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?

Weekly Review: October 23rd to October 29th

What is the common phrasing of the Biblical proverb? “Seven years of feast, seven years of famine”?

Keeping in line with our rapidly shrinking sense of time and of being overwhelmed, when I look back on writing the Weekly Reviews, I feel like there are seven days of feast and seven days of famine.

This week has been a feast week. I emailed myself twenty-seven (27) stories for consideration for this week’s post. In fact, part of the reason why I did not post on Friday is because I had so much material to sort through.

These Things Caught My Eye

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