You can get that at your library

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.

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Reading is not a crime

Ray Bradbury is one of my heroes, and my husband and I are handing out Fahrenheit 451 during World Book Night next week. So I was very intrigued by Toronto Public Library’s plans to promote reading via Fahrenheit 451, Toronto’s 2013 “One Book:”

I love several things about this image. How cool to promote a community-wide read as a month-long festival. And what a great integration of theme, artwork, and slogan for a promotion.

But, the coolest thing about Keep Toronto Reading is not that poster. It’s this one:

TorontoARGposter 425x550 Toronto Public Library Enters Alternate Reality (Gaming)

And it’s not really the poster that’s cool (although it is) so much as the thing it is asking Toronto’s residents to do: play KTR 451, an alternate reality game science fiction writer and video game developer Jim Munroe created for the festival. Before you protest that Fahrenheit 451 is all about the dangers a technology-dominated society poses to books and reading, keep in mind that an ARG is not a video game, nor is it conducted entirely online. Munroe explains that an ARG is: “an experience that spans different kinds of media and often involves real world actions. For instance, you might be told via an email to meet your fellow players at Union Station or to watch a video that has clues as to how to solve a mystery.”

Over at BoingBoing, Munroe explains there will be one mission a week for three weeks leading up to a live event. Library Journal notes “players must visit both a physical library branch and the library website, as well as interact with the library on social media. (They can do so from the library computers, ensuring that the digital divide does not prevent some Torontonians from joining the fun.)” The LJ piece goes on to outline the three missions in detail.

Ray Bradbury loved libraries. I imagine he’d love being part of an effort to draw today’s digital natives into their branch libraries. And since one of the missions involves participants gathering evidence of “a time when people loved books unabashedly” — the present — I hope he’d be honored by KTR 451.