An Expedition to Save the Books
There is something to be said about a good book and a cup of tea. The perfect story enticing you, drawing you in and making you feel something for a character, a place, a love that may not be entirely real but to you, it totally is. Tea is the perfect addition. It’s warm and simple with two sugars with a splash of milk and you’re good to go. Add cookies to the mix, a rainy day curled up under a warm fuzzy blanket and some soft music in the background to make the world slip away; you’re golden, Ponyboy.
With this being said, it’s not always easy to obtain that book that you’ve been dying to get. Be it for a school project or just for leisure reading, the options to get these books start to dwindle when we start to consider the supply of the book in a bookstore, the wait time of a delivery from an online shop, or the availability of a library.
In dictionaries, a library is defined as ‘a building or room containing a collection of books’, which is obviously true because what else could a library be? Could it be a place where people go to escape? Could it be a gathering place for people to discuss books? Perhaps a place to study? A room full of a multitude of worlds, references, and information that anyone anywhere can access with nothing more than a step through a door and a little tiny piece of plastic? It is all of these things and so much more.
Though a library provides all these things, many people take these buildings for granted. They don’t always see the beauty of a library. They think that because a library mainly consists of books, that that’s all they have to offer. They don’t realize that libraries also have newspapers, reference textbooks, periodicals, CDs, DVDs, magazines, access to the internet, and more. A library is one of the most important things in our little part of the universe and most people don’t even realize its true worth.
In the words of Robert Putnam, who in 2013 was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama for ‘deepening our understanding of community in America’, “People may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.”
Picture a group of children gathered in a story time group, reading, singing songs, making new friends and interacting with people their own age. The moms will congregate by the coffee and snack table and discuss their lovely little bundles of joy. Or an elderly man, seeking company in fear of bereavement. He will sit and chat with a woman about his age and he’ll leave with a smile on his face and a content feeling that he’s not always alone. Or a troubled teen just looking for a place to find a few moments of quiet. The outside world fades away and they’re free, even if only for a little while, to breathe and be content and surrounded by not only the escape a good book would bring, but also the support and understanding of the library’s patrons. To some, the library can mean so much more than just the lending resources it provides. With those resources also brings community building connections that happen all the time in many different ways.
Within this book filled palace of wonder and light, the resources the libraries share are for everyone. I mean everyone. A disabled person without access to resources otherwise. They have the resources for this person. A non-English speaker comes along and they’re trying to find books in their language, or perhaps a book of some sort to help learn English. They’ve got that covered too. It’s more than just raunchy books for new adults and older adults, or young adult books about dystopian worlds that, scarily so, could someday become real. It’s just more.
But this important place, this feature that is a staple for any town or city book nerds and researchers alike, has its issues. Not always is the importance of a library seen, not until it’s too late. Until there is no longer a library to have and to love.
2012-13 was a trying time for Canadian libraries. There was a remarkable number of cuts to many different types of libraries. In April and May of 2012, two school boards decide to eliminate the school library program; Chignecto‐Central Regional School Board in Nova Scotia and Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board in Ontario. Industry Canada terminated the Community Access Program which gave everyone the opportunity to have access to the internet and skills training within the library. The biggest national alliance of the arts, heritage and culture sector across Canada, The Canadian Conference of the Arts in Ottawa was forced to close after being open for 67 years. Even more recently, a list of 54 libraries was announced to be closeing in Newfoundland. The library genocide is upon us, the buildings that give so much to us dwindling away like the wax of a burning candle.
Here’s a little segue for you.
Not only is a library important, its inhabitants are quite possibly the most important thing about it. Specifically, the books, millions of pages filled endlessly with words. Enticing you, teaching you, intriguing you with every flowing sentence that moves like water in a stream. Much like a library, the books often go without recognition of their importance. Now is the time to take back the books and give them the love they deserve.
They say “When you open a book, you open a new world.” A whole new world, a brilliant adventure, a compelling companion: it’s a baby’s bedtime story, a toddler’s picture book, a teen’s fictional fantasy or love story, or even a how-to book to help you learn something new. A book is a thing that will never ask anything of you other than to have you delve into its world and listen to its words.
These books, no matter the type, bring the reader knowledge. Be it a series of simple letters that truly matter, instructions on recipes, theories or stories, news, and history… this list is endless. But with every single thing added to the list, a new knowledge and wisdom comes with them.
