Libraries: Oh My, How Times Have Changed

I was the kid who knew our bookmobile driver’s name. I befriend him, and each week, we’d talk about stories. He’d bring me books I’d requested, as well as a few he thought I might like.

When we moved, I remember being disappointed in the size of our new library (we moved from a city of, at the time, around 75,000 people to a town of 187 – and no, that’s not a typo, though the population has recently hit 350). I was happy to learn, after befriending our librarian, of course, that the county libraries were all connected, and any book they didn’t have in our town, they could possibly borrow from another location. We’d go every week, my mother, my sister, and I, and we’d search the library and hang out and talk about stories with our librarian friend.

The trend of befriending librarians has continued into adulthood. I’m fortunate enough to teach at a college, which has it’s own library whose reach extends not just across the state, but the country (I see you and I thank you WorldCat). We have access to all kinds of digital databases. And we have what every library must – friendly librarians (who are, quite honestly, magical beings – I’ve inquired about some pretty out there resources, and I have yet to stump them). [Side note: They also helped me write what is still to this day the nerdiest poem title I’ve ever written – which is a Library of Congress number for a book (which doesn’t exist in real life) that I used as a metaphor within the poem.]

I make good use of my own library card at work, not just as a teacher of English, but as an avid reader. Of course, due dates become an obstacle over breaks because I live so far away from campus (like in the state next door far away) – and sometimes glitches happen. (I accidentally kept a loaned book way past its due date because the system let me “renew” it when, in reality, I wasn’t allowed to…oops…) So I opted earlier this month to get a card at my local library so that any due dates without the ability to renew would mean a short drive rather than a panic for how to get this book back across state lines.

While I’ve been to several of my county’s library locations through UntitledTown, I’d not ever paid attention to the their check out/in process… (and the last time I lived in this city and utilized their services, it was done by hand). So imagine my surprise when I learned that you can complete the full spectrum of the book rental process without ever having to exchange one word with a single librarian. I can place a hold for a book online (and track them on their website – I get emails when they are available, as opposed to the arrival of a bookmobile at the end of our block or a phone call from our small town librarian). These books are lined up on a shelf with a receipt sticking out the top announcing the first three letters of my last name. I take the book, walk it over to this computer, set it where it tells me to, and then scan my library card. Voila! Who needs human contact?

When it’s time to return it, there is this contraption. Press the button, and the little door opens to reveal a conveyor belt that sucks the book into an unknown room.

Maybe you all have been doing these things so long that you’re like, uh huh – what’s your point?

My point is – I miss the experience. I miss flipping through the card catalog. I miss saying hi to my bookmobile-driving friend. I miss getting calls that my books were ready. I miss the friendship created and maintained over a love of stories. Libraries are sacred places, and this just feels so…colorless. The magic still exists contained between the covers of a book – but it’s just not the same.

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