Susan Orlean tells a tale that starts out much like that of many bookworms, of Growing Up in the Library, but her story ends with her reconnecting with libraries later in life, after a long spell when she had both the money and the inclination to buy most of her reading material and ends up taking her to a very different place than I’d expected.
I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way. My family lived in the suburbs of Cleveland, about a mile from the brick-faced Bertram Woods Branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library system. Throughout my childhood, starting when I was very young, my mother drove me there a couple of times a week. We walked in together, but, as soon as we passed through the door, we split up, each heading to our favorite section. The library might have been the first place that I was ever given independence. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to go off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I reunited at the checkout counter with our finds. Together, we waited as the librarian pulled out each date card and, with a loud chunk-chunk, stamped a crooked due date on it, below a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times. […] I deliberately didn’t quote from the end of her article because it needs to be read in situ to have the impact it does. Trust me (or, much more to the point, trust Susan Orlean), it’s worth the read. 1
Of course, all this is nonsense because once we lose our attraction for all these strange notions about the usefulness of publicly-funded provision of access to reading materials then surely Amazon (or Facebook, or Apple) will have out best interests at heart and can be trusted to care of all our2 content needs. At worst, perhaps there may be some need for charitably-minded citizens to organise themselves to make access to content available to the indigent. The UK government thinks that the increasing role of Food Banks in feeding a small portion of the population is a good thing, so who could possibly object to extending that idea to the content market? Before we know it, we’ll have these things called “Book Banks.” Oh, hang on a minute…
- The strange thing is that I feel that way despite my early personal experience of library visits having been a much more solitary affair and even though I’ve never really reconnected with libraries in later life. Neat thing, that whole writers-communicating-their-life-experiences-to-others-through-the-magic-of-words trick, isn’t it?
- Which is to say, all of us who have sufficient funds, plus access to the appropriate online payment systems, and to devices that have the appropriate up-to-date DRM software installed, and access to the internet.