This much you should know. There are three towers, the North Tower, the East Tower and the South Tower. All the towers are color coded and connected by the link. If you get lost in a tower, look down at the carpet. If the color of the carpet is solid, walk toward the carpet with the wavy pattern and that will lead you to the exit. Alternatively, if you look up, you will see a sign pointing toward the elevators or a sign pointing toward the stairs. Sometimes these signs get mixed up or fall down. For this reason, we suggest becoming acquainted with the patterns of the carpet, which tells you what part of the building you are in. Each tower has a staircase. The staircase leads to the roof. The roof is only accessible to staff. If you are not staff, you should not be on the roof. If you are staff, use extreme caution as a gust of wind has been known to blow staff members off the roof. We do not want a repeat of that incident.
The three towers, grey concrete monoliths, were designed by a man with practical considerations who is now dead. His coffin, like the towers, is functional and utilitarian. The man had no capacity for aesthetics, poetry or joy. To him, buildings were just that, buildings. They weren’t works of art.
There was no room for artistic license. The towers were warehouses for books and people. If people wanted art or beauty, they could look for it in a book. Each tower was a concrete shell for books, with five feet thick walls capable of withstanding tornadoes, earthquakes and nuclear Armageddon. The books would always be safe. That was the architect’s goal. He wanted to build a safe house for books. He didn’t care what people thought about the building. Just like his coffin, the library was only a vessel.
Each tower is simultaneously the same and different. That is the paradox of the towers. They are laid out in an L. They each have fire escapes on the second and third floors, except for the North Tower. The North Tower has no fire escapes. Books make for excellent kindling. If there is a fire in the North Tower, you may take the stairs to the roof if you are a staff member or you may jump eight stories to the granite plaza below. Each tower has eight floors. Some of these floors are divided into sub-floors called tiers. The tiers are not patrolled by staff or security. The tiers exist in the subconscious of your mind. Some of the tiers house self-published books and periodicals. That is the graveyard of books, books without readers. It’s a lonely fate for a book not to have readers.
The towers are color coded. If upon exiting the stacks the color at the end of the hall is brown, you are in the South Tower. If upon exiting the stacks the color is red, you are in the North Tower. If the color is green or beige or purple or mauve, you aren’t in any of the towers and are obviously hallucinating and shouldn’t be in a library, which is a place of scholarship, reflection and lewd bathrooms messages.
All three towers are connected by the link. The link is something that exists in your imagination. There is nothing connecting the towers. You need to imagine the link in order to move from one tower to the next. Those without imagination are forever stuck in the South Tower, in the transportation section, with every known book about transportation. Everyone likes the map room. The maps are beautiful and make you dream of faraway places. The music and art rooms are popular too, less for their collections than for the leggy Art History and Music majors they attract.
There is only one way in and out of the three towers, the exit desk. There is always someone at the exit desk, checking books. There is no getting by the exit attendant without the proper checkout slip in your book. The exit attendants have been known to tackle patrons who try to steal books from the library. Every book is an organ of a library. Take away the books and you kill the library from the inside. There are no transplants or donors. The library is at the bottom of the donor recipient list. Libraries are dying from within. Patrons use the library for Internet access, the bathrooms and the lurid messages written therein. Do not go to the bathroom in the library by yourself.
Library fines are assessed incrementally. Each hour a book is overdue, the fine multiplies tenfold. Do not turn in your books late. If you do, we will put a lien on your house and garnish your wages for the rest of your life.
The library is not real. The library exists only in your mind. There is no more space in the library. Every day it receives new books that no one will read except for a fifth year doctoral student in microbiology. When it ran out of room, it started putting new books in the basement. When the basement filled up, it sold the books no one wanted but no one bought the books because no one wanted them. The library had no choice but to throw out the unwanted books. These orphans perished in the garbage. That is the saddest fate for a book. At least books that are pulped get to lead second lives as new books. They are reincarnated. Trashed books have no afterlife. They are just trash. No one will ever read them. They will rot in a landfill where seagulls will rip them apart and rats and cockroaches will eat the glue from their binding. There is no heaven or haven for these books. A landfill is hell for a book.
