The Love of Libraries
The library houses wealth, like a bank. Yet, it needs neither vault nor armed guards. Its currency is available for all. A library is like nowhere else on earth. It has its own smell, texture and coziness.
The public libraries of our day are one-part books and nine parts electronics. When the internet is down, the building is empty. The books sit alone and unloved.
For bibliophiles, the library is sacred. We spend hours, captivated, at the knowledge at our fingertips and we cringe at those who find the experience painful and boring. We shake our heads at their ignorance and lack of decorum. They fail to realize that being bored in a library says more about them than they care to admit.
My romance with libraries took form in elementary school. I began reading these orange hardback biographies and read every one they had. I soon read all of the SRA lessons and plowed on through mysteries. I was smitten.
Today, I make trips to the library every week and those who work there become welcome friends and facilitators of my passion.
However, book lovers worry that libraries, as we know them, will wane in a digital age. Philip Kennicott writes about the discovery of a home library, stunning in its breadth. We will never likely have one of those.
Not many of us can afford a library like that one, a designated room entirely full of books, arranged floor to ceiling on custom-made, built-in shelves capped by ornate molding. But while most of us would never claim to have a home library — too pretentious — we secretly think of some room in the house as . . . the library. A place to read, to store books, to confront the past and future of our own limited knowledge, staring down at us in all its complicated categories: books you will read, books you should read, books you read and remember, books you read and forgot, lousy books your aunt gave you and you can’t throw away because she still comes to visit from time to time.
Yet, he wonders if these almost magical places will fade into history.
The architecture of our lives is constantly changing, and the library may be next on the list of rooms that grow vestigial and then vanish from our floor plans. Where it survives, it has merged with the “office” or the “den,” and the language of the contemporary home, which stresses flow and openness, doesn’t bode well for the survival of a room that should stand apart, a quiet eddy to the side of the busy torrent of modern life. The library, alas, may go the way of the separate dining room and the formal parlor, not because we won’t read anymore, but because we won’t read books anymore, at least not books printed on paper.
The feel of a book cannot be matched by a machine. Hand held devices do not stack and fill a space in the way that books can. Books appear to breathe and call our name, begging to be caressed. Their varied colors and shapes are beautiful in inexpressible ways. Buttons, blips and plastic cannot hope to compete.
Kennicott asks, “Electronic book readers are a great invention for people who actually read books. But what do they offer those of us who have an even more complicated relationship with books unread?”
Indeed. An eReader cannot intimidate, cajole and coerce like an edition of Proust or Dickens. Mankind will become all the poorer when these volumes no longer sit on our shelves, gathering dust and filling the room with their sweet odor. We will lose a part of ourselves when they are gone and that cavity will represent a deeper wound than we can realize.