When was the last time you went to the library to find and check out a book? You know, for the reason libraries kind of exist? I will admit to you, I went through my entire college career only checking out three books. I checked out those three books, all at the same time, because I was required to do so, not because that was the most efficient way for me to dig up information.
Still, I spent a lot of time in the library. I spent time there printing papers, studying with friends, and consuming lots and lots of coffee. The library was a place to go for me if I wanted to be somewhere quiet, if I needed to get work done. You know, I like the ideas of a place like that: a place where it's not frowned upon if you choose not to buy a cup of expensive coffee, a place where you're not forced to use your headphones to drown out the noise of a couple arguing, of a meeting that doesn't concern you, or even the sound of music they force upon you.
Libraries are obsolete. I think we all know that, but the ones who would argue against that might not want to let go of them for reasons of nostalgia. I can't read everyone's mind, of course, but I feel like if we're really being honest with ourselves, they're just not needed in their current form. Now, I'm not saying that we should get rid of them altogether, or by any means get rid of books, but I do think they are in a major need of a refresh.
The original duty to serve as a hub of information has transferred to the internet. Like it or not, it's the truth. But the value of books is still something that should be treasured. I love books. I try to read at least one book per month, but I always do this using my Kindle. Most people aren't aware of this, but you can actually check out digital library books and read them on your Kindle, iPad, tablet, etc.! It's great! The selection is still lacking, but it's still quite incredible that I can enter my local library card number in their online library website, and I can have a book delivered to my kindle in under a minute. So, I am in fact, using my taxpayer-funded library...one that I haven't physically been to in more than 5 years? It's pretty crazy to think about that. And from many people to whom I've spoken, this is an increasingly popular practice. To me, this means something needs to change.
Here's my vision. Libraries could be transformed to be less focused on the plethora of books they currently carry, and more focused on being an inviting, public space where people can go to think, create, read, etc. When I say transformed, I mean they need a serious makeover. Fewer harsh fluorescent lights, no outdated carpet, and some comfortable chairs would be a good start. They could work with local coffee shops to serve coffee to visitors in a more open environment. Books can still be there, of course, but I'd bet a large majority of the books in a public library don't even get picked up in a years' time. Stock the more popular and useful books, but migrate the rest to a digital system. Libraries could even have kindles people could borrow to read these selections. I don't want to see libraries disappear, but as with many government services, lots could be done to improve them and make them useful for so many more people.
That's enough political commentary for one blog post... :) My original inspiration for this post was actually thinking about music libraries. It's kind of crazy to think that I can theoretically carry my music library forward with me into my late 20s, 30s, and beyond. I could be 50 years old one day and have every song I've ever liked in a massive music library. How cool will it be to look back on day and see what playlists you were listening to back in college?
In the same way, my book collection can continue to grow as I do, and I will always be able to see what books I've read. All of my notes and highlights I've made on my Kindle will be with me for as long as I have an Amazon account (which will probably be forever, if they continue the way they've been going). I'm not one to re-read books, but I like the idea of having my book consumption history available to me to reflect upon later in life. Now that we all of our own personal libraries, I think it's time we fix the communal ones.