The library is a cemetery. It is a graveyard for people’s thoughts. The books are their tombstones. Dead people live on in the library, that is if anyone reads them. Otherwise they gather dust on the shelf. If I were a book, I would want family and friends to visit me and check me out of the library every now and then so I could get out and see the world.
The library is moving. The books are moving. Every few hours the towers rotate. If you get lost in a tower, use the color coded system or the pattern in the carpet to get out. Otherwise, scream. Someone might come to your help. Then again someone may not and be frightened by your screams. An undergraduate got lost in the North Tower in 1951. They are still looking for him to this day. Some people say he gave up and killed himself. Others say he made a home in the stacks and is now part of the library.
If a carrel has a letter beside its number, it is reserved. If it doesn’t, it’s available and feel free to have sex in it. The carrels are the only private rooms in the library. They are sought after by graduate students. Graduate students have death matches at the start of each quarter to determine who gets the carrels. One graduate student lived in his carrel for years. When the university finally found out, he was halfway through his five-hundred-page dissertation on the role of windows and balconies in literature. He was reassigned to a different carrel, one without heating or air-conditioning, and he eventually died in his carrel. He was entombed in his carrel with his dissertation. His family appealed to the university to have his PhD awarded to him posthumously but the university refused on the grounds that his dissertation was incorrectly formatted and plagiarized an 18th century text on window installation.
The library stopped using the Dewey Decimal System in 1995 in favor of a shape coded system. Each book is assigned a shape. Some are square, like calculus textbooks. Others are triangular or trapezoidal or oblong or rectangular or rhomboidal. Some have no shape at all, like Kafka or Borges book. If you need to find a book, you must think of its shape, go to the appropriate stack and feel your way along the shelf until you sense your book. If you find your book, it was meant to be. If you can’t find your book, give up and try another one. Sometimes a book will call out to you and ask you to find it. If it does, consider this an honor. Not many books communicate with the living. They have no interest in the living. They are dead matter, dead tissue, dead weight. I vehemently disagree that books are being replaced by technology. Books are the most sophisticated piece of technology we have. They don’t require batteries or power cords. You can read them anywhere. They don’t need to be recharged and they don’t interfere with an airplane’s navigational system. They are sturdy and make for excellent doorstops. They also smell nice. Technology’s got nothing on a book and the book knows it. If technology and a book got into a cage match, the book would have technology in a sleeper hold within seconds and technology would pass out from a lack of oxygen. The book would be declared the winner and go home with the ringside girl.
Libraries are great places to work. No one ever gets fired. You can take a nap during your break and no one minds. You can be homeless and no one minds. You could not have showered in days and no one will mind. Libraries are democratic. They accept and embrace all freaks. Books are a freak’s last and only friend. Books make for good company on the bus, subway or late at night in your apartment. They don’t talk back. They shut up when you tell them to. They tell you beautiful things. They bring you to places you have never been. They tell you things you were afraid of admitting to yourself, namely that you’re a middle-aged man who wasted his life in libraries and has nothing to show for it. Books can be scary that way. Books cannot lie. They always tell the truth, no matter how ugly.
Working the exit desk one day, I saw a young boy enter the library. Decades later he exited as an old man. I asked him what he’d seen in the library. He looked at me and said, “Everything.”
The North Tower houses circular shaped books, the South Tower rectangular ones and the East Tower triangular ones. Most literature is circular shaped. Nonfiction is rectangular and textbooks are triangular. When I can’t sleep, I return to the towers. They exist in my dreams. Some of the books contain my dreams, past and future, dreams I have yet to dream but which have been foretold.
