Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

How lucky we are

Wintering WellI’m in the midst of read­ing Lea Wait’s books for chil­dren (she also writes mys­ter­ies for adults). I’ve fin­ished Finest Kind, I’m in the midst of Win­ter­ing Well, I’m eager­ly look­ing for­ward to Sea­ward Born, and I’m on the wait­ing list for Stop­ping to Home. The two books I’ve read so far are plumb full of details about life in Maine in the 1830s. I mar­vel at how rich­ly Ms. Wait has paint­ed the var­i­ous facets of life.

In par­tic­u­lar, her char­ac­ters Jake (Finest Kind) and Will (Win­ter­ing Well) are prodi­gious read­ers. Jake’s fam­i­ly owns a Bible and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales. Will has “read the Bible through twice and almost mem­o­rized McGuffey’s Read­er.” When Will and his sis­ter Cassie move to Wis­cas­set, the largest town near their farm, Will has access to books from the Social Library. He is so caught up in Wash­ing­ton Irving’s Rip Van Win­kle that it takes his mind off the leg he has lost.

Books were pre­cious to peo­ple who lived in the 1830s. They couldn’t order them online. They couldn’t dri­ve their cars to a book­seller to choose a book to read that week. They couldn’t put the book they were wait­ing to read on hold online. Most peo­ple owned one or two books. Although Maine had social libraries in the ear­ly 1800s, these were formed by cit­i­zens who exchanged their own books. Pub­lic libraries didn’t appear broad­ly until the late 1800s. Many cities charged mon­ey for books at their lend­ing libraries. Books were much hard­er to come by.

We have access to books and we’re let­ting that slip away, bit by bit, by not pay­ing atten­tion.

Why do we need libraries?” one writer ques­tioned me at a work­shop. “I can order any­thing I want from Ama­zon. Libraries are out­mod­ed.”

At Cush­man Acad­e­my in Ash­burn­ham, Mass­a­chu­setts, stu­dents no longer have access to bound books in their school library.

When I look at books, I see an out­dat­ed tech­nol­o­gy, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tra­cy, head­mas­ter of Cush­ing and chief pro­mot­er of the book­less cam­pus. “This isn’t ‘Fahren­heit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Brad­bury nov­el in which books are banned]. We’re not dis­cour­ag­ing stu­dents from read­ing. We see this as a nat­ur­al way to shape emerg­ing trends and opti­mize tech­nol­o­gy.’’

Instead of a library, the acad­e­my is spend­ing near­ly $500,000 to cre­ate a “learn­ing cen­ter,’’ though that is only one of the names in con­tention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spend­ing $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Inter­net and $20,000 on spe­cial lap­top-friend­ly study car­rels. Where the ref­er­ence desk was, they are build­ing a $50,000 cof­fee shop that will include a $12,000 cap­puc­ci­no machine.”

Books can be read on dig­i­tal read­ers or online at lap­top sta­tions. Is this the way the future will be shaped? Be sure to read the whole arti­cle in The Boston Globe so you can draw your own con­clu­sions. Do we need bound books?

In many shapes and forms, we have access to books that is unpar­al­leled in his­to­ry. Young and old, degreed and non-degreed, rich and poor … we can all have access to the infor­ma­tion of the ages. Why are we so wor­ried about peo­ple, young and old, con­tin­u­ing to read?

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One Response to How lucky we are

  1. Lea Wait March 6, 2015 at 10:10 am #

    Absolute­ly agree. I also think it’s sad we’re los­ing library archives — that, yes, often con­tain local his­to­ry infor­ma­tion not found on Google. (The sort of archives I trea­sure when I’m doing research for my books.) And — so glad you’re enjoy­ing those books!

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