In real life, I was the quiet kid who sat on the bench at recess and read books. I was a true a nerd, but I didn’t care. I preferred the fictional world of dodging “bludgers” on a broomstick rather than avoiding rogue kick balls on the playground.
I retreated into the world of books at a very early age. When I was seven, I was diagnosed with alopecia areata (a skin condition) and immediately became invisible to my classmates and peers who were all seeking to fit society’s definition of beauty and good looks. Nonetheless, fiction was my friend and the library was my comfort zone. I felt safe surrounded by tall shelves and dusty book jackets. The best part about the library was that it didn’t cost any money.
Unfortunately, like record stores, appreciation and use of the public library has diminished greatly over the years. In September, the Philadelphia Free Library System announced that it will be closing all its branches, both regional and central libraries as of Oct. 2, 2009 due to state budget issues. After an angry outburst from the public, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill (32 to 17) that would keep the library system open.
Public libraries aren’t the only ones taking a hit: school libraries are changing too. Cushing Academy in Massachusetts announced it would be turning their old library, the former home of 20,000 + books, into a digital learning center. Shelves and stacks would be replaced with large flat-screen TVs, study areas would be made more laptop-friendly, and the library reference desk would become a coffee shop that includes a $12,000 cappuccino machine.
But the Cushing administration does not plan on eliminating books entirely; they’ll still exist — just in digital form. “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ says James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing.
School and public libraries across the United States are also experiencing cuts in programs and hours. Here at UCI, library hours for the 2009-2010 year have been significantly reduced, forcing students to find other quiet locations to study past 8 p.m. on weeknights.
As a result of our current economy, kids and other young adults feel less inclined to spend money on new books. The chance to discover new authors and different books is becoming less and less of a relaxing, after-school activity without libraries to explore books to check out for free.
As I think back to the many hours I spent perusing the Sacramento Public Library as a kid, I can’t help but feel sad for today’s youths who seek an escape from the real world within the pages of various books. To James Tracy, books may be an “outdated technology” but for me, they will always be my refuge.