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Local libraries change to adapt to the post-Google world

August 20th, 2011 · 17 Comments

Anyone reading this blog likely loves words. Many of you, I know from personal emails, particularly love words in books.

So the transformation of libraries in the last decade (pushed by the information flood available from Google, pulled by the cool book-marketing ideas of places like Chapters) has not gone unnoticed: more space for computers, more money spent on ebooks and videos and video games. And, as the about-to-open Surrey central library makes clear, more space for people just to hang out.

Here’s my story on that, which is just the beginning of a much longer conversation I know is out there about the place of books and the place of people in libraries.

For me (and I suspect many like me), the transformation of the book world has been both painful and wonderful. I love physical books. My house is filled with them: stacked on the floor, in a room that was supposed to be a spare bedroom and now looks like a small Amazon warehouse, in the living room, stuck in nooks I had built in to the kitchen. I once read that the final stage of obsessive book-collecting is buying books in languages you know you will never learn. I haven’t quite reached that stage yet, but I do still have my copy of “Beginner Swedish” that I bought after spending a couple of weeks on a beach with my temporary Swedish boyfriend.

On the other hand, I bought an iPad and I am adolescently, irrationally in love with it and the way the New Yorker looks EVEN BETTER on the screen than in print, the way I can download a book anywhere (key, when you’re the kind of person who reads a book a day on vacation), the way I can read late into the night without disturbing my princess-and-the-pea husband by flipping pages or, god forbid, keeping the light on.

My rational mind says, Celebrate all reading. My emotional mind loves the physical feel I had in old-fashioned libraries, where I felt surrounded by knowledge in its physical form and a community of people drinking it in. As he said in my story, architect Bing Thom has tried to preserve that feeling in Surrey. I await the results.

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