“I thought Kindles would have put you out of business.” This phrase found its way across my desk and into my indignant ears some time ago. Yes, to some the leaps and bounds of technology that include books at the touch of a button may seem like the nail in the proverbial coffin for libraries, but I’m here to say differently.
This summer, in the course of one week, I had two very different experiences with patrons on opposite ends of the library-loving spectrum. One day I had a young lady that was ecstatic about her books arriving through our inter-library loans. She was a little crest fallen when I first told her we didn’t have the books she was looking for, which were a continuation of a series, but it opened a whole new world when I told her we could get books on loan. When they finally arrived, and I handed them to her, you would have thought I gave her a $100 bill instead of two library books. I can’t tell you the last time I saw someone that excited about reading.
That same week, I had a patron who was just passing through with a companion. While pacing the library waiting for his companion’s phone call to wrap up, he hit me with the opening phrase of my article, “I thought Kindles would have put you out of business by now.” I must admit I bristled a little bit. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been in a library, which was evident by his surprise that we offered DVD’s and books on CD. He wasn’t even aware that libraries offered programs and special events. He thought we were ‘just’ books. Bless his heart. (I think that is the first time I’ve ever used that phrase in my life, but I can’t think of a situation that it better fits than this one.)
There is a wealth of resources awaiting you at any library, I can promise you that. We may be small here in Quitaque Texas, but we are fierce. We do the best we can with what we have, and I think we have a wonderful library, if I do say so myself. There is always room for growth and improvement, and a library is a constantly growing, flexing, thing. New books are added, new programs popping up. It’s an organic place, adapting to the needs of its users. But oh, how one building can house the world! Isn’t it a wonderful thought that two people can walk into the same library and leave with two very different experiences because they can choose what suits THEM? A library offers answers to questions you hadn’t thought to ask; memories that will linger on the pages you touch; passports to space, history, foreign lands and even other people’s minds; it provides tools and know-how for building a bird house or building your life. We are the raw blueprints to the person you want to be. Few things will shape you like the books you read. I believe this not because I’m a librarian, but because I’m a reader who’s proved it out with my own life.
Growing up, one of my fondest memories was reading times as a family. For a while each evening, Mom and Dad would take turns reading out-loud to all of us kids—we stepped into fantasy and theology reading through the entire Chronicles of Narnia, then learned how to survive a deserted island with the Swiss Family Robison; smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain with Father Andrew; and even explored lost artifacts and unearthed diabolical schemes and secret societies in the Indiana-Jones-esc “Livingston Chronicles” by Michael Phillips. We’d stay up late listening, beg to be read JUST ONE more chapter, and spend time talking about what had just happened. You couldn’t put a price on the value of those times.
Some may think librarians standing by the relevancy of their libraries is kin to a captain going down with his ship, but I’m here to say otherwise. During my short tenure here as librarian I’ve come to see that it isn’t a ruse designed to stave of the circling sharks of e-books and insta-gratification, but it is truly a cry to ‘return’. It’s the ringing of the dinner bell, so to speak. A thing that isn’t done anymore, but we can all relate to. When that bell clangs and jingles its way through the evening air, it’s a call to return. A call to come in, be filled, rest up, find community. That ringing is like a beacon drawing in the wayward, hardworking souls of the world to a simpler, kinder moment in their day. And that is exactly how I feel about a library. We may not have all the bells and whistles your iPhone can offer, we may not be as hip as the latest app, as dazzling as the newest series on Netflix…. but we are still relevant, still important, still necessary. Why? Because we offer you an opportunity to return. Return to simpler pleasures. Return to the sense of wonder as you learn something you never knew… see a picture of a creature you didn’t know existed, and step into worlds where animals talk, people fly, and time stands still. A return to curiosity and asking questions. It’s a return to connecting with humanity through the struggles and triumphs on these written pages. A return to sitting. Thinking. Looking. Learning. We are a call for parents to return to their arm chairs with their babies and a book. A call for students to count the days until the newest release in their favorite series and not the points on a score card. It’s a return to discussion that doesn’t center around the latest viral internet craze, but the way an author’s work has created a viral spread of ideas and feelings that will leave on you a lasting mark.
So, I invite you as a person, as a family, to return. Exchange some rush for hush. Go to your library, pick up a book, and return. And by that, I mean literally. We want our books back, after all.