It’s the fable, the cautionary tale, the urban legend, the ultimate library horror story – “and then it burned.”
“All of it?”
“Yes, all of it. To the ground.”
“The whole library?”
We mourn Alexandria’s loss. Our loss, all that knowledge, all those words, all of those things that make us who we are even though they were written so long ago. Our cultural history, identity missing.
Of course, I have a personal stake in this. I’m a librarian. I feed my family with state and federal funds. So, yeah, of course there’s that. But, truth be told, if the library goes away I would be fine. Not happy but I would adapt, find a new profession.
What bothers me is the bigger picture. As a child, I used to sit on the floor of my elementary school library where the librarian – who was old even then and just got older but everyone is old when you’re so young – would hand me books. I was particularly attached to a series about a group of animals living in a forest. These are your books, for today, for a few weeks, as long as you need them. Then we share. But you still get to keep those books in your head.
I would go to our tiny public library and check out Stephen King. Neither the librarian or my mom said anything about a 10 year old girl reading It. It was my head and they figured I knew what to fill it with. The librarian was like a train conductor, here’s your ticket kid have a good ride.
When I became a professional children’s librarian I worked every day, really hard to make good programs and have a good collection. I still talk to some of “my” teens. The library was not their home or their school or their friends house, it was their cultural roots. Where they went to read and hear music and participate in an online society that they couldn’t afford at home.
Libraries are cultural institutions. Like museums, like theaters, like coffee shops and clubs. Except they are funded by tax dollars because, a long time ago, someone decided that libraries should belong to everyone. Not the books, or the computers, or the fucking dvds that people seem so hung up on – but the things that they leave in our heads. The connection they give us to our past and future. Read. Listen. Connect.
You may not realize it now but you need a library like you need a hospital. Though it’s crazy to compare the two. So, support your public library, support your children’s school library, support other children’s school libraries, because I promise you –
Alexandria is a sad thing.