Something I said earlier today on Twitter:
Let me talk about those things for a moment.
My mom took me to the library every week. I grew up listening to vinyl records from library headphones, flipped through microfiche pages on their giant machines, and learned the value of quiet whilst perusing the aisles and aisles of books. The library card catalogue was a thing of mystery and wonder. Little cards to guide me to whatever I wanted to learn about. Koalas: check. Outer space: check. The Titanic: check. I had the world at my fingertips and could leap into facts or fantasy to suit my fancy. I know now that perhaps the library was what kept my hungry ADHD brain from starving; we couldn’t afford all the books I could want (or my mother, the avid reader that she was), nor did we have the miraculous internet. It was the 1970s and every person in town could get a library card and use it as their pass to free knowledge on any topic imaginable.
Now libraries are in decline.
I had a lively discussion with someone on Twitter about this and he brought up eBook e-readers. We have one, Neil and I, but it isn’t a book replacement and it certainly is not a valid replacement for a library. Libraries are free to all, democratic, fair and accessible. E-readers are electronic gadgets that are only now coming in below £100 for the device alone. I understand that many people flock to e-readers and to Amazon (or the like) when they crave a book – it’s hard not to for the sake of convenience and discount prices online – but I have to stand firmly in the belief that this is a dangerous route for the future of society. I know that sounds alarmist, but I urge you to think of the history of the printed word; books were once for the elite. E-readers are for that same elite now. Until a poor neighbourhood or small town can put an e-reader in the hand of every man, woman, and child for FREE and for LIFE, libraries MUST exist.
Closing a library closes a door to democratic knowledge.
But if libraries could offer eBooks, my Twitter friend mentioned… They can. I pointed him to NetLibrary, which is already doing this very thing. I have used the service through my local library online.
I find having a library card, even if used infrequently (my local library is ten miles away) is up there with the most important things I can do for myself and for my community. I have a book out now, and will probably borrow another title when I go back to return this one. One of my priorities when I moved to the UK was to get a library card – it’s that important to me and honours the way my mother brought me up to appreciate what they can do for you. I would not be the same person without a childhood full of library books. I learned respect, quiet, deadlines and how to treat things that are not your own with a reverence and care that I know is missing in much of society today. We have progressed as a technological society, but I can’t help but to believe we are also crippling our future by closing libraries.
If you don’t have a library card, why not get one. Find interesting things in their aisles. Learn something new without financial or technological investment. Borrow and return a book because you can and you should. Support democratic knowledge.