Our Libraries: Channeling Between the Ditches

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Libraries have always been a home away from home for me. Whether I stood beside the “stacks” (bookshelves) or in a privileged place behind the desk, I sensed at an early age the quiet, potential “wealth” around me. My grandmother, a librarian, allowed me to accompany her, first, at the high school library she had charge of and, later, when she retired from teaching and became director at a public library.
At that time, no doubt, it was the pictures in the storybooks that I looked forward to. When I learned to read, I discovered the pleasures of thinking my own pictures. Either way, the library atmosphere, with its quiet calm, the smell of the books and the key to so many places my mind could travel, contributed greatly to the person I am today.
When my Friends of the Library board recently appropriated a budget for this year, it was no surprise that our financial support will be for anything but books. Ironically, many promotions to get kids into the library (which will hopefully encourage them to read) don’t directly have to do with books.
Columnist Jeffrey Zaslow described my feelings in a nutshell, “For parents and grandparents, it’s hard to accept that young people today often feel little connection to the local library. We recall the libraries of our childhoods as magical places; getting our first library card was a rite of passage. It saddens us that younger generations seem more eager to buy books than borrow them, or that they consider libraries just another tool for acquiring information.”
Sure, there are still library-loving children, but books aren’t necessarily the draw. Many gravitate to the rows of computer terminals. Libraries are offering more children’s materials and programs than ever, with attendance growing at events such as story hours, icecream socials and movie nights. According to one study by the Association for Library Service to Children, suburban kids, especially, often use libraries more for DVDs, story hours and computers, because their parents buy them books.
A retired librarian observed, “The library is more removed from [children's] lives. It’s a last ditch place to go if they need to find something out.” While techno-generations are turning first and foremost to the Internet for resources, older Internet-phobes, who depend on librarians to field questions they could answer online in seconds, are missing out on an incredible tool.
Says pediatrics professor Mel Levine, “The library is about delayed gratification. It’s about browsing through shelves of biographies [wondering] what will I do when I grow up? The library slows you down and makes you think.”
Well, it used to. Our forms of media rapidly develop and transform and so must the keepers of our information, our libraries. My family’s use of our local library clearly substantiates the trends that channel the way we get our information and the kinds of information we are looking for. Videos (DVDs and tapes) far outweigh books in what we check out.
I love to read, but I’ll confess it’s easier falling asleep looking at a TV screen than nodding over a book (nothing to hold). Still, I can listen to music and read a book, and, in my world of monstrous multitasking, nothing appeals to me more. I’ll turn one more page before my eyes get heavy and I drift asleep. Goodnight.

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