I haven’t been inside the Hermitage Branch Library in about a year.
I was at the Grand Opening weekend more than a decade ago, and spent the first ten years going two-to-three times a week. It’s very close to our house and was really a sort of sacred, comfortable space for my husband and me. We knew all the librarians and desk clerks. A trip to the library was not just for books; it was for conversations about books, about the weather. It was a place to be around other people. Every third trip or so we’d see someone we knew from our subdivision or from the old church we went to for a few years around the way.* The Hermitage Branch Library was our community library in the truest sense of the word.
I know that people claim ebooks are killing libraries, but I blame another machine altogether. What killed the library for me was when they brought in all the self-checkout machines. What point is there to keep stopping in when instead of finding out what Glasses Woman thought about the latest Tolkein picture you just get to ‘ENTER PATRON IDENTIFICATION CODE BEGINNING WITH 2 5192’ ? Why make the extra trip when instead of chatting with shy dude about your piling overdue charges you get to ‘SCAN BOOK HERE’? There just isn’t any soul in the process anymore. It’s not a community place–it’s an eerie George Lucas student film.
We went yesterday because I was feeling mournful about the passing of summer and wanted to find sanctuary. Instead of being greeted by a row of people at the desk on the right and stalwart marching colourful stacks of books on the left we saw machines on the right to SCAN BOOK HERE and on the left stood a sickening row of empty plastic spinner shelves that were once crammed full of delightfully awful paperbacks. Those spinner shelves were the library equivalent of candy at the checkout aisle and I loved them utterly. Now they’re empty.
Life bes that way, I suppose. And I do love my instant access to books. I love being able to grab a book out of the wind when it’s three am and I can’t sleep and none of the books I already have are capable of distracting me from things that I want to be distracted from. I love that so much. But I hate that it comes with a price, and I hate that the price is empty shelves at the library.
(That’d be the same church we left when they bullied us for money to replace the carpet while we were trying to keep our house.)