Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pixels and paper

A preppy high school near Boston made the news recently by getting rid of books. Emptying out the library. From now on kids will twitter and kindle their way toward higher education. Moby Dick on their iPod. Wikipedia. Google.

Nothing new about this. Other high schools and universities have gone the same route. I seldom see students ranging the stacks in my college library. They are all downstairs at the computer terminals, cutting and pasting term papers between long bouts on Facebook.

The internet is an invaluable resource -- one of he greatest inventions of humankind -- but I can't conceive of my life without libraries. Libraries with real books.

My parents had a decent home library, mostly acquired from the Book-of-the-Month-Club. I poked into most of those volumes at one time or another, although the only thing I read was the Hardy Boys and Red Randall.

My first job was as stackboy at the Chattanooga Public Library, right through high school. Thomas Costain, Frances Parkinson Keyes, Samuel Shellabarger, Kathleen Winsor, A. J. Cronin, Frank Yerby, Daphne du Maurier. I didn't read these books either, but I came to know pretty much knew every book in the collection, and absorbed a lot by osmosis.

Libraries remained important right through my adult life, and now in retirement I'm permanently installed in the college library, banks of books on all sides. Bliss!

I know this puts me on the wrong side of history, but I love running my finger along the spines of books on the shelf, finding my name in the back of a book I read forty years ago and forgot, feeling the musty heft of cardboard and paper. And when electronic publishing is exclusively the name of the game, what will replace the shivering thrill of a new author receiving in the mail that long-awaited package with the first inky copies of her just-published book?