I once worked with a woman who had dedicated a year of her life to reading classic works of literature. She read all day and into the night. The more she read, the more she wanted to. But at the end of that year she was saddened by one reality: She would never have the time to read every great book ever published – no matter how long she lived. But she still wanted to surround herself with books; she went to library school, and spent her life helping others find their way to those great works.
Libraries have always been my happy place. Running my fingers across the spines of all those unread books, I let the crinkling sound of those plastic covers wash over me with possibility. I wonder at the worlds open to me in those pages.
But on a recent visit to my local library, I found little solace in my happy place. Somewhere between the Pe’s and Pr’s of the fiction section I glimpsed one possible and terrifying future: one with no books. I imagined a time when books are no longer tangible objects with pages to turn. No need for stacks to peruse and soak in that comforting, musty smell. Kindles have their advantages, certainly. But get a kindle for convenience. Get a book for your soul.
What would my library look like in 50 years, or even 20? I imagined a future when I could no longer take public libraries for granted. Can they remain relevant in an age when digital information is a click away?
The short answer is a cautiously optimistic yes. I was relieved last week when I read in The Atlantic: “As much as our world hurtles toward digitized information, physical books remain popular, useful, and revered items. We share, use, collect, and read billions of books every year, and we house our most treasured ones in libraries, in some of the most remarkable architecture around the world.”
Alan Taylor’s article in The Atlantic features gorgeous photographs of libraries from around the world – well worth a look. While I really admire the Handelingenkamer in The Hague, I must confess that number 11 is my favorite.