As a kid I was a voracious reader — still am — and I loved the Kearny Public Library. We had a small branch within walking distance of our home on Stewart Avenue, and I could go there on Saturday morning and squirrel myself away in the adult section and read for hours. I’ve written before about the kindly librarian who allowed me access to the adult section well before I reached the minimum age of twelve, and although I couldn’t take books out, I could leave the children’s section behind and satisfy my love of challenging reading. I think the librarian must have noticed that I sometimes hid the book behind some others so no one would take it out until I could come back and finish. I always carefully put the book back in the right place when I was done. What a gem she was. I can picture her face, although her name is long gone and I’m sure she passed away years ago. But she did a lot to foster my love of reading, and I’m grateful.
I used to frequent the library in Rochester as well, and Jerry and I often took the kids not only to get books, but to Sunday afternoon story hour with local story tellers. Books, physical books, have always been a big part of my life.
Books are not a big part of college students’ lives, at least not in the same way as they were for me. I recall going to the rather small library at the College of St. Elizabeth to take out 20 books or so to write a term paper. College kids no longer do that. Most of what they need is available for reading online. Books have become, in the words of this Atlantic writer, “wallpaper” — there to set the atmosphere, but largely untouched.
The thought is jarring to me.
And yet, here in Seattle, I mostly download books on my Kindle, even my beloved mysteries that aren’t great literature and nothing I’m apt to read again. Our Seattle Public Library is a stunning design by architect Rem Koolhaas, and I take people there for the experience — but I don’t go to take out books, or to our local branch either.
I had to cut down my huge collection of print books when I moved from Rochester, but I still own books of authors that I love, like Flannery O’Connor. I hate to think of books as “wallpaper”, but maybe we are moving beyond the print world — me too — and it remains a jarring thought.