This picture reminds me of my junior high school library. It was the domain of old Mrs. McFadden with the sturdy orthopedic shoes, and no way would it ever cross your mind to disobey her SILENCE AT ALL TIMES and RESPECT THE BOOKS rules. One tiny whisper and her disapproving glare alone could make your blood run cold. That’s when I learned a very important lesson. Always make friends with the librarian. You could get away with a lot if she thought you were on her side, and she’d even give you first dibs on the new books that came in. To this day, the smell of a new book still wraps me in a comfy cocoon.
But those days of quiet libraries are long gone. I tried a few visits this past summer, taking my laptop with me for a few hours of undisturbed writing time. Bad decision. Aside from the unbelievable noise level, I was periodically interrupted by people asking if I could help them navigate the public computers. I guess I looked like I knew what I was doing. When I suggested that they ask for assistance from the library staff, they said they were told it wasn’t the staff’s job to do that. I glanced over at the check-out desk to see several “librarians” chatting and laughing together. Not working. Not helping. Not anything. These were not the kind of librarians I wanted to make friends with. And I won’t even go into the lack of respect for the books by librarians and patrons alike. Back in the day when everything was still in black and white (some of my grandchildren think color had not been invented yet – I mean, look at all the photos from those days if you want proof), we were taught to treat books with care and respect. Books are friends, our teachers said. They hold within their pages the stories of countless lives. I still have books from my childhood that look like new even though they have been read over and over.
As a bookstore owner, I can confidently say that very few people have any respect whatsoever – for books, or anything else. They come into my store and rummage around as if it’s perfectly fine to bend covers, break spines, fold pages and jam the book into a space where it doesn’t fit. But if they want to buy a book that is in less than pristine condition, they ask for an additional discount because it doesn’t look new. Yup, it’s true. I see the same behavior in the local bookstores. No more hushed reverence. No careful handling of those wonderful tomes.
It makes me sad.
And I long for the black and white days.