The Death of Libraries

Jan 3, 2000

I heard something disturbing over the holiday weekend. While riding back from a night out with my friends, one mentioned that she needed to go to Barnes & Nobles, and she wondered if they had a copy machine. When I asked her why she would need a copy machine at a book store, she explained that they had a medical reference book there that she needed some information from (my mom’s a nurse). The book is very expensive, so she can’t afford to buy it, and she only needs the one article anyway. I took this opportunity to point out that there are these big buildings called libraries, and that they’re full of books that people can read and sometimes even take home without paying a dime. “They don’t have it,” she said. “I can only find this book at the bookstore.” I was floored, to say the least. When I was growing up, the library was like a second home to me. I pedaled my little one-speed bike down to the local branch library every week, it seemed, and in high school I actually worked in the city library. But the more I thought about it, I realized I hadn’t really browsed the stacks of a library in years, not since, oh, about 1994. Which, by the way, was the year I discovered the web. I know why I don’t go to libraries any more. Between MemoWare and Peanut Press and downloading everything else via iSiloWeb, I don’t have a shortage of things to read. I have an overabundance, actually, with the equivalent of tens of thousands of pages to read on my computer right now. We’re talking about nearly three times as much as War and Peace (which I can and will once I read enough to free up the room on my shelf it takes up). But what really surprised me is that my mom doesn’t go to libraries either, and why. Big superstore book chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble are replacing the library in America. In virtually all of these places, you have comfortable couches spread throughout, and most of them sell gourmet coffee as well. They practically scream, “Come in, browse, make yourself comfortable.” Rare is it that bookstore patrons are hassled into making a purchase or leaving, and I’ve seen more than few read entire magazines over their coffee, put the magazine back on the rack and leave. How’s a library going to compete with that? What’s more disturbing though, is the title availability. While I’m sure my pal could find the information she’s looking for on the web, she’s not that net savvy, so that leaves print. The library doesn’t carry the book she needs, but several bookstores here do. The decision has been made for her. The library is obsolete, following the buggy whip into cultural obscurity.