Ode To Libraries

We have a stereotype of the spinsterish librarian and of the austere domain she (for it’s always a she) rules. Yet libraries are hubs of activities as the new Frederick Wiseman’s film “Ex-Libris: The New York Public Library” illustrates.  Even more recently a NYT article by sociologist Eric Klineberg “To restore Civil Society, Start with the Library,” reminds us how much we owe libraries and how much they contribute.  He says that libraries are valued and necessary but often influential people do not understand what he calls the expansive role they play in contemporary life. Years ago I heard the author Ray Bradbury speak about his love of libraries. As many might know he didn’t go to college instead he spent countless weeks in the library’s stacks and rooms reading and educating himself. My friend, the writer Sanora Babb, a friend of Bradbury, had lived in small towns in her youth and libraries were how she discovered and learned about writers and literature. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t forget the Klineberg article, because its point about libraries being so important to contemporary culture is one I believe needs to made and made loudly. Today’s libraries have adapted to digital culture. Large parts of collections have been digitized and I admit  there’s still something I cannot take for granted about sitting at my computer and with a few clicks  downloading a book to my Kindle. Libraries also make computers and the Internet available for many, hold lectures from authors and others, book discussions, children books readings, homework clubs… The article’s author cites the fact that while countless public officials declare and believe that libraries are obsolete he reminds us that “in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up.”  Indeed every time I go to one of the two libraries I most use, I have difficulty finding parking.