Libraries seem to be having a bit of a tough time of it these days. With eReaders all the rage, and Google the Oracle of All, and Wikipedia the combined knowledge of the masses, there’s a lot of concern that Libraries are going to go the way of the Dinosaurs. Before you know it, we’ll be crashing giant, flaming meteorites into them and burying them under enough rock and ash that they’ll remain mostly intact for future generations to find and wonder at.
Last week, Ben Trube wrote a Vigorous Defense of Libraries and posed the question: How do you feel about libraries?
I tried to answer. I really did. But my answer was longer than his original post. (This happens more often than you’d imagine.) So I decided I should post my answer here, in my own personal space, rather than taking up all of his.
The short answer: I love my local library.
The long answer: I go to the library at least once every couple of weeks. Sometimes more. So, why do I love it?
1) Access to lots and lots (and lots) of books for free.
I realise this should go without saying, but it’s really the most important thing. I simply don’t have the money to buy every book I’d like to read. So far this year I’ve read 42 books, all of which have been borrowed either from friends or from the library. If I’d purchased them all, that would have cost me at least $800.
Then there’s the books my five-year-old reads. He can easily go through 10 books every week. Without access to a library, perhaps he wouldn’t have the great love for books that he has.
2) Access to a wider range of books than you’d expect.
All the libraries in my district work together to ensure library patrons have access to a large quantity of books. Rather than all of them trying to stock every book (which would be impossible considering the cost-cutting going on), they co-ordinate their ordering process. Then they offer a service where you can request a book from another library, and it is transferred to your library within 48 hours for 60 cents.
Plus, you can use this service online from home — I just place my order and head to the library a couple of days later to pick up my books. How convenient is that?
3) Free computer use (for word processing) and cheap internet access.
Yes, I have a computer at home. Yes, that’s more convenient. But, you know what? I’ve done any amount of writing in the library when I’ve needed a different environment to get my brain firing. If I can escape to the library for a couple of hours, I have distraction-free writing time without internet access or a fridge in the next room.
4) School holiday programs.
My local library teaches everything from book-binding to poetry to writing to “make your own comic” in the school holidays. Plus they have a variety of shows and events — X-Box competitions, magic shows, giant board game days. It’s free, it’s fun, and it gives the kids a reason to want to go to the library. (Other than the obvious reason that it’s a room full of books!)
5) The librarians.
These are people who love books, who are paid to hang out in buildings full of books, and answer the same question over and over and over and over, day after day, with a friendly smile. Plus, they know stuff.
And not just stuff like: What’s the name of that book that I read ten years ago with a red cover and a clock on the front where the main character’s name is Jane?
Librarians can recommend books similar to those you’ve read before, tell you where to get information on a variety of topics, show you how to use the photocopier, teach you how to use the online book catalogue, and direct you to the restrooms, all while singing songs about teddy bears to a group of enthralled children and saving a cat from a burning building.
They’re just that good.
When was the last time you went to the library? Do you love your local library as much as I love mine?