Recently I had the pleasure of doing research in a university library. (I know. I’m a bookworm. Not pretending to be otherwise.) I simply glided in and got a tingly feeling down my back at the sight of all those beautiful books with their words and wisdom. A friend was with me and as we walked up the steps to the second floor she said, “You know, once everyone has those e-book readers, libraries will slowly close down. In fifty years this place probably won’t be here because we won’t need it.”
I froze on the spot. Deer in the headlights.
Now, I would like to make something perfectly clear. My computer is a lovely, shiny thing. It lets me cut and paste. It lets me press the backspace button to erase stuff I don’t like. It lets me format my documents with ease. I am grateful for this wondrous machine and never sit pining for a typewriter or an inkwell. So this is not a rant against technology. Technology good. Technology pretty. Yes it is.
Actually, it’s not even a rant at all because I get the e-reader thing. It’s convenient – like carrying around an entire library in your bag. It’s ecological – I shudder to think of all the poor trees chopped down to print utter garbage. People will not be able to deface books with pens and highlighters – that alone makes me giddy with inexpressible glee. And, as my friend pointed out, one day – sooner or later – all written knowledge will be a click away. But, and here’s where I get sentimental and possibly a little irrational: I love books. They sit on my shelf. They gather dust. Their spines get wrinkled from use. Their pages have texture. E-reader’s are so… cold and impersonal.
Obviously that’s no sound argument against e-readers. What’s important is to preserve the words in the best way possible – just like the gradual move from vinyl to digital ensured we get the highest sound quality from music. My brain gets it. Completely. My heart/soul/whatever organ responsible has misgivings. Why do I feel like something will be lost if you can’t walk into a library? If the books on my shelf become quaint artifacts that will eventually be gotten rid of?
Maybe because it feels as if something is coming to an end, but is that really all it is? When the internet became popular – and I can remember perfectly well when it didn’t even exist – I didn’t think, “Socializing will never be the same! Oh dear, all is lost!” (And I certainly wouldn’t have said it like that, if I had.) I don’t even know what I’m mourning for or why I’m mourning at all when I can see the advantages of the new technology.
Whether libraries full of books will still exist or not, my future grandchildren will listen to my stories about the late 20th/early 21st century, roll their eyes and sigh, “Grammy, you lived in the Stone Age.” That's the way the world works. I am fully prepared for it and will treat their foolish whippersnapper comments with the proper degree of indulgence. But do we really have to give up actual books?