“Children’s Library Attendance Drops”

The title says it all.

This from @thebookseller on Twitter refers only to the UK, but it would hardly surprise me if the same holds true for the US and other nations as well. Actually, I imagine the numbers for the US would be even grimmer, as addicted as we are here to the cult of the new and the digital.

This makes me profoundly sad. I’m a committed devotee of paper — I subscribe to six periodicals and read them in paper exclusively, despite having e-access; I read and own a large quantity of books, and have never read an e-book and won’t until I no longer have a choice. Paying a premium for a physical copy of my reading material is a small price to pay in my mind. Am I an anachronism? Yes, and I really don’t give a shit. Growing up in an ideologically restrictive household, the library was my sanctuary; it was the place where my emotions and ideas could soar to heights theretofore unknown, where my imagination could acquire its own life and I could become Frodo carrying the One Ring, Thoreau observing a war of ants on Walden Pond, Raskolnikov plotting a murder, Quentin Compson pondering suicide with shelves and shelves of “other rooms, other wonders” (to quote Daniyal Mueenuddin (’86)’s title — another Dartmouth alum and a fine writer at that, just as a brief aside).

I’m not naive. I know that print in its physical form is headed the way of the eight-track and VHS tape — a format embraced only by self-appointed “curators” of a form of culture that technology has superseded. Yet, as a writer, an editor, a former (and future — trust me on that) bookseller, a critic and a library patron who makes at least one visit a week to my local branch (which is excellent at procuring any obscure university press title I’ve happened to encounter in the TLS or NYRB and knew immediately that I MUST READ THIS), I will defend physical print until the die I day.

I could go on at length about the feel of a book, the rasp of turning pages, the grandmotherly odor older books acquire, the simple pleasure of selecting a bookmark, deciding whether this is the type of book one can highlight or underline or if it should remain as pristine as possible… I’ll spare any reader that, as I could rhapsodize for hours or, in this instance, paragraphs, on my love affair with books and the universe of knowledge, history, emotion and wisdom they contain.

All I can say is please take your children to your library; the internet can open up worlds to an extent to which no generation prior to ours and theirs have had access, and I sincerely hope every child on earth will someday have access to it, but a library is a special place. A holy place, in my mind. A library is the key unlocking universes previously unimagined.

“La Biblioteca Total” is my conception of paradise.

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~ by Benji on 28 July 2015.

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