Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Things You Didn't Know You Missed: The Stacks

The stacks. It's something most youth don't even know.  The "stacks" where unknown to me until I went to USC. Those stacks are long gone now. As are the stacks at the NYC Library (although the  main stacks in NYC were never open to the public).

So, what are "the stacks"?  The stacks are the shelves of library books, laid out for your discovery and perusal. To me, the stacks are a unique type of shelving. Where the roofs are low and the books are dense (at USC they were 7 ft tall - almost 2 stack levels to a physical "floor" of a building).

A user would look up in an index where a book was shelved using the Dewey decimal system (link), which was a relative system, that is books were grouped together by topic. So you could enter to find a history of California, and around you were histories of other states and the occasional deep dive into a city.

You could get lost in the stacks, let your brain wander from topic to topic. And, since the stacks are like Vegas, with no outside light or clocks, you easily lost track of time. I remember more than once stepping out of the stacks after midnight (when I was in college, the USC stacks didn't really close until super late / early).

In the age of Google and Wikipedia, libraries are out of fashion. They have been redone as "spaces" mainly to use computers. I get it, progress is great. But the magic of the stacks, stumbling on hidden gems, books forgotten and discovered, the smell and quiet, these will be lost to new generations.

Too bad. It was very very cool.

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