An article in this morning’s Columbus Dispatch regarding e-readers and the downloading of library books has me thinking about how we’ve been quick to exchange an aesthetic experience for convenience. I already have nostalgia for the now defunct card catalog in libraries. How close are we to only having virtual libraries and no printed materials at all?
I’ve always been one to believe that there are too many of us who are in love with the sensory experience of a book (the feel of the paper, the smell of the binding, etc.) as well as with the artistry that goes into making such an object, that books will always exist.
But listen to how Robin Nesbitt, director for technical services for the Columbus Metropolitan Library, is indirectly quoted in this article: If users flock to digital books, it’s possible Columbus and other libraries will begin to shift their materials budgets from physical to digital versions. I don’t know about you, but that leaves me just a tad uneasy, even though a librarian friend of mine says that she thinks for the time being e-books and printed books will have a friendly coexistence in our public libraries.
Here’s a link to the article, in case you’re interested:
I was watching a scene in a movie recently where someone was showing a card catalog to someone else, and it brought back memories of sliding out a drawer and flipping through the index cards. I remember how I could slide a drawer all the way out and rest it on a table if I chose. I remember the little pull-out shelf that I could use to rest a notebook on and jot down the call number for a book I wanted. Who can forget those stubby pencils in a box for anyone who needed one and the slips of paper that you could use if you didn’t have a notebook?
What a joy it was to wander through the stacks, looking for the books on my list, gathering them in my arms, and hauling them to the front desk where the librarian would remove the cards from the pockets inside the covers and stamp them with the due dates, which he or she would also record on the slip of paper glued inside the back cover. That slip would have a record of all the other due dates for patrons who had checked that book out before I found it. What a miracle, I still think, that we can essentially be given the gift of a library book. For a time, it’s ours, free of charge. All we have to do is to agree to bring it back. And, oh, what things one can find in those books, items left behind by others who’ve read it–a grocery list used as a bookmark, a dogeared page, maybe even a penciled exclamation in the margin, a stain from a coffee cup, a burn hole from a cigarette, a hairpin, a paper clip. All the signs of others come before me, signs of this tribe of readers.
What will our signs be if printed books vanish and our novels, our collections of poems and stories, our nonfiction books, are merely blips of data stored on computer chips? How will we know that others have read these “books,” that they mattered, not only to a single reader, but in a way to all of us?