I can't listen to librarians talk about how we need to stop thinking of libraries as places with books without imagining a priest saying, "We need to really stop thinking of the church as a place where people come to hear about the scriptures and pray. Because, gosh, the new generation (digital natives- i.e. internet addicts) really just wants another place to hang around and dick around on their laptops."Why are we so invested in the idea of libraries as a sacred, or at least special, place? Why are those who like libraries so outraged at the thought that they'll be dismantled for yet another Starbucks-like space?
Here are a few possibilities, but please--add your own.
- They're one of the last public spaces around that don't require you to (1) do something or (2) buy something, and yet they offer you riches in return: books.
- Yes, this is latent romanticism showing its face, but if you love books, you like being around them--leafing through them, admiring the covers, paying attention to the slick or rough feeling of old paper, the impress of the type, and everything else. You get ideas. The connection of past with present work and future possibilities is stimulating.
- Browsing the shelves, you'll see things that you might not see with even the most assiduous and well-informed search.
- You're around people, but you don't have to talk to them. Because it's a public space, it's energizing in a way that being at home isn't.
- You can sit and read, and read, and read, without anyone asking you if you want anything (a refill, a different book). There's an assumption of privacy within public spaces that's hard to come by anywhere else.
- A library is quiet, or at least mostly quiet. You aren't hearing people nattering away but saying absolutely nothing on cell phones.
I'm not saying that time, or libraries, have to stand still because of what they may mean to a few of us, but the idea that the library has functions other than just another place to chat and drink coffee needs to be considered.