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The Library is Closing. . . by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
Editorial  ISBN/ITEM#: 0507EL
Date: / Show Official Info /

Those days may be numbered for folks who still depend on libraries for their reading material, because one by one, they are closing their doors.

I first started thinking about this a year or so back when my Mother's rural library closed and she discovered that the nearest city library wouldn't let her join because she didn't meet the residency requirement. Later, when I was in Mojave, CA to cover the launch of SpaceShipOne and scouting the charmingly depressed community around the spaceport I found the abandoned public library shown above. The irony of the first private space ship launching in a town with an abandoned library was irresistible. Actually, they've opened a branch at a mall, but I'm told there's no way to get to it, and it's hours are limited. Two points may make a line, but hardly qualify as a sample sufficient for a trend, but I've also heard several news pieces on the subject, and if you were to Google "library" and "closing" and "budget" you'll find plenty of examples.

So far you're probably not especially surprised by anything I've said, but hang on...because I think they should all be closed. They've outlived their original mission and are unable to adapt to the world of web based information. Public book repositories are so last century. Let them go.

What? You don't think so? You love the smell and feel of books and can't read on a computer screen? You say you've found fascinating things browsing randomly through the stacks (or flipping pages) and want the next generation to know the joy of books? Great idea. You probably wanted to send your kid off to war with a claymore because you liked its feel, unimpressed by the automatic weapons that they'll be facing across the trenches. Yes Virginia, there is a digital divide, and you're standing firmly on the wrong side of it. I would have told you sooner, but you're not carrying your cell phone, and you never answer your IMs.

If you love the smell of books, maybe you should gather them all up and put the in a book museum. I submit that the mission of the public library should be access to information, not arousal for bibliophiles. If you want books, go to a bookstore. If you want information, on the other hand, that's where the library should come in.

I?m happy for the public library to have books in it, but more the sort of books that serious book lovers eschew. Best sellers mostly.

I've heard any number of folks, both librarians and not, talk about how important it was to have books on the shelves so that people could discover them. Connie Willis suggested that we skew the statistics of book borrowing by taking out a favorite title periodically just so it shows activity in the library database. Somehow this strikes me as a bit like something out of Fahrenheit 451, where everyone had to choose a book to preserve by committing it to memory. Unsurprisingly, the joy of memorization is a lost art today as well. You may never have committed a favorite poem to memory, and certainly the number of people under the age of thirty who have done so is vanishing small, but there's a terrific feeling of power, or at least a pleasant sense of accomplishment and ownership that comes from knowing something so well you can recite it. Not that anyone will sit still long enough to let you reel it off.

There are new pleasures to be discovered with digital media and vastly greater utilities. If all the books were converted to electronic text, nothing ever need go out of print, and each reader could choose their own favorite medium. Public libraries should be charged with making the information available to all. ..and if you can't live without a paper copy bound in fine leatherette...they can always provide it to you in a print on demand format. You pay for photocopies at the library, so why not paper copies of books?

Or, and I heartily suggest this as the alternative; get thee to a bookstore, preferably with a coffee shop.

Your slavish devotion to this dying media form is more than sad, it's selfish. By insisting that you keep your favorite books on the shelves of libraries, you're keeping information that upcoming generations might actually get some use out of from them. And if libraries went to e-media you could have your cake and eat it too.

If you want the joy of reading, the smell of mildewed paper, and a lifestyle that leads to myopia and metabolic collapse, you're welcome to it. Feel free to open reading emporiums where you can sink into leather armchairs and read musty texts under no-glare lights while stiff matrons cast suspicious looks in the direction of anyone under thirty...and voices are never raised above a whisper. Heck, if you can get me a waiver to bring in a beverage, I'll take the chair on the end.

Ernest Lilley - SFRevu

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