Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Joys of Old Book Smell

Things may be slow at work for me but some of my co-workers are still diligently working away on cases for their clients (thank goodness). As such, I've been tapped to help one of the teams develop a business plan for the business they are creating for their client.

You may assume that, as an MBA, I have some clue about how to write a business plan. I do not. I understand the concept and, like most other MBAs, can talk about it rather convincingly. But I have never actually written one. In fact, I'm not sure I've even seen one.

But this feeling of absolute cluelessness is not a new one for me and thus I know exactly how to handle it. Google + HBS = enough information to be dangerous

So today, instead of going into work or lounging around the apartment in my bathrobe, I walked across the river to my alma mater and Baker Library. Baker was under construction during my 2 years at HBS so I was quite excited to use it. Convincingly disguised as a student, I didn't need to show ID to get access to the Reading Room (photo above, not too shabby, eh?) and spent a lovely several hours hunched over one of the giant desks typing away. But my true joy came when I went to the Stacks.

The Stacks are accessible only by an elevator located just outside the Reading Room. They are in a sub-basement of the library, in a sterile room that simply overwhelms you with light beige the moment the elevator doors open. The bookcases are on tracks and you have to crank giant wheels to pry them apart and create enough space for you to walk between them and find your books. But the best, most absolutely wonderful, simply joyful part is the smell - it smells exactly like a library filled with old leather bound books. Damn, I love that smell. It's the smell of history and knowledge and discovery and if someone bottled it and sold it I'd buy a case.

It reminds me of grade-school trips to the library, hunched over the card catalog, wedging a stack of books between my cupped hands and clenched jaw, slamming them down on the check-out counter and listening to the ca-thunk of the date stamp on the card before the librarian slips it back into its pocket and flips the cover shut.

Those days are over. Not because I'm old (which I am) but because everything is on-line. No more card catalogs with drawers filled with manually typed index cards. No more checking out a 300 page book just to have access to the 2 paragraphs you need. No more ca-thunking stamps or envelopes. Just computers and bar codes and Google.

Yes, it makes life A LOT easier but I also feel like I miss out on something. The triumph of locating a book on the shelf. The satisfaction of finding the passage the perfectly sums up and supports your thesis. The comfort of believing that the more books you have, they easier your paper will be to write

And, of course, the old book smell of a library

1 comment:

Diana Welmerink said...

oh you took the words right out of my mouth. i love that smell. i also love the quiet that accompanies the stacks. At MIT, I used to love studying in the basement of the science library amidst all the stacks of old journal (some from the late 1800s). ahh... memories.