I love libraries. One of my earliest memories was going to the Ocean Beach Public Library, possibly still in a stroller, so my young mother could feed her reading addiction with old musty novels from the 1930s and 1940s … wait, they wouldn’t have been old and musty then but rather new and shiny. After the library we would do a little shopping on Newport and maybe have a cherry coke.
A few years later we moved more inland and our town built and new, modern library for local residents. I remember going in the front door and splitting up, my sister and I going to the left where the children’s and juvenile books were waiting and my mother to the right where the forbidden adult books promised a hidden world of maturity and adventure. I still remember the exact day my mother (and the library rules) decided I could leave the world of Dr.Seuss and All About Frogs and cross the lobby to the world of adult reading and discovery.
Note the the adult section of the library has a very different meaning than the adult section of a video store.
Where I went to school in the land of Max Rafferty the first school library we saw was in Junior High School. It was also the time I begin to earn a few coins doing chores around the neighborhood and could occasionally buy a pocketbook for a quarter down at the candy/stationary/bookstore next to the new super market.
School libraries, in my opinion, were actually limiting on the growth and curiosity of students. After all, how many students considered the school library to be the furthest extent of knowledge? But I suppose that lacking driver’s licenses made school libraries important. That all ended when I turned 14 1/2 and got my driver’s permit. In no time I was visiting libraries and bookstores all around the county, even at the local colleges. When I wasn’t in school you could find me down at the beach, usually laying prone on a large towel reading semi-trashy books (I was big then on H. G. Wells, William Goldman, and John Keats).
I believe the single-most important image I retain that significantly influenced my reading life was that of my mother struggling out through the front door of the public library with her handbag dangling precariously on one shoulder and a tall, unstable stack of books held tightly against her body.
Funny thing, she would be back to the library in two or three days later for yet another large stack of books … and I would be right alongside her with my own seven books (as allowed by the library). Maybe that was why I looked forward to graduating to the adult side of the library: no restrictions on checkout!
Unfortunately my years of wandering around the library stacks diminished when it became common to access the collection via computer and have a wide view of the availability of a book, not just at your local library but also at other related libraries around the county or even the state. I still went to the library to retrieve and return the books I read, but the discovery element was lost. The same thing happened with the biggest of brick and mortar bookstores: when they first opened I would spend hours drifting among the books but at a certain point there was more to be found online than at the actual store and if it wasn’t for the coffee café I probably would have spent more time at Surf Taco.
Nowadays I have hundreds of unread books on my bookshelves but it is becoming more and more difficult to read them as my eyes get old and tired. Luckily the digital age has given me several excellent devices to store and read books in a font size that I can handle.
I see that more and more libraries are providing online access to digital books but they’ll never replace the physical sensation of holding and reading a real paper and ink book. Besides, there is a real social responsibility represented by libraries. After all, not everyone has and iPhone and it’s quite difficult to rely on candlelight to recharge your iPad’