Posts Tagged ‘library’

Libraries

June 30th, 2010

As a child, I haunted both the local libraries in my area: the school library and our local county library (which was 30 miles away from my house). An avid reader, I grew up surrounded by books. But aside from my own small hand-me-down collection, the books in our house were Serious Books—the classics (which I had read to me from a very young age), science, history, etc. I wanted more “interesting” stuff.

I probably checked out and read a couple hundred books a year. I couldn’t afford to buy my own books, but the library kept me up to date with both the latest fiction and a the ability to browse science fiction and fantasy of the 50s and 60s and regular old kids’ books (I loved adventure yarns of the mythical west). Librarians put aside new books for me so I could read them first. They knew I’d read them quickly and that I’d tell them if I liked it or not.

One of my favorite moments was when our school librarian handed me A Wizard of Earthsea, a book she’d gotten in and had heard was good. (It was years after it had come out, but this was a very small town in a remote—and poor—county. We were the last to find out about cool things.) What a wonderful discovery that was! That book has influenced my writing to this day—the silvery feel of magic in a world of small islands dotting a world of water has always enchanted me. Of course, I read a lot of junk as well—from the racist Tarzan books to potboiler mysteries. If it was there, I read it.

After college, I abandoned the library. I bought my own books, and accumulated bookcases in which to store my treasures. I enjoy the books I have and don’t regret a dime I’ve ever spent on books.

I still loved the idea of libraries, which made me receptive when I met a library volunteer at a community event where I was playing music. As I was setting up, she came and asked me if I had my own library card. My wife had a library card, but I didn’t have my own, I told her. She explained how it helped library funding if we had separate cards so we counted as two people using the system, so I filled out the form.

When she handed me my card, I felt like I’d stepped back into a magical society. For no money, I could again tap into a treasure trove of books. I could even search for and reserve books online. Honestly, isn’t that the sort of thing we pay taxes for—a service that makes life better? Might as well take advantage of it!

Of course, the library system isn’t as healthy as when I was a kid. State, city, and county cutbacks have driven many libraries out of business (including the one at my old elementary school) and forced others into reduced hours and smaller catalogs. I was lucky enough to grow up before California’s Proposition 13 gutted the state’s tax revenue base. Kids today have it harder.

My hold on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest had 43 people ahead of me (it’s down to 39 now), so it’s not as fast a run down to Barnes & Noble. And the selection, while better than a bookstore, especially in terms of back catalog, is not huge. But the waiting makes the book feel that much more special when the email comes in announcing its availability.

If you don’t have on already, go get a library card. Do what you can to support your local library. Because when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Perhaps someday we’ll be able to download massive quantities of free books, filling the void—but I doubt it. More likely, we’ll pay for anything we read, licensed to our individual account, unable to trade it in for new books like you can with physical books—and authors probably still won’t make much on the deal. In that context, the copies that libraries buy seem like a good deal for everyone—authors and readers alike.