Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Library Book

I was a great library devotee for most of my life. At one point, I had library cards for both the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library (I was working in Brooklyn, and needed to do research there). But somewhere along the way, I fell away. My then neighborhood branch had erratic opening hours, and for months at a stretch wasn’t open at all. I was living with someone at that time who felt library books were beneath him, and I picked up his bad habits. Add to that Amazon, Alibris, and worst of all, Barnes &, which will deliver the next day in Manhattan. So my library card fell into great disuse (I’m not sure I could find it if I tried, and that was two apartments ago).
When I was in DC a few weeks ago, I was hanging out with a college friend, bemoaning the fact that other than my family and her, I know almost no one who reads a daily newspaper anymore (she reads the "Washington Post", and I read the "NY Times"). I have friends who say they read the Times, but they don’t- they read the electronic arts digest which does not count in my eyes. So I’m on quite the judge-y roll with this newspaper thing, and my friend says to me, “Yeah, I know, but what about the people who don’t have library cards?” And I became strangely silent.
She is, of course, right. Even with my bimonthly trips to the Strand, there’s always books they don’t have. Or a book I want to read but will probably never read again. That’s my rule for keeping books: if it’s not research I need at hand, or something I will ever read again, it goes out, to the neighbors or to a thrift store.
So one day last week I went to the Mid-Manhattan branch, and while I visited the book sale (there’s usually something in the book sale, and often for $2), I did spend time in the library proper, got myself a card and borrowed a book (a W.G. Sebald novel that’s out of print). There’s all sorts of things you can do online now- not just look up books in the card catalogue. You can reserve books, and look at the Picture Collection (click on the question mark above, and the attractive lion above can testify). The library cards themselves are quite high-tech- little swipe-y things to go on your keychain. I checked the book out myself: put the digital tag underneath the laser, and swiped my card. And now I have a red and blue lion tag on my keychain, should I ever forget the lions on Fifth Avenue and Fortieth Street. But how could I?

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