[The previous essays in this series are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.]

     [*In (early) honor of National Library Week (April 7-13), and with special appreciation to the extraordinary librarians of the Pence Law Library of the American University Washington College of Law.*]

     Around 20 years ago, Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) told interviewer Sam Weller:

     “I am a librarian.  I discovered me in the library.  I went to find me in the library.  When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week to educate myself.  I did this every week for ten years, and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done.  So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven.  I discovered that the library is the real school.”

     In the introduction to the fortieth edition of his classic Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Bradbury recalled that he wrote its precursor (the 1950 novella, The Fireman) on the UCLA Library’s coin-operated typewriters:

     “I cannot possibly tell you what an exciting adventure it was. . . . Day after day, attacking that rentable machine, shoving dimes, pounding away like a crazed chimp, rushing upstairs to fetch more dimes, running in and out of the stacks, pulling books, scanning pages, breathing the finest pollen in the world, book dust, with which to develop literary allergies.  Then racing back down blushing with love, having found some quote here, another there to shove or tuck into my burgeoning myth.”

     That novel (which, according to Weller, was “the only book of his own that Ray considered science fiction”; and which for many reasons could also be called prescient fiction) featured a near-future wartime (against an unnamed adversary) United States whose residents are continually distracted and narcotized by “TV walls” in their homes, and by “seashell” devices babbling in their ears. 

     Now that all houses have been constructed to be fireproof, the mission of firemen is to destroy privately- (and secretly-)held books. As a captain explains to fireman Montag, their job completes the widespread movement that rendered popular content inoffensive to any demographic group: “[W]e’re the Happiness Boys. . . . We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought.” 

     (Not that even a higher tide would necessarily reach the shallows: an academic later reminds Montag that “the firemen are rarely necessary.  The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. . . So few want to be rebels any more.”)

     However, Montag ultimately concludes that “Somewhere the saving and putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people’s heads, any way at all so long as [the content] was safe. . . . The world was full of burning of all types and sizes.  Now the guild of the asbestos-weaver must open shop very soon.”

     Of his inspiration for this book, Bradbury told Weller that “I remember seeing newsreel footage of the Nazis burning books in the streets.” 

     According to a collection of his other interviews, Bradbury said (in 1991) that his work had been a reaction to “book burnings in Russian and China over a period of time; and Hitler’s book-burning in Germany; and the history of the burning of libraries at Alexandria—two by accident, I believe, and one on purpose.  Thousands of volumes lost.  And since I’m a library person and I’ve grown up in libraries and been educated by them and never made it to college, the library, to me, is central to my life.” 

     Two years later, he added that when he wrote the novel, “I was angry at (Senator Joseph) McCarthy and the people before him. . . I was angry about the blacklisting and the Hollywood 10.  I was a $100-a-week screenwriter, but I wasn’t scared—I was angry.”  (In a 1953 essay for The Nation magazine, “Day After Tomorrow: Why Science Fiction?”, Bradbury wrote, “When the wind is right, a faint odor of kerosene is exhaled from Senator McCarthy.”)

    Bradbury’s support for public libraries extended beyond fundraising (in a 2002 interview, he said, “I’ve lectured at more than ninety-five libraries in Southern California in the last five years to raise funds for them. They’re the center of our lives”), to drawing up designs for them. 

    Weller’s The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury (2005) notes that his vision included:

     “a children’s library in a subbasement accessible by a slide (as well as a more practical elevator for those unwilling or unable to slide in).  Masks would hang on the sides of the tall stacks of books.  When touched, they would light up and speak the subjects in that aisle: ‘Aisle 7: Dinosaurs to Egypt,’ for example.  Ray believed that the modern library had lost its mystery, forgotten its imagination.  New libraries were too cold, too bright, too impersonal.  He maintained that a library should have pools of good light for reading, but they should also have shadowy areas in which the mind and body could wander and get lost.”

     Indeed, his “dark fantasy” novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) includes a scene both shadowy and sinister in a small Illinois town’s “library, . . . at seven-fifteen, seven-thirty, seven forty-five of a Sunday night, cloistered with great drifts of silence and transfixed avalanche of books poised like the cuneiform stones of eternity on shelves, so high the unseen snows of time fell all year there. . .

     “All the books, he thought, perched there, hundreds of years old, peeling skin, leaning on each other like ten million vultures.  Walk along the dark stacks and all the gold titles shine their eyes at you. . . .”

     Bradbury’s own papers and books are now entrusted to The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), whose webpage indicates that the collection includes “printed comic strips from his youth.”

     In a valuable example to anyone planning, starting, or building her own library, Bradbury told Weller that:

     “When I was nine, Buck Rogers came into the world. October 1929, at the start of the Depression.  And I took a look at one single panel of Buck Rogers and I was hooked on the future.  I began to collect the Buck Rogers panels.  And all the kids in the fifth grade made fun of me.  There was no future.  We weren’t going to build rocketships.  We weren’t going to the moon.  We weren’t going to Mars.  How stupid for me to do what I did.

     “Well, I listened to them and I tore up my Buck Rogers comic strips.  It’s the worst thing I ever did.  Three days later, I started to cry. . . . I went back to collecting Buck Rogers, and I’ve never listened to one damn fool after that.  Best lesson I ever had. . . .

     “Since that experience, I’ve collected comic strips all my life.”

     Of course, the ultimate personal library is, as detailed in Fahrenheit 451, one’s internalization of information, not necessarily by literal memorization (resulting in “bums on the outside, libraries inside”) but by integrating it into one’s own perspectives and philosophies.

      And the ultimate public library is an inclusive and welcoming community of those who have done the same (“We are all bits and pieces of history and literature and international law”).   

     In a similar manner, Robert S. Pirsig’s incomparable intellectual autobiography, Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (1974) asserts that:

     “The real University is a state of mind.  It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location.  It’s a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University.  The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself.”

     By that standard, Ray Bradbury, though he “never made it to college,” would certainly qualify as an esteemed member of the real University’s faculty.

     ● I have recommended that entering law students “visit the law library and introduce yourself to the reference librarians, who are among any law school’s unsung heroes”; and that, early in their time on campus, students inquire about (among other topics) the availability of interlibrary loans; online access through the library to national and local newspapers; and “at least the basics of how to use the library’s online catalog to find books and articles.”

     Another suggestion: “browse in the library’s ‘stacks,’ particularly those corresponding to the areas of law you’re interested in.  Just as in a good used bookstore, you might be surprised at what you discover, and one book or topic could even change your life [as Pirsig’s book did for me].”  (See also here.)

   In the pathways both of libraries and of life, I agree (as I believe Ray Bradbury himself would have) with the observation of another master fantasist:

     “Not all those who wander are lost.

     [To quote the main character of his Dandelion Wine (1957), my own All-Time Favorite Book: Mr. Bradbury, “wherever you are, you’re thanked, you’re paid back, I passed it on, I sure did, I think I passed it on. . . .”]