Books provide people with not only new stories and excitements and education, it provides an opportunity for community interactivity. Book clubs, story time groups, and even international community interactivity with places like Goodreads.com, a book catalog website where people can discuss, comment and review almost any book in the world. Or even the Booktube community on Youtube, of which I am a part of. We as a community of book lovers create book related content in video form to address our audiences, other book nerds like ourselves. We discuss books in creative ways and it brings an entire online community together to rejoice in our love of books.
Not unlike the libraries, the independent bookstores of the world are also struggling just as much if not more than the libraries. With the recent incline of online shopping, the number of independently owned bookstores have been taking a downward spiral into endangered. If you look around your town, how many independent bookstores do you see? Do you use them? Chances are, not very many, and often times no. With cut-throat competition from online shopping sites like Amazon, Book Depository, Chapters, Barnes and Noble, the list has been ever growing in the last few years.
The number of independent bookshops in the UK’s British high streets has fallen below 1,000. This is a third fewer than there were nine years ago. Add in the pressures of rising costs and economic downturns that all small retailers face, it’s no surprise that Booksellers Association can report 67 local bookshops closed last year while only 26 opened. The chief executive of the association, Tim Godfray said “Everyone should sit up and take notice of this. The book trade, the government and the general public need to realize that if we don’t take action now, the future of our bookshops – and therefore the health of the publishing industry and reading itself – is at risk.”
With the importance of books and their bookshops in mind, a campaign called BOOKS ARE IN MY BAG (BAMB) was first launched on September 14th, 2013 and has been ongoing ever since. BOOKS ARE IN MY BAG is the biggest-ever campaign for bookshops and is an initiative that was created by Booksellers Association/Publishers Association to celebrate books and bookshops.
Branching out from BAMB, Independent Bookshop Week (18th to 25th June 2016) is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. IndieBound is the umbrella independent campaign, where BAMB promotes shopping local and the benefits that a diverse high street – with a bookshop at its heart of course! – can deliver to a community. IndieBound started in the USA, and is a key part of the activity of the American Booksellers Association, while BAMB is located more so in the UK. These two very important campaigns are bringing to light the importance of books, shopping within bookshops, and specifically in independently owned shops that, without us book buyers help, will eventually become endangered and extinct.
As a community, we should take care of our libraries, our bookshops, our books, together. In 2009 Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one-room schoolhouse. A tribute to his mother who was a teacher that loved to read. He filled that little schoolhouse with books, turned it into a little library mailbox and put it on a post in his front yard. Everyone fell in love with, so he built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS. Thus, the Free Little Library brigade began.
The purpose of this little brigade is to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as they share skills, creativity, and wisdom across the globe. The original goal of the organization was to reach 2,510 little libraries, to top Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, This goal was reached in August of 2012, a year and a half before the original target date. By January of 2015, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries in the world was estimated to be nearly 25,000. By January of 2016, the total number reached over 36,000. In June of 2016, the total reached 40,000 libraries worldwide. The word of mouth travels far and wide, and with it, tons of little libraries are blossoming like Spring’s new buds. Little Free Libraries are definitely doing their part to help encourage the importance of reading and community.
You’re probably thinking, ‘why do I even care about this? It’s just a bunch of books.’ But this bunch of books is more than just a bunch of books. It is a community. It is a family. It is a collection that is endangered, dying out, turning extinct. What would you do without books? Without a library? No more books for children to learn the excitement and enjoyment of reading. No more pages that smell of dust and dew and spilled coffee cups, crying at 3 am because the character you love is dying. This time, it’s their story that is dying. Their brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews and all of their relatives that are fading away because so many people have given up; they’ve given up on the physical books that once ruled our lands with stories and facts and every known secret of the world.
One day, when the world will no longer have these stories to share, and it seems like no one will ever know the story of that little girl in a red cape and the big bad wolf, of the three bears and a girl with hair of gold, a maiden who falls in love with a prince and becomes a princess; who will be the one’s to remember what they once had? Who will be the ones to miss the beautiful books that littered our shelves, gone because no one seemed to care? Where will you be without these stories of our youth? Will you remember them when they are gone? Stay golden, Ponyboy. Love these little wonders of the world before it’s too late and their words will be just memories in the minds of the ones who let them all fade away.