While we were on our recent family visit, we spent some time planning for a vacation later in the year. Linda & I had been reading the travel books, etc (she more than I) and wanted to go over some ideas with her mother. Of course, this lead to several additional ideas for which we did not have adequate material in the books which had brought along. Off to the local library.
This set me to thinking about where libraries are in our rapidly changing society. The digital age is advancing at such a rate that some question whether books will be around in a generation. If so, what purpose will libraries serve?
I recall reading about ancient libraries in Greece, Persia, and Egypt. On our trip to Ireland a couple of years ago, we toured the library at Trinity College, where many illuminated manuscripts are kept, including the Book of Kells. Though we did not find it, the oldest copy of the Paul’s letter to the Romans (I believe copied around 190 ACE) is in a library in Ireland (long story, let’s just say that Ireland was a long way away from the rest of the religious wars in Europe, so they preserved many items that would have been destroyed otherwise). We also enjoy touring historic homes, many of which had libraries. Our own shelves are lined by books, with more waiting books for me to build more shelves some day.
But, now Amazon.com can sell you just about any text, Used-Like-New, for pennies on the dollar. E-Readers make that pennies on pennies. E-Readers can put your whole library and wish list “in the cloud” for reading, deleting, and re-loading again. All that Alexander the Great might have housed in a massive building, you can carry to the beach for summer reading on a devise half the size of a magazine.
So, I wander around the library thinking about times that I found amazing discoveries just by reading the spines of books in sections that I had not intended to investigate. And, I pulled those books downs and browsed. I grew up believing that my local library was as big as the Library of Congress. I found all sots of obscure, trivial, and relevant data at the libraries of the university, which I attended. We used to frequent the Alexandria library for research and leisure reading. Our small county has two branches, as well as an independent library in one of the other towns. I would like to say that we get out to the library regularly, but often the garden or some other task calls on our days off (plus the main branch library is 18 miles over the mountain).
As I wander, I notice services that the library provides in addition to books. A display features books for Black History Month. Books on tape, music CD’s, and DVD’s are available in this area. Children’s activities are sponsored over here. Brochures advertise community events, concerts, discussions, book clubs, and other social activities. Art work from local schools is displayed around the building. All of this, thanks to local taxes, general contributions, and our willingness to be part of a community.
Earlier that morning, I started reading James Michener’s novel, The Covenant, where I found this sentence: “…when men can neither read nor write, when they had nothing external to distract their minds, they can spend their lives in minute observation, and if they have thousands of years in which to accumulate folk wisdom, it can become in time wisdom of very high order.”
What do you access through your local library?