in praise of libraries

John Scalzi writes a paean to the libraries in his life.

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete.  My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Not far from where I live, one of the village libraries has started closing on Saturdays because of budget cuts. You know, Saturday, the day kids are out of school, and maybe mom or dad have the day off. When you have to close on Saturdays, you’re at the point where you’re destroying the library’s place in a small town. Where I live, we have a lot of poor people who can’t buy books or music or movies on Amazon because they don’t have the money for the purchases, and don’t have the internet connection. As odd as it is to say it this way, the library is their Amazon.

And maybe it’s because of Amazon, which serves as a kind of private, pay as you go library for millions of people, but public libraries don’t seem to have as many friends these days. As Scalzi notes, there’s an undercurrent in the public conversation about libraries that they are somehow obsolete, and as such, maybe not worth our money.

In fact, now is exactly the time when we need to strengthen libraries. I mildly disagree with the mini-trend toward bookless libraries, and think we should be investing across all the *platforms* – paper, ebooks, cds, dvds – that can be made to work. In rural areas like mine just getting broadband internet can be difficult, and a library of actual stuff  – along with the free ‘net access it provides – continues to provide a valuable service.


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