“The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most peculiar book was written with that kind of courage — the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past, and to what is still to come.”
― Susan Orlean, The Library Book
The library was my favorite place in my grade school, junior high school, and high school. Early on, some of my teachers would take their classes to the libraries the introduce them to what was there, how you found it, and how you borrowed it. I went back many times. My parents were active in the group that started my county’s public library. Once the doors opened for the first time, I found a new place to explore. University libraries, where I worked throughout college, had the same allure, though it was more mysterious with multiple floors and sections and sometimes old stairways and badly lighted stacks.
Some of my classmates seemed lost, generally speaking, about who they were, where they were going, how they fit into the scheme of things, and what might be missing from their lives. I wanted to say, “Walk into the library and you’ll find everything you’ll ever need.” I didn’t say it, of course, because saying it would quickly put a student on the bullying list of everyone else in the school from class thugs to class leaders.
“A book feels like a thing alive in this moment, and also alive in a continuum, from the moment the thoughts about it first percolated in the writer’s mind to the moment it sprang from the printing press — a lifeline that continues as someone sits with it and marvels over it, and it continues on, …”
― Susan Orlean, The Library Book
I wonder about the future of libraries. Where will they end up in a world that is sliding into the morass of digital art that can be read on a screen without having to drive to that old building in the middle of town where the physical books not only take up a lot of expensive space, but can’t keep up with the deluge of each year’s new books. Frankly, I don’t think libraries will survive no matter how many new perks and services they add. I would like to be wrong about this. I would like to see viable ways to keep libraries up, running, and vital.
The answer to “how do we keep libraries alive?” probably requires a look at ourselves first because since many of us didn’t walk into libraries when we were in school, we never figured out who we were and why knowledge and stories and rooms filled with books are important. So now, here we are. We don’t value what’s inside those buildings, so we don’t pay to keep the buildings and their contents alive: even our silly texts about mundane matters of the moment seem more important. The world often seems to have shrunk down to the mundane and endless cell phone texting between two people, each of whom thinks “It’s all about me.”
Meanwhile, the larger world, including books in libraries, awaits out attention if we dare to look at matters larger than ourselves and what we’re having for dinner tonight.
If you can’t find my novels in your library, ask the librarian to get them. If s/he can’t, perhaps you can donate your copies when you’re done reading them.