Thursday, July 28, 2011

I heart public libraries

Today on CBC’s noontime call-in show, Ontario Today, the topic was public libraries since the mayor of Toronto is proposing closing some branches and reducing hours and programming in others in an attempt to compensate for an estimated $744-million shortfall. Even Margaret Atwood has weighed in on the controversy, urging people to sign an on-line petition against cutbacks.

The call-in show was asking if and how people use their libraries. The guests on hand talked up the services libraries offer – like free downloads, e-books, internet, etc. In fact they seemed to be doing their best to not talk about books – as if ‘books’ is the old image that the library is trying to break with. Chat up wine tastings and citizenship ceremonies. Make the libraries sound cool. The underlying message was that books are just not hip enough to draw the public in.

As a book lover, I found this all a bit sad. And let me add that when I say I love books, I love print books. I love the paper and covers. I like holding a book, feeling the weight of it. (V however keeps complaining that he should be reading the latest George R.R. Martin release on an e-book since he’s nearly dropped the 1,000+ page hardcover book on his face a couple times when reading late at night.)

I think libraries should embrace their bookness. Sure, it’s great to offer internet and making your own baby food classes, but libraries are essentially about printed books. Stats even show that the borrowing of e-titles represents only 0.8% of overall circulation.

I know I’m a bit archaic when it comes to these matters, given that I’m a fan of such things as printed books and old-fashioned letters, but now that I have a young reader at home, I’ve become even more of a library fan. A trip to the library is a special outing, complete with snacks, coloring, puzzling… and of course, the choice of new books to take home. Thanks to the children’s section of our library I have become somewhat of an expert on penguins, pikas and construction trucks.

So yes, I’m all for finding ways to support public libraries.

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