Monday, October 22, 2007

A Necessary Evil?

Looking back at my life, I am grateful for the fact that I am acquainted with the word library. It fascinates me that we have such a concept: a place where we can read and borrow books for “free”. (Technically it’s not free but it’s certainly the closest approximation we have of such a service.) How long did it take us to have such a paradigm? When did the concept of a public library (which is what people usually mean when they utter “library”) overtake the concept of a private library? While civilization has a lot of flaws, I can’t help but think that we’ve managed to truly accomplish something if we’ve manage to perpetuate the concept of a public library.

One of my biggest complaints about public libraries is that people refer to it whenever we need a book, any book—even if the book isn’t necessarily be found in the local library. How many times have we heard the message “look for this book in your local library”? To be fair, libraries do house several books, depending on your location and who’s funding them. Whether they have available the particular book you’re interested in is another matter. But we all seem to have this mentality that the book we’re looking for should be in the library. And perhaps that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly high expectations for the library because obviously, a library can’t cater to everyone (especially with its finite budget). But it all goes back to our paradigm of a library. We want the platonic library and even expect it. That can only arise if we really have a deep passion for reading and learning. Honestly, if our mere goal was to simply survive, we don’t need libraries. Libraries don’t feed our bodies, libraries don’t give us physical sustenance. First and foremost, humans need food, clothing, and shelter. A lot of people might praise the Greeks and their great philosophy but one should also remember that they had slaves to take care of the bare necessities. Having said that, to merely survive isn’t necessarily a human existence. To be human is a lot of things—and there isn’t enough space for me to describe them all. But to me, the act of reading is one of those qualities. Reading stimulates, excites, and causes us to wrench with various emotions. And one of the places we associate with reading is the library.

If people are discontent about their library, I think that’s a good thing. It means people actually care about their library, that they don’t take it for granted. The biggest threat to society isn’t failure or disappointment, it’s apathy. To feel disappointment is to acknowledge that you care about something. I mean as much as I might complain that for every book I find in the library, there’s ten books that I don’t find, it serves as a reminder that there’s so much more I want from the library and that there’s more in which it can be improved upon. The worst thing I think that can happen is for no one to give feedback when it comes to their libraries, whether it’s because they’ve never visited the library or they simply don’t care what books it contains or doesn’t contain. The word library will never match the platonic ideal we have in our head yet that doesn’t mean we should stop striving for that goal. And the good news is that we haven’t.

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