aspects of research depend on studying the world as it was in past eras, and maps catalogue these past worlds.

Like other subject-specific libraries such as the music, geology and fine arts libraries, the Geography and Map Library indexes materials that might not fit very neatly into the Library of Congress subject headings – materials like a topographical survey of northern Indiana,  details of coal deposits in West Virginia or a sketch of what your back yard looked like 100 years ago.

The Geography and Map Library’s location in the Student Building – an iconic structure of the University – also gives it an aesthetic appeal noticeably lacking in some other campus libraries.

Though some could care less about a library’s looks, an experience in a beautiful university library can highlight the impact of architecture and design on students’ motivation. Duke Humfrey’s Library at the University of Oxford, for instance, would regularly inspire an added appreciation for each book I read there.

The medieval copies of Pliny and Plato surrounding me and the stained-glass windows coloring the walls made studying more than just another piece of work. It became an experience to remember and value. And in re-imagining the experience, I recall the texts more vividly, too.

The Harry Potter films, in using Duke Humfrey’s Library as the Hogwarts Library, implicitly acknowledged the power of a library environment. Little wizards simply could not be so smart unless they studied within the hallowed walls of an ornate library. When I visited the Geography and Map library a couple weeks ago, I wanted to see if it had a map for my hometown of Hartford, Wisconsin. Once I had pulled it out of the drawer, I began tracing rail lines, finding nearby swamps and reliving memories.
I couldn’t stop there. I started sifting through maps of familiar places in Germany – Cologne, Stuttgart, Bielefeld. Now I want to go back.

You might like to visit sometime before next semester, too.

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