If the University of Georgia did not have a library, we may not have been blessed with R.E.M. or the B-52s. Its true. Or at least that is part of the thesis forwarded by Grace Elizabeth Hale in her new book; Cool Town – How Athens Georgia Launched the Alternative Music Scene and Changed American Culture. For many music fans like myself, and more notably fans of R.E.M. and the B-52s we can all agree that the world is a better place because these bands had access to what the library contained. Here is how the story goes. Fred Schneider would go to the UGA Library and check out microfilms, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson would listen to old Motown records and read fashion magazines from the 1950s, Michael Stipe would read about art movements and Bill Berry would check out old bluegrass records. These artifacts would allow kids who were living in rural Georgia to dream about a life of high fashion, intelligent music, and what it meant to be cool.
See, back in the day most libraries did not require you show your ID at the door for access. These palaces of information contained all sorts of resources essentially open to the public. Add to them a great campus bookstore and the opportunities were endless. I love a good campus library or bookstore. Blindfold me and drop me in any one of them in the country and I can tell you I am there basically from the smell. The smell of books is intoxicating, and I usually feel smarter just by entering into the location. Book stores are a combination of paper and coffee so its about the same.
As a college student I would go to Joyner Library on the East Carolina campus and just get lost for hours and hours. I would dig into old sporting news magazines from the 1960s, get lost in the stacks thinking about reading up on African Kingdoms or a good how-to book. We had a section where newspapers from all over the world were delivered daily and I could read the New York Times or the Melbourne Australia paper. Joyner allowed you to check our VHS tapes and they had an entire Ingrid Bergman collection. There was a listening room that had thousands of albums; some great like Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and some odd like 16 Great Party Polka Hits from 1958. There were nooks where you could get lost and study and there was always the urban legend of the best places to make out or more.
The campus bookstore was an equally awesome oasis. Bring in your bag, meet some friends and grab a coffee at the coffee shop along with a sandwich and you can get caught up on the intellectual business of the day. The campus bookstore had that interesting new best seller and school supplies! Pens with every kinds of ink delivery and hand grip and cool moleskin notebooks. Of course, the text book aisles were the cornerstone and allowed you to go seeking that perfectly annotated textbook for class, however, too much highlighting was distracting. You purchased the textbook for $74 and sold it back in a few months for $4. And then there was the gear. My bookstores had campus gear for gameday you could not find anywhere else. From sweet cups for tailgating to that new Nike sweatshirt you always overpaid to look great.
And therefore, I love both of these stops on campus. Bookstores and Libraries give you an outlet to the world beyond your college campus borders. For many this may be the only outlet for art and sophisticated ideas. While universities are increasingly becoming metropolitan, and the internet has brought libraries and bookstores to the edge of obsolescence we need to remember these institutions of ideas. Look, I am glad we have no longer limited information to student IDs and location, after all the difference in living in Greenville, North Carolina and Rocky Mount, North Carolina were striking. But there are plenty of reasons to keep the bookstore and the library alive.
First, we need a place where people can gather and learn in independence from the classroom. The library allowed for self-paced learning and discovery. The stacks were like Netflix cue. The titles were endless, and they all sounded awesome. The bookstore was where I would go to find my friends and I hope that still happens from time to time. If you had a group project to work on the coffee shop was the place. Bottom line is these spaces matter to the culture of a campus and the culture of a town. Who knows what we would have missed if they were never here?