The reference desk is on the fourth floor of the South Tower. To get there, ask for a map from the exit attendant. Take the elevator or the stairs to the fourth floor. This will take you to the link. To find the South Tower from the link, you must follow the pattern in the carpet. Someone may or may not be staffing the reference desk. If you cannot find the reference desk, your degree will be revoked. Periodicals are in the sub-level, which is not to be confused with the basement. To get to the sub-level, you must take the stairs. If you reach the basement, you have gone too far. People have been known to get lost in the stairwell. These are known as lost souls. The circulation desk is on the main level. Circulation is the nerve center of the library. It is the one thing in the library that is centrally located and hard to miss. Circulation may or may not let you check out a book based on what your taste in books is, how you dress or what you look like. Circulation reserves the right to refuse service to a patron. On the fifth floor of the North Tower is Library Privileges. Library Privileges is the library’s bouncer, if the library were a nightclub, which it is every other Friday night. Ladies get in free before 10 pm. To qualify for borrowing privileges you must either kill someone or submit to a gang beating. Cataloguing and Book Binding are on the seventh or eighth floors of the East and South Towers. Cataloguing and Book Binding are not important. You don’t need to know where they are. Technology Services are in the wall between the North and South Tower. No one goes to Technology Services unless you want to be ridiculed. If you ever find Technology Services, and if they agree to help you, they will make you feel like a moron.
The stacks converge upon a single point in the center of the tower. If you stand there, it is said that you receive all the knowledge the books have to offer and you will implode. Do not stand in the center of the tower. If you find a book out of place, return it to the appropriate tower. The tower will thank you and order will be restored to the universe. Out of place books create disorder and chaos.
The basement also doubles as a tornado and fallout shelter. It has enough supplies so that a small group of people can live there for ten years at the end of which they will repopulate the ravaged earth. The architect designed the basement with that in mind, so that life could go on after a nuclear disaster and there would be people left to read books. There are plenty of books in the basement to entertain survivors while they wait out the nuclear winter.
The exit desk is where you work. Make sure all the books leaving the library have been properly checked out. This is the most important job in the library. A vigilant exit desk attendant is crucial to a library’s survival. Monitor the patrons entering and leaving the library. To test you, staff members will try to leave with a book that hasn’t been checked out. Sometimes they will hide books in their bags or put a fake slip inside the book. Keep a head count. If someone enters the library and doesn’t leave within ninety days, alert security and a team will search the stacks. At that point, it becomes a recovery mission as human beings cannot live in the stacks for more than thirty days without food or water. Do not let a patron leave the library with a book that hasn’t been checked out. If need be, wrestle that person to the floor and retrieve the book. Send that person to the jail in the basement. The library has a detention facility for people who try to steal books, who eat or drink in the library, who talk too loud on their cell phones, who write in books, or who otherwise disturb the general peace. Unruly patrons can be held in the detention facility for ninety days without trial whereupon they are either released on their own recognizance, referred to campus police or, worse, banned for life from the library. No one wants to be banned from the library.
There is an old wing to the library that not many people know about it. The old wing is beautiful. It looks like a chapel, a place where one comes to worship books. The architect did not like the old wing. He did not like the stained glass windows, the marbled floors, the vaulted ceilings which were, as he put it, a waste of space. So he built the three towers over the old wing, which is no longer visible from the outside. The towers hide the old wing. If you want to see the old wing, you must crawl through a narrow gap between the towers. No one can find the old wing unless a staff member shows you the way and unless you shed twenty pounds to fit through the crawl space. It is well worth the weight loss, though. The old wing is gorgeous. It houses the library’s special and rare collections, which do not circulate. They are not even viewed. They are sad and pretentious books, too beautiful and valuable to behold. They spend eternity in a climate controlled storage unit without any dust. The books are comfortable and well taken care of, but they are lonely. They want people to gaze upon their loveliness, turn their pages and marvel at the intricacy and beauty of their illustrations. One of the books in the old wing is said to be worth ten million dollars. No one has seen this book or confirmed its existence. It is said to lay behind a glass case, on a pressure sensitive plate, wired to the police department. Every week a staff member turns one of its pages to give it the illusion that it is being read. It knows it is not being read, that the staff member is only humoring it. The book is a paradox. Too valuable to be read, it ceases to exist as a book.
One day the library will close. That is inevitable. The university will reallocate the library’s funding to build a new football stadium. There is no need for libraries, a university trustee will say. Libraries are anachronisms, throwbacks to a predigital age, he will say. That trustee will die, mysteriously, in a book-related accident. When the funding runs out, the library’s entrance will be cemented shut with all the books and people inside it. At least the people trapped inside will have something to read. The towers will become a massive tomb, a monument to the written word. People will visit the monument and young children will ask their parents what a book is. The parent will lift up the child and say, “A long time ago, before you were born, there were these things called books.”