The Library Really Is An Amazing Thing

When I was little I'd go to the library all the time. I'd ride my bike with my mom and sister the five or so miles to the library in Milwaukie on the nicer summer days, picking up books by the ton. I read - a lot. In fact, that was how I measured my summers sometimes, by how many books I read.

Even when high school came around, that didn't change much. Sure, I'd hang out with friends and the later years of high school I had a job, but there was a still a lot of reading I did. The same thing in college - probably even more so. The summer after my sophomore year in college I got a job working the swing shift at the Fred Meyer warehouse. That meant hours way different from any of my friends, so I ended up returning to the library. I read before work, on my lunch hour, and late at night at home as I wound down from 9-10 hours of manual labor (read at work because, well, I didn't have a lot in common with my coworkers). I think that summer I plowed through the life works of Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy, and Stephen King - sometimes entire books in a single day.

After that summer, I kind of forgot about the library for a few years. The next summer I spent studying in Italy, and after graduation I was working - normal hours for the most part this time. After Wifey and I moved in together I started collecting books, thinking for some reason I wanted to have a big library of my own. That's hard to do when you live first in an apartment and then in a modest sized home - not exactly room for a library anywhere.

Plus, I don't read books more than once. Ever. I know some people talk about favorite books and how they re-read them, but I can't really do that. I mean, why? I know what happens...where is the suspense? And if I'm not going to read something again, what's the point of owning the book?

A couple years ago Wifey finally talked me into getting my own library card in our county, something I hadn't done in the eight years we had lived there. I had just been using hers for a short time, but I started reading a ton more. Going to the library isn't like it was when I was younger, either.

Back then I'd go with no real plan, no book in mind, and just browse the shelves looking for something to catch my eye. Now I know what I like and technology has made it so I can manage my library account online, placing holds at will and simply waiting for my name to come up, then going to the library just to grab my holds. No browsing. There's something to be said for browsing, for sure, but when you only have limited time and you know what you want, this is practically unbeatable.

I will admit to placing hold requests on books that are on the shelf at my "home" library also. I mean, how lazy am I, right? I could go in and grab the book off the shelf, but instead I click from my computer and a library volunteer has to do that and move it to the held section for me. Whatever.

The library today has so many more options. Heck, my library does have the standard DVDs and CDs, but they also rent Blu-Ray discs and video games for Wii, PS3, and XBox. Considering Blu Rays are still not widely used we typically have our pick of the litter - and who looks for them at the library?!

These buildings and services truly are remarkable. They put everyone on an even playing field, leaving it up to you to decide how you want to entertain or educate yourself. I will still buy the occasional book - usually something I might use for a while, such as a book of workouts or a wine reference book - but a piece of fiction I'm only going to read once? Why bother?

The juxtaposition of this, as someone who would like to write a novel someday and sell a million copies, is something I have thought about but don't have an answer about how to reconcile. I mean, authors will always need people to buy their books, right? (Whether or not that's an actual book or a new technology, such as delivered solely via a Kindle or something.) So if everyone just gets it at the library...can an author still be successful? Anyone know?

I'm going to work on that for myself, but for now I'd just like to offer a public thank you to the creators of idea of the public library. According to Wikipedia - which we all know is the be all and end all of fact - they have been around since Roman times. Personally, if the library needs tax money for something, it's going to be really hard for me to ever turn them down. I'd love to see them add more books and staff and options, but they are traditionally severely underfunded and run by a high percentage of volunteers.

It's a fantastic concept and more people should take advantage of it. Or maybe they shouldn't - that will just make my hold times longer.

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