When I visit a library, it’s like visiting my childhood. . .
“Ssssh. We’re quiet in the library.”
My siblings and I learned to be quiet, in our most favorite place where our imaginations thrived.
I remember feeling so mischievous huddled in the bookshelves with our piles of books. Soaking in all the illustrations and relishing in the worlds opening up to us. The books open on the floor, elbows propped on knees, legs tucked underneath us. Often the thrill or hilarity would have us literally rolling, bumping into each other, and always “Ssssh, we need to be quiet!”
I look back and so appreciate those generous-hearted librarians who endured our rambunctious lengthy presence on weekday evenings and weekends. As the eldest, I would be the one to corral us through the checking out procedure and bathroom duties, sucking up our water reserves from the water fountain before the library closed. Then we would hide in the bushes and watch the parking lot empty before emerging. Our parents often tarrying in recovering us.
Our days would often be monotonous and uneventful, but in books we were transported, entertained, and/or enlightened. Those days shone brightly colored in my memories.
So, am I a fan of books – oh yes.
Have I purchased a tablet?
No, I have not and do not plan to.
But, I do have one . . . A few months ago, a generous friend gave me hers, equipped with access to her Amazon Prime digital library. “Let me show you how it works. I love it.” It was turned on with soft press of a button and the screen was much softer than I expected. “It’s easy.” It did appear so. Not too many clicks, not too many steps to – wow, so many available titles. Titles that did sound interesting – I recall that impression at the time.
So, I left with her old tablet and my good friend’s gone onto an upgraded one. We came home, I unpacked and life went on and her tablet is getting dusty on my bookshelf among all my new book purchases I’ve made since then – still untouched.
What’s the matter with me? It would be more environmentally friendly, right? Actual books take up so much space, so much literal baggage. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I continue to expand our children’s library and encourage their book passion as well?
Just something about an actual book. So much anticipation in the weight of a book, the feel of its paper, the font, the cover. Something about flipping through pages in my anxiousness to uncover the mystery. When I become so enthralled with a character, I skim through the final chapters in case I have to prepare myself for heartbreak. And when the heartbreak hits, clutching that dear book to my chest in an effort to still the heavy thudding of my anguished heart. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? The drama is the heat in which impresses the story into my memory. The steady climb to that climactic peak and the stunning reaction . . . to lovely fictitious lives.
So there’s my personal spin and then there’s the academic science-worthy view.
The article in The Washington Post offered an easy read on this: “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.” Their pie graph illustrating actual print books for textbooks has remained strong and speculate the causes as being linked to reading comprehension. One student interviewed explained it as “building a physical map in my mind of where things are.” Memory recall linked to all the unique nuances of the printed page and the reader’s interaction with it.
The digital environment is also too much of a distraction from the reading experience. So easy to click on to a social network of some sort or other that leads you down a path away from your learning objectives. Looks like – if you’re a student, it’s best to buy an actual book!
A Sensory Experience: Some think that children’s books, which often feature large illustrations and may incorporate various tactile elements, aren’t as well suited to e-ink or touchscreens. And given the relative newness of e-reading and uncertainty around the effects of reading on screens, some parents may simply want to temper the exposure their children have to digital materials. “Somehow, I think it’s different,” Alexandra Tyler told the New York Times. “When you read a book, a proper kid’s book, it engages all the senses. It’s teaching them to turn the page properly. You get the smell of paper, the touch.”
There is also speculation of how we parents are just sentimental sorts that are keen on reliving that sweet childhood memory from that well-worn, beloved book – that we associate these books with love and tenderness. And with all the gambles there are with parenthood, this surely is an easy one. Get yourself a book and read it to your babies. It may surely feel good and it couldn’t possibly hurt.
This is where a public library comes back into the story.
“The public library is the great equalizer.” ~ Keith Richards.
My parents are blue-collared workers. Immigrating to America with little schooling, they worked long hours and raised four kids on meager salaries. We never went hungry and they were very creative and resourceful. Always coming up with alternatives to fill in the missing pieces. The public library filled in for child care, for entertainment, for educational resources. I was a toddler learning language at the same time they were learning English as their second language. “What does this say?” If I was not sure, a trip to the library would cure it. My father would say, “You need to know. Need to know for your family.” Everything in our house was either second hand or on loan from the library. My parents did not read to us, but their was no limit to the stack of books we could borrow. In the end, I have a Masters degree, my other siblings are college graduates with professional careers. To think we began in a one-bedroom apartment with mattresses on the floor and piles of library books.
On travels, I research libraries and their book sales for every town we encounter. Driving up and opening the door to a new library always has its thrill. What will they have in store for us? A public library speaks to the soul of the community.
Here it is well expressed in a commentary published in the Boston Globe:
“Since it was founded in 1848, the Boston Public Library has been a major part of the city’s intellectual life. It plays a vital dual role, as a museum of culture and history as well as a gathering place and respite for urban dwellers. Charles Follen McKim’s “palace of the people” with its carved tribute to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was a testament to Victorian Boston’s aspirations.”
Dramatic, isn’t it? And yes, I really want to visit this library!
So it always saddens me to see the empty book shelves, empty book aisles. To find most of the library patrons glued to their computer screens. So many used library books online, does this signal the beginning of the end?
Read my next post for my answer to this question.
In the meantime, here are a few titles that may interest you, if you are keen on pursuing some “Book Love” in your life.
All available on
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