There’s a saying about public libraries that I find heartening (if only we’ll keep heeding it!): Libraries will get you through a time of no money better than money will get you through a time of no libraries.
A time of no libraries, no public access to knowledge. That would be Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and just about any totalitarian regime you can think of. When a person in power decides that maintaining command must come at the expense of others’ educations and intellectual resources, that’s when libraries end up on hit lists. Even lottery winnings won’t get you easily through such a time.
In the US, we’re nowhere near that, I hope. Instead, we’re surrounded by the written word. At a bookstore today, I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen for several years. After we skimmed through thumbnail sketches of our current lives, I asked what she was looking for in reading material. Novels, she said. As a schoolteacher, after an evening of grading homework she finds fiction soothing. And she had a bookstore gift card to use.
A gift card! Could anything be more wonderful to a bookworm? To browse, sample, knowing that we have the power to actually bring that very book home with us?
Kindle and Nook readers, you love your machines, but cold metal or plastic cannot compare to the warmth and tactile grace of paper, and screen pixels will never replace the definitive rendition of ink. Downloading a novel within instants possesses immediate gratification, so foreign to the pleasurable practices of gauging, weighing, and making a final decision. And the smell of new books!
I, too, had a gift card in my wallet. It’s a source of anticipation, of knowing that – should there be a book that looks, reads, feels right – it can actually come into my possession.
In fact, the bookstore gift card is nearly the perfect combination of money and library: a bit of cash that must be spent in a shop of thousands of volumes.