The Howson branch on Exposition is running my favorite library swap table right now. For one thing, there still is a swap table there. When what’s now the Austin History Center was the main branch, an important feature was a table where people dropped off the magazines they had read, and also their unwanted store coupons, for others to use. This was a very informal institution and a great favorite. The new main library didn’t have a swap table when it opened, but nearly all branches did. Over time, they’ve been disappearing, or have been placed in obscure locations, or have become exceedingly formalized and not available for direct exchange. By this I mean that magazines are turned in at the checkout desk and thereafter may or may not ever appear on the swap table. Do members of the staff intercept their favorites? Are some rejected as unsuitable? I love Howson because it’s up to the leaver to blot out or tear or cut out subscription labels. I love Howson because leavers donate such a variety of reading material. I love Howson because, before you’ve checked out your books and left, somebody’s already taken some of the magazines that you’ve dropped off and sometimes you even see who’s interested in what you like to read. Howson devotes more space to the printed page and less space to computer tables than many branches do. Howson also retains its glassed-in quiet reading room, apart from the bustle of the main room. Even though it’s possible, through the miracles of modern technology, to reserve a book and have it ready for pickup at the reader’s designated favorite branch, I love the pleasures of library serendipity and get around to every open branch during the course of a year, visiting parts of Austin that I might not otherwise see while carrying on the bureaucracy of daily living.

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