To be clear I’m no Luddite. I’m sitting in my kitchen writing this on my Mac while my iPad plays Baroque music in the background. In the living room my iPod is sitting loaded up with podcasts, while my HP laptop waits patiently for me to use it again. I’m a huge fan of technology and eagerly await the advances that are surely around the next corner, yet there are some changes that I’m now willing to accept only after some initial kicking and screaming. The idea that libraries are now digital media centers goes against everything I know and love about these sacred houses of books.
As I pulled into the library parking lot yesterday, I was a little stunned to see it full. Our library opens at 10am with the first couple of hours being quiet, having just a few die-hard patrons and the handful of unfortunate homeless, enjoying the peace and quiet and comfort of the soft library chairs. Obviously there was an event taking place that I did not know about. Was it a book sale? Was the library hosting an author? Turns out what was going on had nothing to do with books.
This became evident as I walked through the doors. Sure enough, it was the usual 10am crowd that greeted my senses. I watched as the older men hurried with their selections, not wanting to waste a single moment of their lives, as only those who understand the preciousness of time will do. I smelled the young homeless man, who didn’t just smell of wood smoke, he reeked of it as if he had slept in a fire not next to it. What I didn’t see were the people whose cars filled the lot.
After I returned my books using the automatic chute, there’s very little human contact anymore in the library, I walked over to a librarian who was busy stacking books and asked her what was going on, where were all the people? She told me the library’s new Media Center had just opened and everyone was upstairs learning about the new computers and video game consoles, would I like to go up there?
I said no, in my best haughty voice “I’m here to check out books”. She just smiled and went back to shelving. My favorite library Sandy had heard our quick exchange and walked over to me. “Sari times are changing, welcome to the new library. The new digital library, where you can make a movie, learned about spreadsheets, print out a poster, change your VHS tapes to DVDs and of course surf the web. Anything that you can do on a computer you can do here for free”.
I mentally fell on the floor kicking and screaming, No! No! No! The library is where you go when you want to pick out a book! A book will take you on an adventure, a book will show you something you never thought was possible, a book allows you to “meet” people from other walks of life that you otherwise would never get to meet! Books shape our lives and give meaning to the world around us! They help form the people we become!
That last thought jerked me out of my mental tantrum and I once again found myself standing calmly in front of Sandy as she explained all of the wonders that this new digital library has to offer. Wasn’t it through the Internet that I finished college? Hadn’t it been through the Internet that I’ve met the most wonderful people and the most important friends that I have now? Hadn’t it been the Internet that I’d learned so much from in the past 10 years that I’m no longer the person I was before? Yes, yes, yes. The Internet has expanded my worldview in ways I would have never thought possible, and has allowed me to explore my inner world by brining out talents I did not know I possessed.
I’m sitting here writing an essay disparaging the new digital library, which in a few moments will be a part of the World Wide Web, where anyone can access my words. The irony of this is not lost on me. As much as I think books are still important tools we should learn to use skillfully, it is much more important that we develop our mental muscle and expand our worldview using whatever form of media is most comfortable. The library is dead. Long live the library.