We will still need libraries

The new Bed Bath & Beyond catalog came in the mail today. Clearly, a great deal of what they sell currently falls into the “beyond” category. Did you know that not only can you buy your own soda-making machine, and your own kettle popcorn machine, but you can even buy your very own cotton candy maker? Don’t worry–this isn’t a no-fun post about conspicuous consumption, though certainly the phrase does come to mind when browsing many catalogs this holiday season.

No, this is a no-fun post about the crumbling fabric of society. Each of these things and many others besides represent occasions when people used to leave their houses and go be with other people. You went to the theatre to get your movie popcorn and soda, and you sat there with all of the other people and grumbled about the high prices and your feet sticking to the floor and you interacted with other human beings. You heard them laughing or gasping, and you were part of a shared experience. You went to an amusement park or the state fair to get cotton candy, and yes the crowds were annoying but you were going on the rides together and looking at the prize animals together. Being with other people was part of the experience.

The trend today and for the last decade at least is for people to own all of the things that they once had to go out for. People install home theatres and buy DVDs and make their popcorn at home and avoid all of the annoyances of going out to the movies. They install elaborate play structures for their children in the yard, and get the sorts of playthings for home that used to be found strictly at preschools (or at a wealthy friend’s house)–things like a play kitchen or a lifesize playhouse. They put in enormous gardens with large showy plants that used to only be seen in a park, and they cook in kitchens that many small restaurant chefs would envy.

And in the library realm, looking just a little in the future, people will increasingly be downloading their books, their music, and their movies. They will read their magazine articles on the Internet and they already go to the library’s website to look up periodical articles to read at home. It is all going to be home-based.

So why are libraries more popular than ever? It’s in large part because of the people. It’s where you find knowledgeable staff who can help you locate and sort through information. And it’s also where you find your fellow parents/kids/seniors/job seekers/gamers–whatever your group is, you can connect with them at the library. The library will continue to be a place where people come to be informed and entertained long after the materials have gone online, because you can’t stay at home eating popcorn and cotton candy all the time, and after awhile, shopping gets old. Smart communities will continue to support their libraries and smart taxpayers will get in there and make use of the resources they will find.

So maybe the fabric of society won’t completely crumble. But if I get a Bed Bath and Beyond catalog that sells a machine for making elephant ears or deep-fried Snickers bars at home, I may wonder.

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3 Responses to We will still need libraries

  1. annie says:

    I recently wandered through Bed Bath & Beyond and thought many of these same things. I also perused the Kindles on Amazon.

    Then I thought about the feel of a book in my hands and the smell of books in the library and passed. Wandering through the library on a cold winter day is much more enjoyable than clicking download on a new title. The friendly librarians are just the icing on the cake!

  2. David Gutteridge says:

    My recent work with the Medway University of the Third Age (an intertnational lifelong learning charity, with UK headquarters but branches in many countries of the world) has been helped no end by co-operating with the library service. I have put some subject groups’ meetings into the adult lending libraries, where quite conversation is accceptable and where books can be found easily and returned to the shelves. I observed eight ladies over 70 construing rather saucy Latin verse in Rochester Library last week. Our ladies get to bump into old friends, and other library users are attracted to return to informal co-operative study. I have also had librarians contribute to branch study days and workshops.

    U3A has links to these projects in IL:

    The Academy of Lifelong Learning at Lincoln Land Community College, Springfield

    Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies: Institute for Learning in Retirement in Chicago

    The Institute for Learning in Retirement Bradley University in Peoria

    POLIS (Pursuit of Learning in Society) at Quincy University, Quincy

    Lifelong Learning at Parkland College, Champaign

    Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove

    Northern Illinois University – Life Long Learning Institute

    Senior Professionals of Illinois State University, Normal

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