Say It Ain’t So

The libraries are closing.

I know other things are closing too. Factories, big box stores, music/art/sports programs, restaurants, movie theaters, entire shopping malls.  I know half our towns are broke, people are out of work, our  house isn’t  worth what we bought it for, Zuckerberg lost a few billion dollars, college graduates can’t find jobs,  health care feels like a bonus and people can’t retire until they’re 80.

But the libraries are closing.

Perhaps the economic crisis is only part of the reason. Should we blame Kindle, Amazon, self-publishing, e-zines, Ask.com or Wikipedia? Are people just too busy to go to the library? Have our attention spans become too short? Is there a backlash in our tolerance for librarians? Are children suddenly developing an allergy to the smell of all those books in one place?

Maybe I’m to blame. I am a reader. If you are a reader you know what this statement means. It is a primal part of who you are. You have read so many books that their words, their stories are part of the way you look at life. Years and years of these books have layered inside you, like sedimentary rock. They are your foundation. You can’t imagine your life without books, without reading.

So I hate to admit this, but it’s true. I hardly ever go to the library anymore.

Then why in the world am I bemoaning the loss of a place I rarely use? Am I just being sentimental? Maybe libraries will show up in movies some day and we will laugh at them, like watching Michael Douglas strut through the streets of New York in Wall Street with a mobile phone the size of a toaster.

I think my attachment is so strong because that is how I became a reader. I loved libraries, felt at home in them, at peace. I also felt excitement and freedom and safety at a time in my life when there wasn’t a whole lotta of that going around. I loved the smell of paper, the hushed silence, the maze of stacks, the little drawers in the card catalog. It was like stepping into an alternative world. A world where stories lived. Where stories waited for me. Where it felt like anything could happen.

In Rhode Island Dunkin Donuts thrives, along with nail salons, strip clubs, and pizza joints. I happen to frequent 2 out of 4 of these places (unless you know me well, you will have to guess which), yet I honestly wouldn’t care if they all started closing. But not the libraries. I want to be able to go there if I need to spark those old feelings. I want other people to discover themselves there, to become readers. I want to be able to get free books when I’m retired and broke. I want to sit at a table and write, surrounded by thousands of stories whispering, you can do it!

Maybe this weekend I’ll go to the library. Before it’s too late.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Say It Ain’t So

  1. ThreeKingsBooks

    I go to the library ALL THE TIME. I can’t understand why people don’t. It’s, like, FREE.

    Anyway, I’ve just e-published one of my novels about …. a male librarian in NYC who’s equally in love with women as he is with books. Called CRACK, by Joseph King. Only $2.99. (Oh, is that the reason no one goes to the library anymore? It’s so darn cheap with the Kindle?)

    My mother was a librarian, and her birthday would’ve been yesterday.

  2. Susan

    This might be scarier than you think. In my town, the library is not only thriving but bursting with it. Robust hours of operation, robust attendance (the large parking lot more often than not is nearly full and sometimes it’s difficult to find a spot), robust collections that seem to grow more so every day, robust seasonal book sales, robust after school and evening events. Friendly, articulate staff who seem a little tired, the good kind. Two factors are at play: professors from the nearby universities and their families live in this town, and the average income of the homeowners here is on the high side. So are library closings another indication of what education brings (our schools are strong and the taxes reflect that) and where the nation’s priorities are? In any case I hope you go to the library soon, though check the hours first. Even ours will be closed on Monday.

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