Musings on books and libraries

by Brian Keaney

Photo of the Hawai'i State Library is by wertheim and used under a Creative Commons license

I wrote a post yesterday for myDedham on the problems at the local library.  What it really comes down to is a lack of grown ups, but this manifests itself in a variety of ways.

For all the local problems, I am a big fan and a fairly frequent user of libraries.  When I lived in Honolulu my office was next to the State Library, and I would often stop by after work.  It was actually a Carnegie library, and I always liked what he had to say about why he chose to build so many of them with his fortune:

I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing. They only help those who help themselves. They never pauperize. They reach the aspiring and open to these chief treasures of the world — those stored up in books. A taste for reading drives out lower tastes.

Now I still have plenty of baser instincts and tastes, but its true that libraries give nothing for nothing.  There is a vast wealth of information stored in them, but you have to go out and actively seek it out.  Yesterday I checked out Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki, who, as it turns out, is also from the Islands.  I liked what he had to say and his philosophy, but this is one of those books I’m glad I borrowed and didn’t buy.

It was actually a very easy read, and I finished it in bed last night.  It would have benefited from a little more elegant prose, and I would have liked a little deeper thought as well.  The general philosophy was good, but I was left wanting.   More basic that, I was taken aback by the editing.

Not everyone is a writer, and that’s fine, but at a minimum the publisher should have had someone copyedit the book.  There were typos, which is just plain astounding, but I also found instances where the wrong hononym was used.  It also was slightly repetitive, particularly towards the end.  I don’t know how this found its way to the printers.

I actually drove to a neighboring town to check the book out since my local library didn’t own a copy.  When I got to the check out counter, I was asked for my library card.  I told them I didn’t have it with me, but that’s only partly the truth.  In fact, I haven’t seen my library card in years, possibly a decade or more.  I have enough to carry in my wallet without that.

They charged me 50 cents for checking out a book without my card, or would have but the woman let it slide “because it’s Christmas.”  I was grateful for her generosity, but I had to laugh at the policy.  She was able to look me up in the computer with only a modicum of effort.  Perhaps at one time this policy made sense, but today I see it as a relic from an institution clinging to the past.

Is it really worth incentivizing  people to bring their library cards with them?  What do they accomplish from it?  The 50 cents isn’t a significant revenue stream, and it really isn’t large enough to deter me.  I’d much rather pay it so I can stop at the library as I pass it or as the fancy strikes me than to carry around yet another card.

There was no one behind me in line, so the extra ten seconds it took her to look me up using my license really didn’t affect anyone.  What’s more, those few seconds are probably less than it would have taken her to break a $20 bill and give me $19.50 back.

The end.

Addendum: I slogged my way through Quantum.  I still have no idea how a quantum leap works.

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