When I take the time to properly organize my wallet, there is a pocket reserved solely for library cards. I have six. Granted, two thirds of them are for libraries that I would have to travel hours to reach—two of them across an ocean—but the fact remains: I love libraries. Or, I say that. I say I love libraries, and it’s a truth that I realize every time I visit one, but I can’t tell you the last time I was actually in a library.
It used to be that the local library was, for me, a necessary, once a week minimum requirement. It was always better to go on Monday or Wednesday, because then they were open until 8:00, but if you went any other weekday, they kicked you out at 6:00. I would spend my library hours scrutinizing the shelves for new arrivals, old favorites or elusive titles I hadn’t yet picked off the shelves. Sometimes, secretly, I read picture books, because sometimes there were funny ones, but I wouldn’t dare be caught dead checking them out to take home. Back before computers were common, let alone necessary home appliances, and after our library finally got one, I spent a good half hour or so looking up things on the internet, too. I tore through the stack of books I had brought home, because I hated renewing anything—I had (okay, still kind of have) a stigma against taking too long to read anything, not that anyone but myself would ever really care.
Libraries were a huge part of my life. Though we were only ever there for two weeks at a stretch once a year, I just had to apply for a library card here (Though, II think the 2 euro renewal is long overdue…). Despite all of this, I currently live a mere three blocks (on the short ends!) from the local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and yet I have only been inside three times in the two years that I’ve lived there. All three times were great and I checked out my usual stack of books to read, yet it would still never be a place I would think to go on a quiet afternoon. Why is that? It’s not that I have anything against libraries, and I would fight to keep them around. I briefly considered going back to school for library science and lament the lack of updates on one of my favorite columns on the McSweeney’s website.
While I’m aware that city budget cuts are affecting libraries all over, I can’t imagine that they would ever be done away with entirely. Children, surely, still visit—if only for the free computer time, but there are so many things for which libraries once were the sole providers that it worries me. No longer is it necessary to visit a library for research (and insert my pause as I remember poring over encyclopedia after encyclopedia in the tiny research room, trying to write a report on hermit crabs), back issues of periodicals can be found on the internet and used books go for a penny on Amazon. I hate to think that I am a perpetuator in the slow demise of library popularity, but it really makes me wonder. If someone like me, a girl who begged to be dropped off at the library in lieu of attending yet another baseball game can let my memberships lapse, then what does that say about their fate?
What about you? Am I just a bad example? Am I worried for nothing or have you, too, slowly turned away from a treasured public institution?