I went to the Library last night.
That sentence wouldn't used to have been worth writing. I used to spend lots and lots of time at libraries. I remember a junior high school English class essay assignment I had to write on the subject of "My Favorite Teacher." I dodged the delicate question of whether to insult or suck up to that English teacher by writing an essay saying that my favorite teacher was the Library. That was probably true, too. I was then and am still a voracious book reader. Going to the library was truly a favorite thing to do, and I have learned more from reading library books than from any other teacher.
We used to go there as a family with the kids when they were young, and come home with great huge stacks of books.
But I haven't been to the Library in so many years that my card with no expiration date had finally expired anyway. I knew that only because I tried to log onto the library website and was denied access. My card was literally disintegrating. I just haven't gone to the library in many years, even though it's less than a mile straight down my own street.
So last night, I finally managed to get there and got a new library card. They offered me my choice of picture cards. I got the one with the photo of Bob's Big Boy on it. Actually, it's a photo of Glendale's 2002 Rose Parade Float that had a giant Big Boy statue, almost like the Statue of Liberty, except holding up not the torch of Liberty but the Hamburger of Obesity. In Glendale times have changed only somewhat - the library is going digital, but the photo on the card looks back to the previous century. Us oldies remember cruising Bob's drive-in on Friday nights, but those drive-ins have all gone now, replaced by drive-thrus.
I think what most bemused me though is thinking about why I have been away from the library so long (and, oh, by the way, they said I have 80 cents in overdue fines that have been on my account for many years). Why did I quit going to the library?
Sadly, one reason is that with all the government fiscal problems over the last 30 years, they have kept cutting back on hours until it is rarely open when I am around. I did try to go there a few times, but every time I tried, it was closed. It is open 'til 8 only a few nights a week. Most nights, it closes before I get home from work.
Another reason is that combination hero/villain of the book world, Amazon. Buying a novel didn't used to seem like a reasonable thing. Why buy a book I was only likely to read once and then have no use for? Still true, but it's just easier to order and have it arrive magically a couple days later, and really, I LIKE owning books. And besides, looking at books on Amazon is surprisingly fun and convenient. No, this is not a plug for Amazon. I was really sad that two bookstores in Westwood went out of business in the last three months, mostly due to internet competition. But I have admit that I buy more books on line than I ever did in stores, and for more reasons than just price.
Which gets back around to the irony of what actually got me to the library this time: To get a pin # so I could download e-books from the public library website. In other words: I went to the library so won't have to go to the library any more. I went there only to get free access to the ephemeral digital replacement for books. We got our daughter a Kindle for her birthday - even Amazon is putting itself out of the book business. I'm still clinging to paper books, but I think their days are fading.
I get the feeling the library, and the books it stores, are about to go the way of the Bob's Big Boy on my library card - nostalgic memories. I heard someone say recently that owning shelves of books used to make one look educated; now it just makes you look old.
I will lament the demise of the library even though I hadn't gone in years. My grandchildren know what a library is. My grandson said going to the school library was one his best days ever. Their children may see libraries only as museums for those antique paper things. Should we feel sad about that, or happy? In the end, isn't progress is about gain, not about loss? Aren't we happy that technology progresses, from carvings on clay, to handwriting on scrolls, to manual printing presses, to automated presses that mass produce easily affordable books; from typewriters to word processors, from handwritten snail mail to internet blogs; from the shelf of Encyclopedia Brittanica, to the limitless expanse of the Internet, instantly updated? We may recall with fondness things we used to enjoy, but that doesn't mean we really want to go back to them. I have this nagging sense of something extremely valuable being lost, but I think the reality is that it is going away only because it has been replaced by something much better.