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Power of Libraries Cannot be Replicated by a NOOK

September 12, 2012

Written by Susan Nee
(Reprinted by permission from the Post-Bulletin, November 17, 2011.)

The Nee familyI’ve been listening to the debate about the future of the printed word for several years. As I listen, I ask myself: “How can a Nook or Kindle ever fill me with awe like a beautifully architected library does? How can these devices evoke the quiet intensity I feel when I’m among the words of the world’s great minds while in a library?”

I’m no Luddite. I use online resources every day like everyone else. But when I do, it’s usually to research a specific subject. My library browsing fulfills a need — food for the soul.

When I enter a public library, I feel as though I’ve entered a sacred realm — the realm of mankind’s accumulated wisdom, history, and culture. If I enter in the right frame of mind, I can almost feel the energy of the accumulated knowledge humming quietly and intensely on the shelves. I’ve always felt a little sense of wonder when coming into a library, even as a young child. It’s as if the building itself can put one into a meditative state of mind.

I’ll continue to use electronic resources for the rest of my life. But, how can an e-book replicate the feeling of the weight of a book shifting from the right to the left as you read through it? Or the satisfying feeling when reaching the last pages of a good, long story?

After building massive wealth in the steel industry, Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant, gave fortunes away throughout the U.S., Canada, and Scotland to build community libraries. The city of Eau Claire, Wis., where I grew up, was given a Carnegie grant of $40,000 to build a library in 1903. Carnegie grants built 1,689 libraries throughout the U.S. Minnesota has 65 of those libraries; Wisconsin, 63. I remember the feeling I got when I approached the building — a feeling of entering a special place, a retreat for the mind. The love of the written word was a gift made possible for me because of Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy. I pass the love of learning on to my children.

For years, the Rochester Public Library has been a part of our family’s habits. When book bags became too small to hold all the books our young children selected, I switched to the small wheeled suitcase I formerly used for business travel. It’s seen as many miles in our city as it did in the air during my career days.

As our children grew older, our browsing habits moved from the children’s to the adult section. I again found myself wondering how an electronic book could ever replace those beautiful coffee table books with full plate picture of mountains, the oceans and their marine life, or the beauty of photos of rain forests.

When one of my sons started to show an interest in Stephen King novels, I showed him where to find King’s books in the Rochester Public Library. The first thing that he marveled at was the sheer volume of King’s works. The man is just incredibly prolific. I wanted my son to know what he was taking on to become acquainted with Stephen King’s works. Since going for maximum points for his reading log was the goal, King’s verbose prose wasn’t daunting to him; it just meant more points to gather for the end of year school party. I’m OK with that logic. He’s moved beyond Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Several years ago, a family friend told us about the Rochester Public Library’s reserve system. If the book you want is already checked out by someone else, you can click on ”Hold” next to the book, and you are added to a waiting list. You can also put on hold books that are available: simply press the magic “Hold” button, library staff will pull the book from its shelf and move it to an area near the main desk so you can just come in and pick it up, check it out, and be on your way. It’s like a little gift waiting for you courtesy of “the library fairies.”

If the library doesn’t own the book you’re searching for, you can request it from another library, or request our own library purchase it. My daughter has been successful in requesting the library to add several books she suggested.

I embrace the power of the almost limitless access to information the Internet brings right into my family room. And, I know my children will likely become e-book users. But my first love will always be a book and a library.

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