Library Treasure Boxes

I have a collection of tiny boxes in my library. Some small wooden boxes, some made of stones or shells, a tiny lacquered fairy tale box and some nestled boxes. I don’t remember how I began collecting them- maybe because I also make origami treasure boxes with students.


I put a quote on the topic of reading or books inside each box. I don’t tell students about the boxes, but quite often a student will discover them and ask about the little notes inside. I explain that the library is like a great big treasure box full of hidden treasures. I tell them they are welcome to open and read all the quotes in the boxes – but to please put them back.

The library as a treasure box may be my favorite metaphor. There are others, such as the garden (Ranganathan says the library is a living organism) which must be cultivated and weeded in order to grow and thrive.

I think what is appealing about the treasure box metaphor is that a surprise is waiting- hidden. At the door of the physical libraries of the past, the patron entered with an understanding that the highest level of understanding was somewhere nearby waiting to be discovered.

As we move toward searching online for our “information treasures”, the metaphor is dissolving. There is no physical container. There is no treasure box. There is a neverending list of hits- some relevant, some surprising- but all fluid and fleeting.

One may argue that the fixed idea (treasure of meaningful information whether fiction or nonfiction) was simply an illusion. Physical treasure boxes (and buildings) decay and disintegrate. Meaningful ideas changes and evolve. While we humans are alive, everything, both concrete and abstract, is in a state of change- being born, growing, withering, dying.

To believe in the meaning inside a treasure box is to believe in the magic of the moment.  I can remember believing in that kind of treasure as child… reading in a library.

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