Wednesday, January 22, 2014

JUST LIKE A LIBRARY


That's the tag line in Kindle's recent ad in the NYT Review of Books: JUST LIKE A LIBRARY.

A photo of a pretty girl holding her Kindle: "Crystal loves that she can browse and read millions of books."

I'm sure there are millions of folks who share Crystal's sentiment. And there's no doubt that having access to millions of books is a technological miracle. I occasionally use my wife's Kindle, especially on the island.

But JUST LIKE A LIBRARY?

A library is not just a collection of words. It is first of all a physical space defined by books. A three-dimensional physical space, silent, expectant, with tables and chairs for study and reflection. A physical space separate from living and recreational spaces. It is not so much the books themselves that define the space, as the aura of accumulated wisdom, discovery, and creativity that pervades the space the way food odors pervade a kitchen.

A holy space, like the nave of a church or the shade of the Bo tree.

A library is a step outside of the present into history. Pages yellow, turn brittle, become dog-eared and stained with ink and coffee. Time presses its mark. Generations rub shoulders. Browsing the stacks of a library is like entering a time machine, visiting other times, other ages, a Connecticut yankee in King Arthur's court with the dust to prove it.

Ironically, a public library is a personal place, untouched by intrusive commercialism, where one can indulge one's fancies fancy free. No one is tracking one's browsing. One can avail of the "data" without becoming part of the data.

JUST LIKE A LIBRARY? Not in my book.