What’s a library without books?
San Antonio, Texas, is touting its latest technological innovation – a bookless library.
BiblioTech has been described as looking like an Apple Store, filled with rows of iMacs and iPads, staffed by librarians who wear clothing mimicking Apple’s dress code.
The bookless library is attracting worldwide attention, with a vice president of the Charleston, S.C., Metro Chamber of Commerce announcing, “This is the future. If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.”
Nominate me for the Dinosaur of the Month Club, but I can think of few things more sad and less appealing than a library without books.
Sure, I understand the concerns of traditional librarians: items get misshelved, pages are ripped out of books, some “borrowers” become “keepers.”
I certainly understand some of the convenience of reading books on a screen. After all, I spend hours a day reading from a computer screen.
But for me, the shiniest, fastest, most up-to-date gizmo – regardless of what or how much I can read on it – will never replace being able to hold a book in my hands, touching the pages, feeling its weight.
I’ve been a bookworm as far back as I can remember. As a child, when I couldn’t sleep at night, I would crawl out of bed, put my Mary Had A Little Lamb lamp on the floor so I wouldn’t wake my sister and crack open a book from Albia’s public library. My favorites were books about Native Americans, animals and secret codes. I can still remember what the covers of some of those books looked like.
I kept many of the Little Golden Books from my childhood. Once in a while, I will still run my hands over the slightly-still-fuzzy coat of “Fuzzy Joe Bear” and re-read the story of the “Spotted, Dotted Puppy.”
I was an avid customer of the Scholastic Book Club, which were distributed through the schools and let students mail-order books. In my case, usually lots of books.
In college, I often had trouble letting go of books from my favorite classes. I still have my textbook from Art History II because it introduced me to incredible people with indescribable talent and vision. I don’t even have to open the book to “see” some of the artworks in my mind.
I have books that belonged to my mother, books that my dad read in his childhood and one Edgar Guest book – the gold letters on its faded green cover nearly impossible to read – that was passed down to me from PaPa, my mother’s father. The pages have yellowed, their paper becoming increasingly brittle, but PaPa once held that book in his hand and turned those same pages more than a half century ago.
I don’t know what an iMac costs these days, but to me, holding that book is priceless.
In my adult life, I have accumulated a number of books printed in the 19th century. None are particularly valuable, but I find myself wondering what the books’ previous owners might have been like. Why did they want to own this particular book? What did it say to them? How did it impact their life? Will it affect me too? I am, in a way, touching their lives when I’m touching those books.
I even like the way books look. At home, I have shelves of books of various widths and colors – some shiny and modern, some old and dingy. There are tiny tomes and oversized coffee table editions. Arranged by areas of interest, they probably give visitors more of a look into my psyche than any want to see.
So, feel free to read your books on souless, lighted screens if that’s what appeals to you. But I don’t ever want to set foot in a library without books.
Barbara Wallace Hughes is managing editor of The Messenger.