The Library is the Night Sky

There has been a synchronistic cluster of newsworthy cosmic events in the past two months that led me to this post.

On January 12, pop culture and music icon–and one of my favorite artists–David Bowie died. I heard the news first thing that morning but it was not until much later, in the quietest part of my day, did I feel its gravity. Shortly after Bowie fell from earth after a battle with cancer, a lightning bolt-shaped constellation was identified in his honor.

By Jean-Luc Ourlin. Uploaded by Auréola. (originally posted to Flickr as David Bowie) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
On January 19, five planets were visible to the naked eye in the dawn twilight. I really wanted to see this planetary queue but I am never willfully conscious that early. I hoard every ounce of sleep until my husband and son thunder into our room at 7:30 AM. Reading about it almost convinced me to peel myself out of bed. Almost.

On January 29, I noticed in my Twitter feed that on the anniversary of the Challenger tragedy an all-female American space crew started a month-long training for an asteroid investigation mission. I love that women are finally getting the opportunities they deserve in this male-dominated right-stuff field (earlier in the month,

Russia launched a training mission

with a potentially moon-bound all-female crew). This piece of news also caught my attention because I remember the Challenger disaster: the explosion, the shocked silence, the somber television footage, and how everyone around me whispered we would remember this day the way our parents remembered the day President Kennedy was assassinated (I don’t; what I do remember is feeling confused and sad, and trying to understand it as best as a 10-year-old can).

Then there was the breaking news on February 12: Physicists detected gravitational sound waves from “two black holes colliding a billion light-years away”, confirming part of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. We can even listen to the actual sound. What? Mind. Blown.

By NASA/CXC/A.Hobart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Probably because we were both so wide-eyed over the gravitational sound wave news, on February 13, my husband was finally able to convince me to watch the movie Interstellar. This 2014 release takes on space exploration, black holes, relativity and earth’s demise; it weaves those subjects around two families’ legacy. The story and its characters get under your skin, and linger there for a good long time. We had to watch it in two sittings, because of its length and its intensity. I am so glad for my husband’s quiet persistence (his pitch–it is a movie about family more than a movie about space) because watching Interstellar changed me. I cried so hard over it my throat was sore the next day.

It was starting to feel as if the cosmos was trying to tell me something. And not just to find readable books on relativity (do they exist?). Maybe it was telling me to tell you all something.

Something like this: In the beginning of February, I told Pleasant Hill Library’s Senior Community Library Manager, Patrick Remer, that I would start working on my “Library as a Metaphor” contribution. It was Friends’ president, Susan Weaver, who first approached me about contributing to the Library Task Force series developed, Patrick explained, because:

The Library Task Force Outreach Subcommittee agreed that we needed video content and that short, sharable videos were the best way to foster excitement and dialogue about the purpose and importance of libraries. In the spirit of libraries as a democratic forum, it made sense to me to involve the public in creating these. I had already imagined the Library as a Treehouse video, and it occurred to me that a simple hook like “come up with a metaphor” was an unintimidating but creative way to invite a variety of library lovers to participate and share their voice.

When I let the “Library as a Metaphor” idea simmer in my brain’s back burner, not much boiled up. I kept stirring the pot and only one idea kept floating to the surface: the library as the night sky.

To me, both the library and the night sky are dynamic and transportive. The night sky–and our experiencing and understanding of it–are always evolving and transforming, and in that constant evolution we ourselves transform. The night sky is fascinating, engaging. The night sky is both accessible and limitless, physical and cerebral. When I turn my gaze upward, no matter where I am, I am immediately pulled out of myself and delivered into a deep expanse that fills me with gratitude, humility, and mindfulness. It’s like the softening I feel when I walk through a library’s door.

Experiencing the night sky is about perspective. We turn to it to wonder, contemplate and meditate about ourselves, our history and legacy, the universe and our position within it. It is a place of questions and answers, a place of illuminating discoveries. It is a place where we seek and investigate. The night sky, like the library, is a magical place of possibility. It is a window to the other worldly. It is space.

It is space.

In and around ourselves, as individuals and as a community. Space for our individual curiosity and our collective inquiry. Space to journey and learn. The night sky is a destination. It is exciting. It is quietly powerful. It is cosmic.

The library is the night sky.

As I was drafting my metaphor and this post, my husband pointed me to an LA Times article about Planet Nine, published on January 20, a piece of cosmic news that slipped under my radar. This planet is thought to be “ten times more massive than the Earth” and exist in the outer reaches of our solar system, “banished to the interplanetary boonies” as the article’s author, Amina Khan, phrased it, with a “20,000-year-long orbit” around the sun. It not visible to our telescopes, yet. Scientists suspect it exists because of how it impacts objects around it; they are studying “its gravitational fingerprint”. This massive, way-out-there, invisible planet is likened to a shepherd, guiding the objects and planets around it. Planet Nine, it seems, has been keeping the rest of our solar system stable.

By Tomruen; background taken from File:ESO – Milky Way.jpg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
It strikes me that our community library is like Planet Nine in some ways. It keeps a low profile, but its impact in our community is quietly remarkable. Librarians shepherd patrons toward discoveries of every size and shape. If you think about it, our library keeps our community stable through its best and most fundamental service: connectivity. And all we have to do is fix our gaze on the nearest librarian as we walk through the library’s door to be transported anywhere in the universe.


The library is the night sky. And we are all astronauts.



Originally published: March 2, 2016

%d bloggers like this: