Thoughts on Libraries

by Matthew Koslowski on February 17, 2010
in Essays

In This Essay

“Do School Libraries Need Books?” from Room for Debate, The New York Times, February 10, 2010
“The Library, Through Students’ Eyes” from Room for Debate, The New York Times, February 14, 2010
“A library without books” by David Abel, The Boston Globe, September 4, 2009
“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, by Nicholas Carr, The Atlantic, July/August 2008
 

I remember reading in The Boston Globe last September that a private school in Massachusetts had given up its collection of books. I was aghast.

That Cushing Academy gave away collection of books, turning its library into a digital media center, continues to bother me.

Since reading that article, I have thought a lot about the role of libraries in our society. I have library cards for three different library systems here in Massachusetts. I joined the Boston Athenaeum, a membership library, last December after writing about them in a December 11th’s Weekly Review.

Libraries are important places. Digital technology cannot yet replace — and I hope never will — brick-and-mortar libraries.

I love going to physical libraries. I love browsing the stacks.

One afternoon while wandering through the shelves, I came across The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke a collection of fragments from Rilke’s letters, collected into thematic chapters by Ulrich Baer. Without the serendipity of walking through the stacks, I would never have found the book because I would never have thought to look for it.

I walked into the Boston Athenaeum on Saturday to visit again the art exhibit I reviewed last week, An Artist + A Poet. Walking around the new acquisitions displays on the first floor, I found Young Rilke and His Times by George C. Schoolfield. Again, I never would have thought to look for this book but I’m glad to have borrowed it.

That’s one weakness I find in my own Internet research. There is so much information out there, that unless I know what I am looking for, I have trouble finding anything at all. Reading from the Internet encourages us to read shallowly and seek a particular piece of information and continue on.

We have become sifters.

But when we enter a library, we are looking for knowledge in a broader sense than we are when we begin an Internet search. When we begin an Internet search, we are looking for answers to specific questions. When we enter a library, we are looking for answers, yes, but I think we are open to letting those answers inspire additional questions in ways we aren’t on the Internet.

All the same, I am no luddite. I know that the Internet is changing the way that we think and organize information. Perhaps libraries will become obsolete.

But I hope that we continue recognize the value of books and libraries. There are no pop-up advertisements in books, nor banner ads in libraries. Just as online, there are other things — more books, though, rather than more sites — vying for our attention in a library. Yet, I find myself able to become immersed in a book in a way that I have never seen translated online.

I hope that we keep these quiet bowers.

What are your thoughts? Share them with us.

Do libraries hold any special memories for you? Have you moved completely online? Do libraries have a future, or only a past?

Comments

2 Responses to “Thoughts on Libraries”
  1. Matthew Koslowski says:

    I thought this was sad to see the day I posted this essay.

    This during my commute, WBUR reported about the Trustees of the Boston Public Library meeting to discuss ways to fill the budget gap, including possibilities of closing as many as ten branches. The Boston Globe also had an article about it.

  2. John Spencer says:

    I love libraries. Real libraries. The smell of old books decaying, reminding me of the fleeting vapor of life. I want my students to read book. Real books. Smelly old books.

    I have a large collection of books in my classroom. I keep a “Banned Books” section that students check out, despite the fact that my class is a “digital media” classroom. Kids need books. Truth cannot be subjected to a 140 character count.