I’m not sure if it was the unfortunate reputation Utah Valley University carries, even among some of its own students, as a glorified baby-sitting service for twenty-somethings too mischievous for Brother Brigham’s academic fold. Maybe I was still infected with an iota of residual snobbery, left over from my own personal days as a True Blue Cougar. Or, perhaps, facing the twilight of my twenties, my sense of optimism had dried up, shriveled and turned completely black. Whatever the reason, when I walked through the doors of UVU’s library for the first time, I assumed that I was merely gaining access to a coffee shop with four floors of Hardy Boys novels above it.
I was disappointed to find that my negative assumptions were erroneous. Disappointed because, for a writer, it’s always easier to tear something or someone down than to mete out praise. Writers are a black-hearted, usually-not-very-photogenic race of trolls. To a writer, complaining is a natural as any of the nastier bodily functions.
But, doling out praise – now there’s a challenge, on par with snatching Hippolyta’s girdle. Especially when it’s deserved. And Utah Valley University’s library, small though it may be, deserves some praise. It probably deserves more than many of our school’s bibliophiles might initially give it. And it definitely deserves more than I initially suspected.
I went into the UVU Library armed with a collection of lists: The Guardian’s list of the 100 greatest non-fiction books; The Telegraph’s list of novels that everyone should read; Time Magazine’s Top 100 novels of all time; for added measure I even printed off Esquire’s 75 books that every man should read and Jezebel’s 75 books that every woman should read for good measure. They include works like The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James; Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel about the Iranian Revolution; The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Frequently banned books like Slaughterhouse-Five and A Clockwork Orange; and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.
These titles are by not completely authoritative, at least not in the authoritative sense of that word. Moreover, between the lists there are overlaps. However, for anyone seeking a well-rounded education, regardless of major, vocation or future intentions, these lists are a pretty good start. They comprise the first few forays into what is hopefully a continuous lifelong exploration of humanity in all of it’s beautiful and disgusting forms. You should probably read at least a couple of them – maybe more. Yes, I’m talking to you. And you. And you.
The good news is that while UVU’s Library does not have all of these titles, they do have most of them. All at your disposal. And here’s some even better news for those of you who were born in the midst of the internet age and therefore might not know how libraries function: if you are a student at UVU, you can take these books and leave with them and go home and read them at your leisure for free ninety-free, as long as you promise to bring them back by a certain time. That’s right. For the same price as a glass of tap water at your best friend’s house, you can read most of the books on this list and a whole slew of volumes beyond that.
This is something that you should all be taking advantage of all the time.
You should take advantage of the library’s resources because reading enriches your life and if you’re reading this it means you are a student or a member of the faculty at an institution of higher learning and it’s kind of your job to read. So get you used to it. You should take advantage of the library’s resources because they are pretty rich. You should take advantage of the library resources here at UVU because, here at UVU, we actually get to read the books in our library without the fear, real, imagined, or self-imposed, of reprisal or punishment. Unlike other universities.
Let me explain.
Before I was a Wolverine, I was a Cougar. I was a Cougar who studied English, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the hardest majors at Brigham Young University. And it’s not difficult because of the workload. And it’s not difficult because of a particularly hard nosed faculty member or members. And it certainly isn’t difficult due to a lack of reading materials.
It’s difficult because of the people.
Earning an English degree at BYU is difficult because every year some puritanical weirdo wants to ban the poetry of Lord Byron from the curriculum, since he writes vaguely about sex. It’s difficult because when you visit a professor’s office, you’ll see scads of books that they won’t teach for fear that the students will complain about the curriculum content enough to get them fired. It’s difficult because for whatever reason, be it hegemony or holier-than-thou attitude, there are more than a few students who don’t read anything beyond their scriptures, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and the bare requirements of their syllabus.
Based on these and several other experiences in voluntary illiteracy, it’s not hard, by any stretch, to imagine that the Harold B. Lee Library, a nationally renowned university library, ranked #1 by The Princeton Review in 2004 and featuring over 98 miles of shelving and over 6 million items, is going underused by the average Cougar.
We at UVU do not have 98 miles of shelving. We don’t have nearly 6 million items. In fact, if you want to know the truth, we have more volumes in the Children’s Collection than we do in the Law Collection. We do not nearly have as good of a library as Brother Brigham does. But we have a pretty good one. And, hopefully, if we take full advantage of it, it will eventually grow into a great library. After all, in addition to lacking a large amount of tomes, we also don’t have a pervasive, pernicious air of anti-intellectualism, which, either through willful ignorance or fear of the honor code, somehow prevents college students from reading books.
What’s better? A giant library no one wants to use, or a small library that everyone uses?
Get in there. Read things. Stay until closing just reading. Search for more things. If they don’t have them, ask for them. Demand them. Help our pretty good library become a pretty great library. Be grateful for your intellectual freedoms and exercise them every day. Because if you don’t use them, you really do lose them. So hold onto them. By the way, the best way to hold onto them is to hold onto the front and back cover of an open book.
Go you Wolverines.