I was at a cookout today, and overheard some fellow guests discussing e-books. The conversation wasn’t surprising. I heard the usual benefits touted: you can carry more books when you travel, it’s easy to get a new book immediately, e-books are cheap to buy and for Kindle owners there are all kinds of “free” rentals and promotions on Amazon. The drawbacks, too, were familiar: if you forget your charger you’re in trouble, it’s harder to flip back to an earlier spot in the book, depending on the device it can be hard to read outside, it’s just not the same as a real book.
What did surprise me was that when I joined the conversation and pointed out that with a library card in many New Hampshire towns you can check out e-books on our statewide downloadable books site, some people were surprised. Why should it be surprising that you can borrow an e-book from your local library but not surprising that you can “borrow” one from Amazon?
Because libraries continue to have an image problem. Take the nasty situation in Miami, where the mayor announced a couple of weeks ago that his proposed budget would shutter dozens of library branches because “people” say that “the age of the library is ending.” Nevermind that running a city based on what “people say” is ridiculous. (Even crazier? He claims Fahrenheit 451 is his favorite book. For a fun diversion, take that link, but limber up your neck first because you’ll be shaking your head).
In 21st century America, where libraries are make it possible for anyone to access the internet, fill out a job application, get tax information, and soon, choose health care options under the Affordable Care Act, that anyone could think “the age of the library is ending” is just pathetic. Miami’s mayor, like too many other “people” who “say” we’re history, is thinking in terms of shushing librarians and dusty books.
Public libraries are a tremendous value, when you think of all they offer communities. But what I’d to remind that mayor and the “people” who “say” is that besides being the only place in many towns where everyone, even those without smartphones or computers, can get online, libraries are also fulfilling our core mission: to promote literacy and provide free access to information and books. We’ve been doing that since long before the “information wants to be free” hacktivists were even glimmers in their parents eyes. And we’re still making it possible for anyone at all to borrow books — real or virtual. Yes, you can borrow e-books, and much more, at your library. And that’s a message we need to keep delivering.