Sometimes our children are so far ahead of us in the geeky world of technology it’s scary. For example, when my eight-year-old son came home from school and announced that one day kids would never have to carry all their books around all day. To emphasize his point, he dropped his much-too-heavy bookbag on the table. The table shook.
Sympathetic but curious, I asked him what he meant.
He looked at me, in all seriousness and yes, a bit of sympathy for my ignorance. “Mommm, haven’t you heard of electronic books?”
To be honest, in my years with the State, mired in politics and energy-related issues, the topic of electronic books had never reared its innovative head.
“Uh, no, I guess I haven’t.”
Ben went on to explain how thousands of books would somehow, through the miracle of airwaves and technology (and he wasn’t too clear about the specifics) would allow a mere mortal to carry around said thousands of books on a small “thing.” Again, he wasn’t sure hat that “thing” would be called but it was coming. That much he knew. Right now, the Declaration of Independence had already been transferred onto a floppy disk. Of course, that “thing” would eventually be called a “reader” and those electronic books would become “eBooks.”
But I was still stuck in a paper world. “Ben, that’s not possible. It’s not reasonable to think that thousands of books can somehow be electronically made to fit on something you can carry around.” I have to point out, I was not very technologically savvy back then. My ability to process taking a book and squeezing it into a “thing” you could carry around was out of my realm of imagination.
But my son certainly could. “Think about it, Mom, no need to ever go to the library again.”
I did think about it. A lot. It was not a pleasant thought. All those unemployed librarians. I had once been a school librarian and those were the first jobs that were cut when federal funds were eliminated. I lost my job. But this was 1995. Also, not a good year for me. I got laid off from my job with the State – and I wasn’t even a librarian. I also worried about bookstores, especially those small, independently owned ones.
Three years later, “eBooks” had been developed and Google was founded. Eight years later, Sony put out their eBook Reader. I bought one. At first, I felt guilty but by then, we were doing more traveling and the ability to carry around with me dozens of books on a device that was thinner than most paperbacks was a godsend. I was hooked. And apparently, so were millions of other readers. Readers were flying off the shelves and EBooks soon out sold paperback books. And, sadly, many of those small bookstores did close their doors.
I’m now on my third reader and my second Kindle. And, as I expected, my trips to the library dwindled down to a trickle. And with most libraries just beginning to reopen due to the pandemic, being able to have books within minutes, has been a safety valve for millions of readers. I still love to browse through bookstores. There is nothing quite so pleasant as the smell of a new book, or holding a book in your hands, physically turning the pages. Readers provide convenience and immediate gratification but none of the emotional or tactile sensations of a “real” book.
I am a voracious reader, primarily of detective novels and mysteries, with erotic romance and a few selective non-fiction titles thrown in, for diversity. Because of this, the cost of my Kindle reading habit is rather high. This, my husband points out to me on a monthly basis, after looking at my Kindle purchases. This has forced me back to the library.
I still buy books on my Kindle, but I am now confident that the libraries will remain intact. They provide more than just books, but serve as a valuable community resource, now needed more than ever. And to be truthful, I feel a lot better (dare I say “virtuous”?) borrowing my books, rather than hitting the “Buy with One-Click” button. And, yes, I can even borrow eBooks from my library. A win-win for us both.