Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving at the Ventura College Library

In just two months, from last September (I needed to have proper ID first, through my driver's license), I've gone from having only the Green Valley Library on N. Green Valley Parkway in Henderson, Nevada, to reveling in having regular access to two libraries: The E.P. Foster library in downtown Ventura (part of the Ventura County library system), and the Ventura College Library, formally known as the Evelyn and Howard Boroughs Library. The latter library is the object of my most current fervent desire.

My sister and I went there last Tuesday, walking up to an enormous, grayish structure, the outside of which always reminds me of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Just the way one part of the building curves around in gray and red. The Ventura College Library has almost the same feature, except that curving features long windows, and what looks like criss-crossing pipes.

At the automatic double doors that open onto the HUGE computer lab at the left, and in front of the stairs that go to the library on the second floor, there was a notice on the window next to the doors that said the library would be open on Monday, November 20 from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Tuesday, November 21 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., both days without a librarian available. I'd say that's ok as long as someone's there to check out books that anyone might want. I don't have to go again for a while anyway since I have my five, which is the limit not only for "community members" like me, as stated in the policies, but also for students, which I was surprised to learn because I figured that they would have unlimited access during the academic year. Go figure.

Under those hours on the notice was the announcement that the library would be closed from Wednesday through Sunday (it's normally closed on Sundays anyway, except for during the summer, when it's closed from Friday through Sunday).

After I read that, I needed a minute before we walked in to go up the stairs. I had never felt such envy in a long time. If only I could have access to the library then, which I know is impossible since I don't have any association with the people who could make it happen, and even then I don't think it would happen.

I'm just thinking about it in my imagination: The entire campus empty (it's an unassuming, small campus that isn't concerned with much on a given day), and the library completely empty except me and all those books.

When you walk in, there's the librarian's desk, big and round and can easily be at home on any starship. To the immediate right is the leisure reading sections, which are good for being surprising once in a while. Back in September, when I could finally get my Ventura College library card after we had gotten our driver's licenses in Santa Paula (with the same numbers that we had left behind after we moved to Las Vegas), I knew that the library had a copy of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, which I had wanted to read since it was published in March, but was stymied by there being so many holds on the copies the Henderson Libraries had. Finally, I would have my chance. And I did, thanks to that leisure reading section.

Lately, my sister wanted to read Endurance, the memoir by astronaut Scott Kelly, and she was waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a copy to reach her in the Ventura County library system. Still waiting, when we went to the college library. After we returned the books, we went to the leisure reading section, as we always do, and while she was looking on those shelves to see if there was anything really new, I found a copy of Endurance sitting on top of the stacks. She was overjoyed when I showed it to her.

But generally, having been with this library in the past two months, the leisure reading section is generally anemic. Not that I expect them to get every single new title that comes out that I want to read, but you'll find much of the same stuff sitting atop the stacks, soon after moved to the shelves below, but not much there that could be exciting to have found or bumped into. Granted, Lied Library at the University of Nevada Las Vegas always had a phenomenal leisure reading section, but it's in that memory that I have to be aware: That was a university library. University. Seemingly endless budget. Ventura College is a community college in a small town. Much smaller. The population is smaller. The college has to scrape and snarl and growl for a bigger budget from the legislature in Sacramento. Not everything is going to be so readily available or so immediately fascinating as it was at Lied Library. However, beyond wishing for a few more intriguing titles in the leisure reading section, Lied Library's selections didn't make a difference to me anyway because I never went to that library often. Yes, I could have gotten there if it was one of my family's weekend errands, but the traffic to get to Maryland Parkway every time usually wasn't worth it. And then, I would have had to keep close watch on when the books were due, knowing that there would be a three-week limit and only two renewals allowed. Then it would always have been on a weekend because Dad worked during the week, and so did me and my sister for that matter. But yes, I do wish that the Ventura College Library had all five volumes of the Collected Works of William Howard Taft, like Lied Library has. Nevertheless, it's ok that it doesn't.

But now, I can get to the college library whenever I want. All it takes is a ride on the 6 bus across from the Government Center (or the 10 or 21 if they show up before the 6. I'm only ever concerned about getting on the 6 if I'm going to the Foster library in downtown Ventura) and it pulls right up at the corner, across from the library. All I have to do is get up and walk a few yards to the entrance. There it is, all for me. It's a fair trade-off from Lied Library, which, until that final farewell visit before we moved back to Southern California, I hadn't been to in months anyway.

On the right side of the library is the reference stacks, and there are a few culinary history volumes I'd want to read a bit of if I had the library all to myself during those Thanksgiving-fueled days. I know I can't possibly read all the books the library has, not with 63,529 books, nor would I expect to. But just to be among them, to be able to feel free to wander as I wish.

Right now, I've decided to dig into philosophy, and instead of one of those overview books that profiles the major philosophers, and even not-so-major but still notable for one thing or another, I'm picking at the philosophy section in the college library at random, whatever catches my eye.

On Tuesday, it was the Second Series of Jiddu Krishnamurti's Commentaries on Living, since the library doesn't have the first volume. It's him talking with people from all walks of life, and it looked interesting enough to me. Depending on how it is, I may go back next time for the third volume (I know exactly what it is), or go at random again and see what I come up with.

I can't stand that I can't be in that library during those days, but I will definitely be there in my imagination. There are World War II books I haven't even touched yet, as well as Stephen Ambrose's biography The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. There are the Civil War books I might dip into, as well as some general books on the American presidency that I just found on my last visit.

And that's not even getting into the literature sections, with all their attendant letters, short stories, and so many novels that I guarantee are truly discoveries, a lot of obscurities on those shelves. You won't find any hype on those shelves, and that's how I like it for my own browsing.

It's just the thought that here I am, educating myself, on a college campus but without having to be of a college campus. I love college and university campuses anyway, and lived for Fridays at 3:50 p.m. when I was a student at College of the Canyons in Valencia, California. That time marked the end of my cinema class for the week and the campus was very nearly empty, so I could walk its lengths for a little while, feeling like I owned it.

To have the Ventura college library to myself for those days would be paradise. And I know exactly where my next books are, starting from those and moving on to whatever captivates me next. Pure bliss.