January 05, 2010

In Praise of Public Libraries

Over at Norton's Poems Out Loud blog, I have a new essay up, "In Praise of Public Libraries." I wanted to tease out some of the ways that libraries serve a vital purpose to a community's readers and writers, even in this age of Amazon.com and the internet.

Here's a brief excerpt, from a section on what I call "the rule of thumbs":

"...I mean actual thumbs, the thumbs of readers who came before you. In libraries we recognize the judgment of touch; the best books are usually in the shabbiest shape. Every dog-eared corner marks a moment worth returning to. Every splotch of soy sauce is a medal of honor. Every creased binding proves hours spent using one hand to Xerox, or iron, or whatever the day required, while clutching in the other hand a story that could not be put down. When I first began browsing my way through the science fiction stacks, I didn’t choose books that looked like pristine runway models. I chose the grizzled field veterans. That’s how I came to Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Would I have found them at Borders? I don’t think so. In stores you stand before a sea of untouched editions. You drift toward volumes with striking designs, perfect trim sizes, showy end-of-aisle displays; that’s the tidal pull of good marketing. There’s nothing to judge by but cover after cover. I once picked up Fahrenheit 451 in a store, only to put it down again. The book was too small and tightly bound, the ink too fresh and smelly. The plot looked interesting, but lots of plots look interesting. The copy lacked the magnetism of a library’s dozen broken-in paperbacks, each loved into near oblivion."

Please check out the rest of the essay here. And if your local library (or librarian) has been feeling down, maybe you can send them a link? They need to know how deeply they are appreciated.

3 comments:

Matthew Thorburn said...

Yes! I am a huge fan and friend of the NY Public Library and talk it up to everyone I know. NYPL is building a new home for my local branch, which cheers me every time I walk by it (which is at least twice a day).

Anne said...

I will pass this along to a bunch of librarians. :)

Dan said...

Awesome! I just posted this to LIU's listserv for the library science students. :)