Monday, November 22, 2010

Library who?

Back in Chicago and with a paper to finish, I headed to the Harold Washington Public Library. Perhaps it was my less than positive mood about having to finish said paper over Thanksgiving, but I've never found a library so depressing. 

The Harold Washington is a huge library, and a magnificent resource. It has a massive collection and various activities for kids and adults, including more than a few book clubs and authors readings every week. But after I had been in the building for a few minutes, I started to feel this cloying emptiness. The building had the distinct feel of a resource forgotten, an institution going the way of the publishing industry, or the CD - overshadowed by "better" technology. 

As we complain over the high price of books, and bicker over the money being wasted this way or that in Washington, we forget the library, this great, completely free, resource that is provided by almost every town and city. 

But the people using the library on a Monday afternoon aren't the last diehard book readers or active community members - these Monday library patrons were mostly using the library's free WiFi. 

So here is this massive building dedicated to community, with a group of citizens completely disinterested in taking advantage of community space, or even looking at eachother. The patrons I observed were mostly surfing the internet, some looking at online job search engines, others reading the newspaper. But I'm most concerned with everyone who wasn't there, who isn't there. 

With everything moving so quickly and thoughtlessly to an online format, what will happen to these monuments of community resource? With a citizenry completely uninterested in each other, and spaces ranked by best internet connection, one day we're going to look for a place to have a meeting and the only option will be a ten-way Skype chat, convenience having finally pushed fullness of relation off the stage. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this - I couldn't agree with you any more. I love libraries and the opportunities they afford. With every new city to which I have relocated or visited, the library is always my sanctuary, and resource.
    Is there a way to remind others of their beauty and relevance?