One of the things I love about Bend is our public library. It is a centerpiece of our community – friendly, modern, useful, and bustling with activity. Which is why I was delighted to see that in these troubled economic times library use is up 10%. It flies in the face of long-running predictions that libraries would suffer as more and more people turn to the internet, and is a notable contrast to the layoffs that hit the book publishing industry back in December on a day now referred to as “Black Wednesday“. So it was a bit of a surprise to hear myself recommending to my friend Bryan that he stop using the library.
Bryan and I were chatting about how his daughter had become a voracious reader, something he was naturally excited about. The problem was that in preparation for a trip his family was taking to Costa Rica for two weeks, he and his daughter had gone to the library and checked out a half dozen books to satisfy her reading appetite while they were away. Schlepping these rather bulky, mostly hardback, tombs around while they were on vacation was no mean feat, but anything for daddy’s little girl, right?
She finished them in four days.
As a techno-geek, my response was immediate and obvious, “Get a Kindle!” The Kindle, Amazon.com’s e-book reader, is about the same form factor as a normal book, but can hold 100’s (1000’s?) of digital e-books. It seemed like a perfect solution to the problem – his daughter could read for months, if not years, with all the content these things can hold.
But I later realized that what I was really saying was, “stop using the library.” Not completely mind you, just when you need to go on vacation. In this case, the library didn’t seem like the right solution. With that realization, I found myself balking at the idea. Libraries are so vital and offer so many intangible benefits to our community, to the growth of our children, that it seems criminal to find any flaw in them, any excuse not to leverage them to the utmost. Furthermore, there is something a bit perverse about taking the classic vision of a child engrossed in a good book and replacing that book with some techno-gadget.
“Our little Becky was so caught up in the story she just couldn’t stop hitting the ‘Next Page’ button!”
I don’t know… am I wrong here? Should we forego all other considerations in our quest to satisfy the insatiable appetite for reading our children have at that age? Will children who read from a Kindle grow up to share the same passion for reading that we have? There is something about that full-monty, library experience – walking through aisles after aisle of books, thumbing through pages both new and well-worn – that is hard to quantify. As an adult I know the number of volumes in our library is limited to, what, 20-30K books, but as a child it seems infinite and enticing in a way impossible to recreate. And that sense of wonder as a child must surely influence how strongly we feel about reading as an adult.