Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Libraries

I just got back from picking up a book I requested from the library, so I thought I'd use today to discuss the institution of the public library.

Where I live now, the library isn't much to look at. It's a one-story building, and the library takes up the same space as your average store in a mall. It's organized well with good lighting, but there's a clear space crunch. They simply don't have the room for rows upon rows of every genre.

What they do have, though, is access to the Upper Hudson Library System, which is extensive and well-stocked. I can request a book through any member library, and it will be delivered to my local library, usually within a week. That's why, if you browse my book reviews, you'll find a number of them on audio. I couldn't possibly afford to buy that many audio books, but the library has a ton. If it's available on audio, chances are good the library has it. They even have recorded audio performances of Shakespeare's plays, which I will have to go through if I start running low on modern works.

Libraries are useful for so much more than just taking books out, though they are very useful for that, as well. Most bibliophiles I know (and anyone who loves books has a good chance I'll glom onto them) can't walk into a library without finding a stack to take home. Books are irresistible, and books you can take home for free have a way of grabbing hold of the imagination and folding time in one's head. This is why I request books; I can't find more if I stick by the desk where they put the requests and keep from wandering. My to-read pile is plenty high already.

Libraries are also where people used to start their research before the internet took over. The library was where you'd look for tidbits of writing advice, where you'd check to find out in what year the Walkman became  ubiquitous, or where you'd look up the capital of Estonia (Tallinn, which I didn't have to look up, because I've been there).

I've heard recent remarks that libraries are obsolete, that no one uses them in the digital age, that people don't need outmoded ways of looking things up now that we have the internet. When I'm being nice, I call such people naive.

Librarians are still the best friend to have if you want to know something. They don't know it all, but they do have access to most modern opinions and a lot of classical ones on almost any subject. They have information that's been peer-reviewed, substantiated, argued, and tested. They have multiple sources you can trust. They have magazines where all the latest research is published, or where the newest ideas are tried out. And most librarians know how to integrate all the shiny new tech with older ways of finding information to give you the best possible range of data. They're also a human element to point you in the right direction when a Google search might latch onto a keyword and get distracted.

And libraries are constantly updating their technology, albeit more slowly than in the private sector, because they're grossly underfunded. In my library system, I can, in theory, take out ebooks. I haven't, because it's clunky and I have plenty to read (see above), but the option is there. They have several online databases I can access through their computers, which contain information beyond your average Wikipedia search. And there are hundreds of people looking for jobs just in my county who wouldn't be able to do so without the computer access libraries provide.

When I was a young, strange child, I would forget to wear snow boots to school. This meant that I couldn't play out in the snow, and therefore had to stay inside. There was no teacher to be spared to watch me, so I got to keep the librarian company. She put me to work neatening up, stamping due date cards, finding books that were shelved wrong, and generally being useful. It had been one thing to find refuge in books, but, to me, that place was more than a refuge. It was heaven.

As I've grown up, most things in life have lost their magic, or the shine's been rubbed off. Libraries, however, have endured. Libraries, to me, will always be my paradise.

4 comments:

  1. I think libraries are more important than ever before. In today's rough economy, people use the library to search for a job, learn new skills, and to escape reality via free entertainment, whether that be through a book, magazine, CD, or DVD.

    Yes, I have an ereader. Sure, I get ARCs (both paper and electronic). But, they don't compare to the joy of going to my local library. The librarians know me by name. They always have a basket set aside for me with all my holds. And I walk out of there with a bag full of books without spending a dime. Well...unless I have fines to pay, but I don't mind paying them because they help pay for more books.

    Libraries are paradise. And I'm proud to say that I'm the Foursquare Mayor of my local library!

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    1. That's quite an accomplishment, considering all the tech-savvy competition you have in the area.

      It infuriates me when people start talking about cutting library funding. Libraries are needed all the more when the economy is doing poorly. People don't see the impact libraries have on a community until they're gone.

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  2. I still walk into a library with a big smile on my face. Wait until you see the clifton park library next month. You'll love it. Soooooooooo pretty. All these nooks that will make you want to take a stack with you and curl up.

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    1. I can't wait! It's too bad I can't get a library card there. Some libraries are worth crossing county lines to reach.

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