When you’re a kid, nothing’s as exciting as a trip to the library. Remember? Riding in the backseat of the car, mittened hands tapping corduroy-clad knees, anxiously watching the city roll past. After what seemed like a long time, but wasn’t, we’d finally get there. Bursting from the car I’d hurry inside, stick my coat on a peg, then head past the reference desk where I’d snag a peppermint from the bowl, and wave to Miss Flora. She was the librarian in our small branch library, a round, bespectacled woman with an ever present handkerchief peeking from her sleeve.
I loved that place. It was brick, with five heavily traveled concrete steps leading to the heavy oak front door. The long brass handle, worn golden by half a century of hands, was icy to the touch. There were shuttered windows you could look out of if you wanted to, but why? There was nothing outside as interesting as the adventures, the mysteries, the tales waiting within. It was warm and oh, so quiet; the smell of old leather and brittle, yellowing paper hung in the air. There was a corner just for me, way back in Biographies, where I’d sit on the floor Indian-style and look through the books I’d found. Charlotte’s Web and Tom Sawyer and Pippi Longstocking and The Three Investigators. It was a magical sanctuary for busy, curious minds. Saturday mornings in the library were the best part of life back then, better even than hot dog days at school; they were on Wednesdays.
Those sweet, innocent long ago days launched a lifelong love of books. Will today’s kids find that same refuge or even want to? Do books still ignite imaginations, create the same wonder when they’re digital? Scrolling through on a monitor can’t possibly be as satisfying as turning a page.
I fear something good, something essential will be missing from reading if the publishing world decides to abandon print editions in favor of digital. Carrying an iPad or a Kindle or a cell phone has no charm, the screens aren’t inspiring — they’re electronic devices, not art or poetry. There’s no romance in a dog-eared, well-worn Nook. You can’t write a loving dedication to your granddaughter on an audiobook. On cold, snowy nights do you really want to curl up with a good eReader? Really?
And libraries? They’ve gone high tech, too. They had to if they wanted to stay in business, but that doesn’t make it any less disheartening. Rows of shiny, sleek metallic scanners await you and your books when you’re ready to check out. There are still librarians. They’re pleasant and helpful, certainly, but they’re not like the old librarians, the ones in thick cardigans that smelled faintly of cedar. The libraries of today are bright, spacious, neat repositories of perfectly aligned shelving. Not the jumbled hodgepodge and disarray they used to be. The whole atmosphere is different now, more clinical than welcoming. But you don’t have to experience that, because you don’t need to visit. Everything can now be done remotely and efficiently online. Without having to waste precious time being neighborly and pleasant.
Either that’s terribly sad or I’ve gone soft, but something is passing away here; a way of life, maybe, or a way of living. And I’m afraid no one will notice. Or care.
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