I have worked in the music library as a Student Library Assistant for approximately 4 years now. I find an incredible solitude in this space, whether I am being paid to work or I am doing my own work. There are essentially four different tasks that I work on at the library: circulation desk (less so during this pandemic), shelving, searching, and shifting. I think there is a relation between the solitude that can be felt in the library and these tasks themselves.
The solitude of shelving, shifting or searching for items in the stacks could be described as a balancing or levelling out of an “inside” (thoughts, feelings, affects, etc.) and an “outside” (reading, locating, each physical action etc.). The first levelling of these ___- sides is, of course, music. Some of my best and most enjoyable listening occurs when I am working in the stacks. The music in my headphones is an externality to me that becomes my inside, and reciprocally, becomes my outside again, coordinated with the task I am working on—some kind of colloquial-serial-dance that no one actually does, because the inside and outside are just clones of each other, dancing and not-dancing, moving and not-moving.
And so, the relation between this solitude and the tasks is some kind of textual dance that we are (not) doing right now (my-writing-your-reading). More seriously, this same play of “inside” and “outside” is fundamental to what the library is and each of the aforementioned tasks have specifically different relations to this more general function.
We should begin with the circulation desk: the clunk of books dropping into the returns bin; the bell, to both awaken one from their (dogmatic)(barcoding) slumber, as well as to signal the taking place of this awakening…; belligerent beeping of the security gates when the inside/outside threshold is transgressed; etc. The circulation desk mediates the inside/outside.
Hidden just passed the circulation desk, the inner side of the inside/outside, is shelving. The task of shelving is to return items to their place on the inside of the library. But this is an inside beyond the mere dropping of an item into the returns bin. This is a plastic inside that can and does change with each interaction and is dependent on the placement of each singular item alongside each other. Of course, each item has its own call number, but this does not preclude the possibility of an item becoming lost on the outside of the inside…
Searching is the task that seeks this lost outside within the stacks—the outer side of the inner side of the inside/outside. When I am searching I am no longer within the serial matrix of call numbers, but on its margins, a free agent wo/andering. For instance, if an item is not in its home, M1030, perhaps it is at M130, or M103. But even these suggested procedures for searching are ad hoc. If an item is set deeply enough within this outside it is as difficult to recover as a correctly placed item is easy to locate. The outside that I am searching through/on/for is the magnitude of the inside of the stacks at its outermost limit.
Shifting is also set right at this outermost limit of the inside, but rather than looking towards the outside it is faced inwards: shifting is a view of the inside from the outer side of the inside/outside. What is being shifted is in fact the inside.
This colloquial—serial—dance between inside/outside doesn’t just happen in the music library, of course. And no one ever dances it! Working at the music library is a dance that dances itself for you. The solitude that I so much enjoy (t)here is simultaneously a form of community that satisfies itself, alone-together, together-apart.