When I was younger, the library was a place full of magic. The endless rows of books held so many stories and tales and lives and characters that I couldn’t consume fast enough. The warm quiet of the building was a welcome respite from the chaos of a large family. I could wander through the stacks for hours, skimming titles and reading covers. I gathered books in my arms to check out while I perused, until I had so many that my muscles shook and books were tumbling off the pile.
I would check out five or six books at a time, piling them next to my bed. When I was younger, all I needed was a book and cozy nook to curl up for hours, lost in a whole new world.
I loved the smell of old library books. I loved the way the pages were a little yellow and the plastic cover crinkled when you opened it up. I loved the books with water-warped pages because I could imagine the reader sitting on the beach, not realizing how close the waves had crept up until they were upon her. I especially loved the books with a comment card paper-clipped to the back cover, where previous readers wrote their thoughts and noted their surprise or sadness or anguish over characters. I would sometimes choose a book based on these comments alone. I felt like I had a connection with the other anonymous readers – like we were, in some small way, the same, because we had both shared this book’s great adventure.
Then technology came and changed it all.
My parents surprised me with a Nook tablet as a Christmas present two years ago. Logically, that is the perfect present for a bookworm. Give the lover of books a device that could hold all of her books in the palm of her hand and she should be in heaven. I should have realized it then. I would no longer have to choose between packing another book or an extra pair of shorts. I wouldn’t have to worry about bent covers and pages from the jostling of my purse. I could bookmark chapters and highlight passages and look up words in the dictionary – all digitally – without wasting time or causing permanent damage.
But I didn’t realize the power of this tablet right away. I had no idea the gift I had actually received.
I got used to reading on my Nook after awhile. It helped that I could changed the font and the text size and the line spacing and the page color. I liked that I could hold it in one hand and just tap my thumb to turn the page. I loved that I could look something up in the dictionary just by holding my finger down on a word.
I bought a couple books, but I made very careful decisions, knowing that I was spending about $10 per book. If I had to spend money on e-books I wanted them to be books that I would read again. I mostly bought books when people gave me Barnes & Noble gift cards. Otherwise, I picked up the “old-fashioned” books again.
Until recently. A few weeks ago I discovered the library online.
In order to start downloading books to rent on my Nook, I had to go back to the library to renew my library card. Between going away to college and coming home to start a career and a life, I hadn’t been to a library in years. And when I walked into the building, I got the same familiar feeling I had as a child – like I was coming home. After I paid a three-year-old fine and renewed my card, I stood between the stacks and ran my hand over the spines. I could have been five, or fifteen or twenty-five – it was just the same. The same sense of possibility, of worlds to explore and characters to meet.
I only stood there for a few minutes before I walked out, but that was all it took to rekindle the old love for library books.
It took me about twenty minutes and two downloads to figure out how to get the Carnegie Library’s e-books onto my Nook. But now I have it. I have the library at my fingertips. Literally. At the touch of a screen. I don’t have to leave my apartment or even get off the couch. I don’t have to check out multiple books, because as soon as I finish one, I can just check out another right away. I can make the font size larger and slide my tablet into my purse and take the library along with me, wherever there is wi-fi (which is almost everywhere these days).
How did it take me so long to discover this?
Someday, children won’t know what a library is. They will never have walked through seemingly endless rows of books and marveled at the possibilities. They won’t know the hush of a building that was built solely to house books. They won’t know what it means to have to put a book back on the shelf because you’ve reached the max number to check out. Books will not tumble out of their arms and they will not ruin pages because they were too absorbed in the story to notice that it started to rain while they were reading on the porch.
It is this nostalgia that makes me conflicted about the glorious online library that I have discovered. I have and always will love real books. The feel of the pages between your fingers, the heft of a hardback, the finesse it takes to hold a book open with a thumb and a pinky.
But whether digital or real, paper or screen, paperbacks or e-books, one thing for me is true. A library is a place where anything can happen; a place full of magic.