Get fit at the library

“Recent studies have shown that challenging your brain, by spurring the brain to create new patterns, is an important factor in helping to keep your brain active and healthy as you age. Lifelong learning is a health club for our minds, bodies and spirits. Using this health club every day helps ensure that life will be richer, more stimulating and more fulfilling.”(BeWell@Stanford)

People come through our doors for a variety of reasons – to exchange a smile with a staff member, get a book, meet friends, read, or to go to a meeting or a program. Though many people come with the specific aim of deepening their knowledge of a subject, we have found that learning can often come inadvertently at the library, when you are least expecting it. On a personal level, I can think of at least three fairly recent experiences that have helped to build bridges between synapses to strengthen my brain.

1. E-library. My e-library wishlist is long and varied. Simon Winchester’s “Krakatoa” had been on my list for a long time and I finally downloaded it the other day. My intention had been to hear a story well told (you can’t go wrong with anything written by Simon Winchester), but I have been astonished by how much I’m learning and the types of connections it is building to previous knowledge. Having read Mark Kurlansky’s “Salt” I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that pepper was once so precious that (allegedly) “Alaric the Visgoth and Attila the Hun each demanded from Rome a ransome of more than a ton of pepper when they besieged the city in the 5th century”. Or that it was Alfred Wallace, in a malarial fit that came up with the evolutionary concept of “survival of the fittest” and not Darwin.

Mind Blown gif.gif

2. Programs. When Doug Tallamy came to speak at the library in May, I knew that he would be interesting. After all, he is well known in the horticultural world as one of the foremost proponents of nurturing native plants. Tallamy pointed out that what we plant feeds the insects and the birds and, consequently, the rest of us, but only if we have the types of plants that the insects and birds native to our area eat. When we have flowers and trees around our home that attract local life, they are like natural bird feeders. When we plant species that are not native to our area we need to think of them like statues; one or two in the garden can be attractive, but a garden with nothing but statues is… hardly a garden. Most land throughout the United States is owned by someone and so the onus is on us to make sure that there is enough food to support biodiversity. Putting this together with the Princeton Environmental Film Festival film “Inhabit: a permaculture perspective” (which we will be screening again on October 3), deeply shifted the way I think about my backyard and what we plant on public grounds.

3.Crossing genres (from non-fiction to fiction). I love elephants. I first came across Lawrence Anthony through his obituary in the New York Times, where I learned that the elephants came to his house the night he died and kept vigil there for several days. As soon as I read the article I asked the library to get his book “Elephant Whisperer” through interlibrary loan. As soon as I read that book,  I suggested that the library purchase all three of his books: “The Elephant Whisperer,” “The Last Rhinos” and “Babylon’s Ark.”  Anthony was a remarkable man who sought to understand animals as they wished to be understood and loved them fiercely. The things I learned about elephants through his story about “saving” them were deepened when I read Jodi Picoult’s “Leaving Time”. The story is unabashedly fiction, yet Picoult’s facts about elephants and elephant psychology are well researched and mind-blowing. On a side note, all of the books mentioned in this paragraph tore apart and rebuilt my heart with regularity, though they all leave you knowing that good people are out there and change is possible.

The library is not just a place to visit for ambiance and great collections to borrow – it’s a health club too, one that is open 24 hours.

Photo taken by author.

*Gif of Neil Patrick Harris from “How I Met Your Mother”


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