After attending the forum held by the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library to meet the candidates for executive director, I am as disheartened as I feared I might be. I listened to speeches by both of the candidates, describing their visions of the library in the next century -- and a digital, silicon-based, computer-oriented future it is.
There appears to be no aspect of electronic media that should not have a home right in the heart of our friendly neighborhood library. Little flickering electronic-information centers are apparently the future.
Maybe this sounds great to some people. I know it does to several of my friends. They're data-heads. "Info, give me more info!" is their rallying cry. But, trivia maniac that I am, I've never caught that bug. I love contemplation and thought. I don't mind solitude. Quietude is my companion. I love books. And that's causing a problem for me.
I used to feel at home in the library. There, in the temple of books and learning, with the greatest minds of all time staring from the shelves, I could read anything. Yet now that function of the library -- the lending of books -- seems to be considered outdated, as if it doesn't have a place in this fast-paced world. Yes, there is declining circulation and little interest on the part of young people.
But if I know one thing, it is that this world needs more contemplation, not less. We need a lot more reading, a lot less Web surfing. One of the reasons circulation is down is that people don't believe anything new or interesting is happening in books. The libraries are partly to blame for this. The books have been shoved out of the way for computerized card catalogs and Internet terminals and the shelves are full of mediocre videos.
Some of the best books ever written are being written right now. The world is still full of people trying to say something significant between the covers of a book. And there are still millions of us who clamor for them. Yet neither of the candidates talked about books. There was literally no mention of books. That's not only sad, it's disgusting. After all, information will do no good to an illiterate person. And literacy takes practice.