Every year it seems some self-appointed expert feels the need to declare libraries obsolete, that in the digital age it's only a matter of time before the last library is bulldozed to make way for something more useful ... like a parking lot. Stalin used to say the same thing about churches. And it's funny, when you think about it, because year after year, even as these guys are proclaiming the end of civilization as we know it, the statistics on library usage continue to climb merrily skyward.
Anyone who doubts this, doubts that libraries have a future, need only spend a little time studying the folks entering our Easton branch. You needn't try to look inconspicuous. The patrons you're watching for are at an age where people over five feet tall (always excepting parents) are about as interesting and eye-catching as ceiling tiles. Watch these little ones as they reach the end of the short passage separating the circulation desk from the book shelves opposite, pass from what must seem to them a deep canyon out into the open area before the grandfather clock, see for the first time (since last week) the children's section down on their left. Mouths drop open, eyes spread wide, Mommy or Daddy's hand is released, and little bodies turn and run as well as little bodies can toward the vision of sugar plums dancing there just the other side of the Young Adult book section.
Children don't just like the library, children love the library. And children, as we all know, are the future. Which is nice, because I think libraries and the idea behind libraries (that each generation can pass on to the next all that it has learned and loved of the world) are essential to civilization. And besides, I like working at the library.
Quick story. One day not long after I went to work at the library, I was surprised to discover an eight year old wandering irresolutely around the adult non-fiction section. I liked the way he was dressed, camo shirt and ball cap (large fish hook stuck in the brim), blue jeans and desert boots. Somewhere in the background I suspected a father who was idolized. When I asked the boy if he needed help, he told me he was looking for something about hunting, so I directed him to the 799s. You should have seen the look in his eyes when he saw those shelves full of titles like “Gunning for Sea Ducks” and “The Deer Hunter's Book” — it reminded me of someone else, a child I had once known who had been simply mad about fishing. At an age when other boys were drawing hotrods and fighter jets, the margins in this child's notebook were full of largemouth bass-the fish most often shown leaping from the water, shaking its lion head, trying to throw the plug my awkward fingers had so painstakingly sketched upon its lower jaw.
Afterwards, after I'd moved a little further down the aisle, begun shelving in the 600s, a large, grown-up version of the little boy appeared and, seeing the hunting book his son was reading, asked the child how he'd managed to find it. Without looking up, the boy hooked a thumb in my direction and said, “The library guy.” It was the first time anyone had ever called me that, and I was very proud.