Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ray Bradubury and the Internet

I credit Ray Bradbury with helping me become the reader I am today. I read everything I could get my hands on of his when I was a kid. Usually through our local public library.

His recent quote, "To hell with the internet" has been on several web sites I frequent.

I much prefer what he says about libraries in this quote from the New York Times:
“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
My childhood would have been very different if I hadn't had access to a local library. Yet I am fully engaged in the digital world and dabble in electronic books. I have a reader on my iPhone that I use occasionally. It still doesn't have the appeal to me of a hard copy book. But I find I am using it more often.

I've also noticed that it is getting harder and harder to get the books I want at our library. I often have to use inter-library loan. I wanted a copy of Thomas Paine's Common Sense recently and our library didn't have a copy. They could get it for me in a couple of days. I was able to download a free copy to my iPhone in several minutes. Our library tends to spend their very limited resources on the most popular titles. The more obscure titles and authors tend to be under represented. I go to the library with a list of ten books that I've jotted down from articles or interviews I've seen or from the citations inside other books I've recently read. I run about 10% on the immediate availabilty of those books in our library. My librarians have always been able to get me a book if I am willing to wait. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I'm not.

When I was a boy, our local library had a great science fiction section because one of the librarians was a SF fan. She made sure there was a good selection and often recommended books to me as I was growing up. (Thank you unknown library lady...I wish I could remember your name.) If we lose libraries, we also lose librarians, and I am very fond of librarians! A group of people whose job is to maintain collections of books and help me find what I want or need.

So where do I sit on the idea of spending tax dollars on libraries. I support it. I also support the idea that libraries need to be a flexible, changing entity. Many of the librarians I've talked to recently realize that their world is in a state of change. It's hard to predict what a library will look like in 10 years. But, we still need a place where information is easily accessible and free. I also think we need librarians in some shape or form?

I had a conversation with a parent a while back. She felt libraries wern't as important because she "could get whatever book she wanted, when she needed it, on". Of course, she came from a two income family that spent money on books for their kids. I'm not too worried about those kids. It's the ones who have never received a book as a gift. Who don't have a bookshelf at home because there is no need. Who would never have access to information and knowledge were it not for the local library.

Libraries are for all of us. They are a democratic institution in their thinking and intent. A strong democracy needs a strong system of libraries. I'm just not sure what they will look like in the near future?

[Image captured from Sci Fi Wire:]

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