Library cards

What do libraries mean to you?

An ode to the library for National Library Week

For many of us in publishing, libraries are a special place of reverence. They are where we fell in love with a particular topic and field, or with the methodical process of research, or perhaps simply with reading in general. Undoubtedly, libraries are crucial tentpoles of our local communities, offering spaces to meet and learn and explore. For National Library Week, we asked several of our authors to share what libraries mean to them; their answers just might have you reaching for your own library card.

Gabriella Giannachi, author of Archive Everything: Mapping the Everyday:

Libraries are places of discovery, magic labyrinths in which you can lose yourself and emerge as a new person. I think that I would not be who I am today if I hadn’t gotten lost in various libraries and picked up books about things I never even knew existed.

"You Are Here"

Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner, authors of You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape:

Like all researchers, we’re reliant on our universities’ libraries. But for us, public libraries warrant special recognition because they give so much access to so many people. People curious to learn more, people whose home internet is unreliable, people who just need a quiet place to study or think, people from so many different walks of life—all benefit from the communitarian, inclusive spirit of public libraries. They are as good for our neighbors as they are for ourselves; and that’s what makes them such an asset, both to our communities and to our democracy as a whole.

R. David Lankes, author of The New Librarianship Field Guide and The Atlas of New Librarianship:

After a year of COVID lockdowns, insurrection at the capital, and the strain increased fractured ideologies are having on the very foundations of democracy, I see libraries—and the librarians that build and manage them on behalf of the community—as one of our best hopes to build a new normal for our communities. A new normal that creates local, regional, and national narratives of what we hold in common and hold dear that is more just, more equitable, and more sustainable.

"Knowledge Justice"

Sofia Y. Leung and Jorge R. López-McKnight, co-editors of Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory:

For us, the meaning of libraries has shifted over time and is constantly shifting, though the dominant racial and colonial perception of libraries would have us believe it’s fixed or progressing. In this moment, we see (most of) them as structures of institutionalized domination and public sites of unfreedom. Yet, we hope their meaning will be unmade because in our radical imaginaries they will be.

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, author of The Politics of Mass Digitization:

What do libraries mean to me? In one word: everything. My mother was a librarian, first in the children’s section of a local public library and later a research librarian in the Danish Institute for Human Rights. So even before I entered this world, I was enveloped by the world of libraries. Later, I spent my own formative years as an aspiring researcher trying to understand the impact of digitization on libraries, which eventually became my book The Politics of Mass Digitization. So in a way, both my personal and professional lives have been shaped by libraries and I continue to find relevance in them today, even for understanding digital technologies that may seem far removed from traditional library settings such as machine learning and big data.

"The Joy of Search"

Daniel M. Russell, author of The Joy of Search: A Google Insider’s Guide to Going Beyond the Basics:

In my day job, I study how people find information—that is, how they search for it. I work at Google, so that’s not a surprise—but what might surprise you is that I use libraries in my work (even in the COVID-era) nearly every day. Libraries are the original search technology, and it’s impossible to beat their understanding of what’s important to you and the way they support your information-seeking in every possible way. In many ways, librarians are your best connection to the internet.

Kathryn Bond Stockton, author of Gender(s):

The library is somewhere I go to feed. There, I’m surrounded by many more books than can fit in my body. Also surrounded by many other readers taking words inside them—words put down on a page by other bodies. How intimate, how solitary. And sensually communal. The library holds my carnal devotion.


Remi H. Kalir, co-author of Annotation:

My family and I live a few blocks from the Ford-Warren Branch of the Denver Public Library, named in honor of Dr. Justina Ford who was the first licensed African American female doctor in Denver. Our local library continues Dr. Ford’s historic legacy of enriching the lives and well-being of Denver families. During the pandemic, our library has been an indispensable source of joy and learning—especially for our little toddler.

Antero Garcia, co-author of Annotation:

Like my Annotation co-author, Remi, the library has been a lifeline for my family during the pandemic. My partner and I are raising one and a half year-old twins and I honestly could not guess at the sheer number of board books, pop-books, and bedtime stories my kids have lovingly read, touched, and (accidentally) torn. While I can attest to the ways public libraries have shaped my personal intellectual journey, I am presently most drawn to their role as a bastion for literacy and fun for my family.

Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin, co-editors of Fantasies of the Library:

After publishing Fantasies of the Library, we were lucky enough to rescue an incredible library from the natural history museum collections at Martin Luther Universität in Halle–Wittenberg (they amalgamated their collections and were about to throw all the old shelves away), move it to Berlin, and spend over a year refurbishing and rearranging our salvaged GDR verlagsatelier library. In this process, the K. Verlag studio has become something of a Reading Room/Reading Machine of its own—a sprawling library in an overgrown greenhouse garden—and it is a properly Borgesian fantasy to work together making books inside this wooden sculpture housing a vertiginous collection of over 13,000 volumes. “Fantasies,” as Sophie wrote in Fantasies, “are neither a product of fancy nor of spontaneity, but result from the passionate and careful treatment of the library as a curatorial space.” Indeed.

Emily Farrell, Library Partnerships and Sales Lead at the MIT Press, on the MIT Libraries:

The librarians at MIT Libraries have true generosity, both in time and in the spirit of sharing knowledge. Any connection with the libraries is a pleasure in the mutual curiosity, desire to solve problems, and ask challenging questions. Without a doubt, the MIT Libraries makes us better at what we do.

Discover more of the MIT Press’s books on libraries and library science