I’m not accustomed to thinking “Man, this place sucks,” when I’m in the stacks of a public library. The thought seems blasphemous, but I find myself thinking it more and more lately.
Growing up libraries were magical places and almost every book I pulled off the shelves promised to be the best I had ever read.
But I’ve been disappointed by my recent visits. They don’t have the book I’m searching for or, as was the case today, they do have it but can’t locate it.
(The volunteer told me that mis-shelving “practically never happens.” I guess practically never means it only happens when I’m looking for the book.)
I know it’s not the libraries fault. It’s all me. Well, me and the internet.
I’ve become picky about what I read. I listen to podcasts that tempt me with the newest releases. I follow my favorite authors on social media so I know the minute their latest novels are published.
I don’t want to read any old book. I want a particular book, a new book.
Unfortunately my local libraries don’t carry the newest books. Most of their shelves are filled with threadbare Agatha Christie mysteries and multiple copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick.
The one “new release” bookcase is the most popular spot in the library and the books fly off the shelves. There’s always the waiting list, but who wants to wait when you’ve already been waiting for months for a book to come out?
And, thanks to the internet, we’ve gotten used to not waiting.
Now, whenever we want a book, we can download it instantly to an e-reader or computer. Or order up a paper copy and have it the next day.
Not only is it fast, but the selection is limitless. Any book in print is available. How can a one-room, small-town library compete?
I remind myself of these things when I start getting frustrated because I can’t find the latest Junot Diaz novel or a book from the New York Times Bestseller list.
I tell myself that the libraries are still a valuable community resource, that the librarians are still doing good, important work.
And that’s all true.
But they aren’t a place of endless possibilities for me any more, so I no longer get that magical library feeling. That makes me sad.