Friday, May 23, 2014

The Time of Metal and Wheels

Like Paul, I think I was born out of season. Or perhaps it is just that our modern day-and-age advances at too quick a pace for these hobbit feet to keep up with...

I went to the library the other day. And I'd like to know:

Am I the only person who thought that the librarian at the check-out desk is supposed to check out your books?

I understand - I weep over it, yes, but I understand - that the days of physical card catalogues have passed. {When I was a little girl, I remember the beautiful dark wood card catalogue in our town's library ... Its mysterious contents mapped the heavenly world of books before me ... On its top sat an enormous paper-mache dinosaur, utterly fascinating to a five-year-old.}

I realize that we are now done with the trivial ink-stamping of due dates; we have modernized; we now print those dates on little sheets of paper that get lost, thrown away, and keep no record of who has had the book before us.

I see that we now have electronic books that can be checked out of the library's virtual collection. And as an author, in a purely pragmatic sense, I benefit from e-books.


But it does make one wistful.

The incident with the check-out librarian happened in this way. I've been collecting research material for my next project... and my next-next project. :-) So I went to the library to see what they had to offer on the subject at hand. This is always a dangerous venture for me. Sure enough, two hours later, I emerged from the stacks, balancing a couple dozen books precariously in my arms, grinning foolishly from ear-to-ear because of my triumph. Despite the two self-checkouts available, I headed over to the check-out librarian {a real person, not a robot} because I thought I might have a small fine to pay off.

The librarian's eyes widened at the sight of my Tower-of-Pisa-like pile planting itself on her desk. I handed her my library card and paid my fine. Then I said, "And I'm going to check these out." She looked at the stack and then over at the self-checkouts silently. She didn't reach for the books. After an awkward second or two, I said, "Can I check them out at this desk, or do I have to use the self-checkout?" She said slowly, "I can do it, but you'd better use the self-checkout."

And I did use the self-checkout, retrieving my white check-out receipt from the printer. The librarian was just doing the job she was told to do, nothing more or less. But the incident has ground itself into my head and made my heart ache a bit.

C.S. Lewis said,

"We read to find that we are not alone."

It's funny that in this increasingly-global world, we find ourselves more and more alone.
We watch movies by ourselves on our own little laptop, absorbed by the 17" screen, just big enough for ourselves, with a plug for our personal earbuds.
We put our e-books on our personal Kindle or Nook, not on the family or even study bookshelf where others can see them, touch them, read them.
Our library books no longer have the names and dates of people who lived 40 years before us penciled in on the inside cover, letting us know that we are one person in a long line who have read and adored the same book as we do. We sever our ties with all humanity.
Everything is personalized but impersonal. We forget the old paths. We forget there were old paths or people who traveled on them. People who are connected with us by the grit of what it means to be human.
I'm reminded of Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings. He tells Merry and Pippin that Saruman's downfall has been that he now has a "mind of metal and wheels."
And I think, shouldn't a library be the last place for "a mind of metal and wheels," the last fortress against the dehumanizing of this age?



What do you think, dear reader?


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