Hands Off the Librarian!

Some people may say Twitter is a waste of time, but yet again a Tweet has inspired one of my blog posts. This time it’s not a war on adverbs, but a fight to save our libraries.

Last week someone tweeted a story about a library in China that was closing down due to the prevalence of e-books. I replied that this is why authors should always donate a print copy of one (or more) of their books to their local library. It boosts the library’s collection and gets you “The Author” some free exposure. The person who posted the original tweet said their library doesn’t accept book donations because they were eliminating their book collection. I tweeted back that this seemed really sad and she tweeted back saying she doesn’t use the library anyway and buys all her books as e-books.

This knocked me for a loop. Yes, I’m a tech-nerd and I love my gadgets, but I also love my books. My actual physical books I can hold and flip through. And I can’t fathom not using a library.  I’m also having trouble wrapping my head around someone who can afford to buy every single book she’s interested in…believe me, I’d be broke if I paid for every book I perused.

This brings up the point that many (stupid) people try to make: Libraries are no longer necessary. I beg to differ.

Okay, I’m biased because my husband works for a library, but even before I checked him out (he is way overdue!), I was a huge library fan. As a kid, I loved going to the library and getting stacks of books. I hung out in my school library even when I went to a school where the library was no bigger than a very tiny hotel room. As a teenager and adult, I still went to the library on an obsessively regular basis to get books and movies I couldn’t afford to buy, use the research materials, flip through magazines and read the numerous books I cram into my head every week.

Even with an e-book reader and an iPad mini and new technologies making it easy to download a book right to my device (from the library or from a store), I still prefer book-books and I thought most people felt the same (I’m a bit myopic that way).

Yes, I read some e-books, mainly fiction titles I’m going to read front to back, but I’d say 85% of the books I read are real books. And I really don’t buy e-books (I’ll get the freebies when I see a good one because, hell, it’s free).

Why my disinterest in e-books? One, except for self-published jobs, e-books are rarely the bargain they should be. It costs NOTHING for a publisher to distribute an e-book and it irks me to no end when big publishers charge just (or nearly) as much for an electronic book as they do for a book they had to print and ship. At least with the real book, I can re-sell it or give it to someone else or donate it to my library when I’m done. An e-book? No. (Technology to donate/re-sell e-books is in the works, but still…).

But this isn’t a pros and cons of e-books. They do have their place, but so do real books and so do libraries. There is a common statement going around that e-books mean there is no need for our libraries to have books. After all, people would obviously rather sit on their butts and download a book than get off the couch, get dressed and go to the library to browse for a book. I mean, sheesh, that’s a lot of work. Isn’t it?

Apparently not.

Numbers reflecting a typical few days at my local library show 50% of the items checked out were books, graphic novels and magazines (the other 50% are movies, audiobooks, CDs and video games). These numbers reflect a standard couple days where each day about 2,000 items were checked out from this single library and do not include e-books. Apparently plenty of people still see the need for print material (or one person is taking home a helluva lot of books!).

And the numbers aren’t declining despite the introduction of downloadable e-books from the library. In fact, my husband states:

“Our [numbers] consistently go up each month [compared to] the previous year.”

If e-books are making people not want to use their library or read physical books, how can the numbers still be going up each year?

Libraries serve a purpose in the community whether you’re rich or poor, young or old, tech savvy or not. Having physical space in the library for books is essential and should not be taken away. People like to browse the shelves looking for a subject or author they may not have heard of before (not everything is discovered online, believe it or not) and people like taking a book home to look through before they decide if they want to buy a copy or not.

It’s elitist and asinine to think everyone has a computer and Internet to place holds from home or and e-book reader to download an e-book.  And for a library to not accept a donation of a brand new book and to do away with their book collection altogether sends a sad shiver down my spine.

Libraries have been with us since ancient times as places for people to gather, for knowledge to be spread and preserved and for books to be available to everyone. The only times libraries were destroyed or collections trashed were when conquerors didn’t want knowledge to be shared. The Library of Alexandria was a marvel and a beacon of the ancient world. Do we want to continue to light and improve our modern beacons, or close them down like some barbaric conquering marauders? Do we want our legacy to be the people who saw no point in making room for books?

What’s your opinion on the future of libraries? Do you use yours? If not, why? You do know they let you take loads of stuff home for free, right? If you do use your local library, share your praise of the library system with the rest of us nerds.

 

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