Opinion: Thank You, Wilson Library

Libraries helped me get to where I am today in my academic journey.

by Abdulrahman Bindamnan

Following this year’s Thanksgiving season, I want to thank the Wilson Library for being my ‎favorite place at the University of Minnesota.

When we want to pray, we go to the ‎church, mosque, synagogue, tumble or a room ‎designated for prayer. When we want to dance, we go to clubs, ‎or, for those with a wild spirit, on the street. When we want to ‎engage in scholarship, we go to the most sanctuary place on earth: the library. ‎In an era where books are banned and authors are threatened, ‎I’ll reflect on how the library has played a significant role in my life.

I used to hate the library and avoided it like the plague. I even resented library goers, seeing them as ‎nerds who possessed no social skills whatsoever and as people with whom I would never ‎hang out. Even worse, ‎I saw the library as a place of first-rate boredom. Reading books in the library was never on my agenda. But all of that has changed.

When I was in high school in Yemen, I decided to take my ‎school seriously because I did not want to live there anymore. ‎The war was destroying everything, and I needed to get the hell out of the country. It was in the last year of high school that I ‎became a devout library goer, reading and studying to secure a ‎competitive scholarship to pursue higher education abroad. ‎There were limited seats for students to secure a fully-funded scholarship. The competition was fierce.

I grew up in a house of books, though that upbringing did not have any influence on my reading habits. My father was an avid and voracious reader. He had his own ‎library in our house, where he would read books with extreme ‎regularity. He was a devout man. Although he was trying to seduce me to read, I never committed to reading. But the war forced me to invest in books. I couldn’t go outside to play, so I had to find books that would intrigue my fickle attention. I soon ‎became like my father, conscripting myself to the library.

Partly due to time spent in the library and partly due to luck, I ‎secured a scholarship to pursue my higher education in the United States. Ever since, I continued my library-going tradition. I often say I have a reading ‎disorder, for which I blame the library. ‎I also welcome anyone who feeds into my addiction by recommending must-read books. Readers go about reading for different purposes. I read to learn and unlearn. I do not have the luxury to read for mere pleasure. I often find myself facing problems in my own life, and I read books to solve those problems.

Although I used to read books and articles online, I recently ‎shifted to the old-school approach, where I request books from ‎the library to conduct my research. What I discovered may sound simple, profound or both: reading physical books ‎have a particular feeling, unattained by reading on screen. ‎There is something about the shape of the book and the dignity of the place that conspire to make for a transfixing reading experience. It is all pure psychological effects because knowledge is the same, whether reading online or in the library.

Since I hail from the precarious country of Yemen, ‎where libraries are bombed, I have found the library a privilege in ‎disguise. It is a place where I can meet the great minds of the past and learn from them. Without the library, I would not be at the ‎University of Minnesota pursuing my doctorate degree. Many people like me do not even enter college, let alone graduate from one. ‎Most of my friends are high school dropouts, who are now ‎swamped by the Yemen crisis. I was lucky to leave, and the ‎library has been central to that development. ‎

Heartfelt thanks to all libraries the world over.

Abdulrahman Bindamnan is a PhD student as an Interdisciplinary Scholar for Global Social Change at the University of Minnesota. He achieved an MSEd from the University of ‎Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and a BA from the ‎University of Miami.