I'm sitting in a library in Portland, Oregon.
Actually I'm sitting in Ledding Library, which is in Milwaukie. I live in Milwaukie too, but I live so close to the line that if you address a letter to me you can write either Milwaukie or Portland on the envelope and the letter will reach me. I'm thinking the founding fathers (and mothers, if applicable) of “The Dogwood City of the West” (birthplace of the Bing cherry!) might wax peevish about that, but I'm assuming none are around to ask.
I love libraries. I love the relative hush of them (I say 'relative', because is it just here, or have people everywhere abandoned the habit of whispering in libraries? In my youth you ran the risk of having your gob smacked with the nearest periodical for talking at volume, yet some of the biggest moufs to be found these days belong to library staff!). I love to stroll the stacks in search of nothing specific and just let serendipity lead me to my choices, perhaps relaxing in a comfy chair afterward if I have time and no schedule to mind. Ledding Library is a quite nice place to hang, and if you want to take a break from your quaint and curious volumes, or you've roused from your nap (as is the case with the guy sitting by the window behind me), you may pause to step out to feed the ducks over by the sign that demands you not feed the ducks.
THE library is the Central Library in downtown Portland. A grand, echo-y building that is, a place that demands studiousness and shutting the Hell up. Wander those stacks with reverence, work those thighs and calves to explore every floor, every shelf. Maybe it's just me, but I think libraries like this one should be approached as one would a church. You don't play hide-and-seek in a church, now do you? Well, this is Portland, so perhaps some people do. Of course some people do.
Now, a personal opinion: Bookstores shouldn't be like libraries.
Libraries are about preserving, archiving, sharing. Bookstores are about commerce, selling the written (and these days the spoken) word, and all the wares associated with it. New glossy covers, and posters of the movies made from, or at least “inspired by”, popular novels, and coffee cups, and t-shirts, and all manner of kuh-nick kuh-nacks featuring titles and artwork of said popular novels. Bookstores should have the atmosphere of the bazaar, you should expect to see a fez here and there.
You aren't going to find that atmosphere at a mall bookstore. How weird is that? The mall bookstores I've visited are meek little stalls with chin-high prissy-neat little shelves and one counter behind which bored glum cashiers dwell. Bah. Go instead to Powell's City of Books. That's a bookstore, one whole city block of a bookstore! Serious, girthsome bookshelves, the top tiers of which threaten nosebleeds. Busy and sometimes cranky staff (watch out for that guy stationed near the Bibles!). Waves of book seekers surging through the aisles, creating hipster eddies and scholarly undertows. I was trapped in an aisle for twenty minutes once, when a herd of sci-fi fans sealed both ends. I survived by keeping my hands at my sides and averting my eyes from any new titles, lest I be perceived as a threat.
One of the best things about Powell's is the many many well-loved, lived-in books. Yeah, the shiny new ones are there and prominently displayed, but those volumes and tomes haven't lived lives in other hands. I dig finding notes in the margins, the passages that engaged a prior reader so much that he or she painted them with Hi-Liter, the bindings and covers softened by time and attention. This is a bit odd, given that I tend to treat my own books as if they'll detonate at the least crease. Perhaps it's because I value the culture of reading even more than the books themselves, and the readers who loved a book and sent it off to live with others who love them too.
I may own an e-reader one day. I may have to. I doubt I'll love it.