Libraries, Then and Now

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how libraries have made a comeback and become more relevant than ever.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue will be out in July 2017.

When I was growing up the Glendale, Ca. public library was my favorite place to be. It was even better than the movie theater on a Saturday afternoon when you could see 3 cartoons, two ‘cliff hangers’ and two movies for I believe about a quarter. Yes, that was a long time ago.

But the library, ah, that was bliss. For absolutely nothing you could browse the stacks, pick up books and thumb threw them, tuck one under your arm, then another, knowing you were going to go home, curl up either on the couch, your bed or the covered swing under the elm tree and read.  The alley was full of kids playing ball or riding bikes but I ignored them. The worlds I entered held much more excitement then anything the alley had to offer. That excitement wasn’t without restrictions, however. The librarians not only checked out the books but they checked them over. One in particular. More than once she removed a book from my pile because she thought it was ‘too old’ for me. I got good at avoiding her when I snuck books out from the adult section.

Back then, books were what the library offered. Magazines maybe, but mainly books. Reference books, text books, fiction, lots of fiction, but books.

Then things started to change. Television came along and people said reading was dead. Libraries would soon become a thing of the past. They didn’t.

The internet appeared. People said this time the libraries were obsolete. Who needed them when you could look up anything you wanted on the internet? Only, people still went to libraries and they still looked up stuff in books.

The I phone came into being. There was nothing you couldn’t do with it. Well, maybe the dishes, but for all practical purposes you could do anything else. Your banking, shopping, texting, you could even read books because the EBook had arrived! The last nail in the libraries coffin, people said. And this time that seemed to be true. Fewer people were visiting their local libraries. Some closed. Others cut back hours, city and state boards cut funding, pundits everywhere were ordering flowers for the funeral.

But the libraries started to fight back. Dedicated librarians everywhere knew people needed them. They needed the books on their shelves, the knowledge their text books contained, the hours of pleasure the novels they shelved offered. Children needed to grow up with a book in their hands, loving the pictures, the story. The world couldn’t properly exist without libraries. But, times had changed and so must they. So they did.

Check out the web site for your local library. You’ll find a button called “Collection”. It will list every book they have in that library. Want to reserve one? You can do so on line. Looking for a class on art history? Check out the events button on the web site. Chances are your library has one, but it not they’ll offer a class, or lecture, or book club on another subject. Maybe on a subject you had no idea you were interested in, but one that sounds fascinating. Have small children? Try the mommy and me reading groups, or the story time for slightly older children. What a way to introduce toddlers to the delights books can bring. Are you a Kindle devotee? If you commute on a train or bus, chances are it’s what you use daily. Your library has a huge selection of ebooks. Kids having trouble with a class? Check out the web site of your library. Lots of them offer on line or in library homework help. Planning a trip? Go to the library. They have more interesting facts about the places you’re planning to visit than Triple A and they also have maps. And…they still have interesting books. Lots of them. Fiction, with just about every genre represented, cook books, how to do anything books, biographies of fascinating people and fascinating times. You won’t find the interesting tidbits of gossip about our founding fathers or the sobering facts that caused them to make the decisions they did in a one paragraph blurb on the internet.

So, put away the hammer, my friends, we don’t need the coffin just yet. The libraries of this country are far from dead. In fact, they are alive and well. So are the libraries in the UK and other countries. The BBC said so. More people between the ages of 21 and 50 are going to the library than have in years. Retired people still check out books on a regular basis. Children flock to the story sessions and insist on bringing home books so their mothers and fathers can read them aloud at bedtime, a generation tested event that persists to this day.

This doesn’t mean libraries have ignored computers, on the contrary. Libraries have learned to embrace them. They offer computers for your use and will even help you figure out how to use one, show you how to find the book you want, and maybe turn you on to some you never knew existed. Libraries have learned how to integrate the best of both worlds into a harmonious one and I am grateful.

Brave new world? You betcha.