This is the 65th anniversary of National Library Week. Sixty-five years is a long time, but I think the surprising thing is that it took so long for a National Week to be declared for libraries. They've been around much longer than that.
A collection of about 30,000 clay tablets dating back more than 5,000 years was found in ancient Egypt. We've all heard stories of the great library of Alexandria and felt sorrow that a fire destroyed it. I could go on, spilling out facts of ancient libraries that I found on the internet, but I won't. The history of libraries is fascinating, but what really fascinates me is the whole IDEA of a library. The idea that you can gather in one place all human thought and knowledge is ambitious and, some might even say, arrogant. Arrogant yes, but brilliant. Having access to the accumulated wisdom of great minds over the ages is perhaps modern man's greatest asset.
Maybe even better than the history of libraries is the future of libraries. Many of the institutions we love are falling by the wayside, but I believe libraries will endure. Not in the exactly same form, of course. They will continue to change and evolve to meet the needs of the people who use them. Even in the relatively short time I've been involved with libraries, they've undergone tremendous changes. When I was a child, a library was a hushed, almost reverent, space, a place of respectful quiet - quite a contrast to the library I frequent now, where there's almost always something going on - quite often something noisy. Children, instead of being shushed, are encouraged to participate in activities that can get rowdy, but which foster a love of learning.
Most of these changes I wholeheartedly approve. Some, however, require an attitude adjustment on my part. One of our local library's more recent innovations has been the installation of automatic check-out kiosks. The first time I walked in and didn't see the familiar checkout desk, I was, to put it mildly, startled. And a little nervous. I saw a row of strange-looking mechanical things along the wall. Where was my friendly librarian? Would I be able to learn how to use these newfangled machines? Would they make me look and feel hopelessly outdated? Not a problem. Staff was delighted to help and it turned out to be easier than I expected.
The new system is undeniably more efficient than having to tie up library staff to perform a routine task. Efficient though it is, I'm dragging my feet a bit over this one. I miss the human contact. I've always enjoyed chatting with staff when I check out my materials. I miss having someone say "Oh, you'll like this" or "I've been thinking about reading that book. Tell me how you like it" or "That one's been getting mixed reviews" or ... any of the hundreds of small pleasantries we exchange when dealing with a friendly human. But I guess I'll get used to the new method, just as I've gotten used to other changes. Who knows? I may even learn to like it.
Bottom line - it doesn't matter whether or not I like it; in order to stay alive, an institution has to change and adapt. I know that. More to the point, I still believe the invention of the library is one of mankind's better ideas. Wouldn't it be awful if every generation had to start from scratch?
One thing hasn't changed at my favorite library. This little guy still greets me as I walk from my car to the entrance. He never fails to make me smile.
Monday, April 9, 2018
I was born in the Midwest, but following my husband's job transfers has taken me South and, finally, to the Northeast. Wherever I've lived, books and book groups have helped bridge the gap between my old and new homes, and have helped me find kindred spirts as friends. And I've learned how unimportant the small regional differences are.