Saturday, December 04, 2010

TeachStreet Guest Post: Why I Still Go to Libraries

This is a guest post by Kenji Crosland, a writer for TeachStreet. TeachStreet is a website that provides online and local classes as well as language arts classes and writer’s workshops.

When television was invented there were those that said that the death of radio was at hand. It seemed like a logical conclusion to make. After all, didn’t television do all the things that radio did and more?

In the beginning, it certainly seemed that way. What was quickly realized, however, were all the things that radio could do that TV couldn’t do. One could listen to the radio while performing other tasks, and the cost of producing a radio show was significantly lower than a television show--which allowed for more variety than TV could have provided at the time. It took a serious competitor like television to show what radios could really do.

Today, public libraries are facing similar competition in the form of the Internet. Bloggers, the Twitterati and others have been prophesying doom for the public library. After all the internet is a free public source of information just as public libraries have been. The difference, however is how the information is conveyed. Since I work at a tech company, I find myself online more than eight hours a day, and yes, I get most of my information from the Internet (including books I buy from amazon). For some reason, however, I still go to public libraries.

When I thought about why, I realized that it came down to three things: Serendipity, Stillness, and the librarians themselves.

I love the fact that when I go to the library to look for a particular book, I end up checking out several other books on the same shelf. Just by standing back a bit and scanning the shelves, II would often find several titles that were related to the subject I was interested in. Oftentimes the the books I checked out that I hadn’t even heard of were better than the book that brought me to the library in the first place!

I have always enjoyed the calm, quiet stillness in libraries that bookstores don’t seem to completely capture. I suppose it’s because when you’re in a library there’s no obligation to buy that you might feel when in a bookstore. Sometimes I go to a library simply to browse titles and flip through a few pages of interesting looking books and just enjoy the library’s atmosphere. I may not even check anything out.

The Librarians!
Whenever I can’t find what I’m looking for, it’s nice to have a friendly human being nearby who can help. Although I consider myself somewhat proficient at getting the information I need when I want to get it, the librarians are pros. Not only that, but they manage to select only the best most relevant books for each topic, which probably helps with the whole serendipity thing.

So although certain voices say that libraries are dead and the Internet has risen to take its place, I can’t help but feeling that libraries will be around for a long while. For me, the Internet hasn’t kept me from the library at all. On the contrary, just like the Television has done for the radio, it has helped me define just why I value it in the first place.

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