Saturday, July 07, 2007

Library Blues

My mother is a librarian, and she imparted to me a lifelong love of reading. I go through phases when I'm not doing much reading,* but on average I read a couple of books a month. This morning Kathy, Emelia and I went to the local library branch so Kathy and I could check out some books for our upcoming trip to the beach. Upon our arrival we discovered that in the four months or so since we'd last been (it's embarrassing to admit that it's been so long, though we had visited the main library in the meantime), the library had undergone a renovation.

In the middle of the room were eight computer terminals, and on either side were new bookshelves. The bookshelves had glass sides with art and literary quotes on them, and looked beautiful. Unfortunately, one thing that they didn't have was two-thirds of the books that had been in the library before the renovation. There were fewer shelves, they weren't close to being filled, and now some of them had CDs and DVDs instead of books. I was dismayed to realize that my library had become one of those lovely painted eggshells that had been hollowed out.

I understand the desire to provide multiple services for the public, but I don't understand why doing that means that you have to reduce the number of books at all, much less so dramatically -- it seems that a library should, first and foremost, be a resource for books. Does it make sense to attempt to attract people who might not come at the expense of those of us who have been using it?

We ended up checking out three paperbacks. In the future, I fear we'll have to make more frequent visits downtown if we want to find stuff we want to read, and overall we'll check out fewer books. I had a conversation with someone else who was making her first post-renovation visit, and she was equally disappointed with what the library had become. Sadly, if enough of us feel that way, that means that fewer people will visit this library to check out books, thereby vindicating the library's decision and possibly leading to the removal of even more books and creating a nasty little feedback loop. Yuck.
* -- As used in this sentence, the term reading refers only to reading books. I am constantly reading news, sports, blogs, forums, etc. ad infinitum. Not to mention that my job requires a great deal of reading. I could no sooner go long periods without reading much of anything than stop breathing.