So many books, and so little time. Not to mention so little money. We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, it must not be a grad student” (okay, maybe I tampered with that one just a bit). But you get my drift. My “Books to Read” list is ginormous, but my budget? Not so much.
So the other day I was thinking (as I sometimes do), and I reflected on how much I love Barnes & Noble. Especially lurking–in a non-creepy way (I guess I should have chosen a different verb then, huh?)–in the children’s/young adult section. My own creative works are aimed at young adults, and sometimes middle grade audiences, so reading all those books I love (see the Bookshelf page!) is technically considered “research” for my writing (cool, right?). I mean, how am I supposed to write young adult fantasy if I don’t know what’s already on the market, what’s selling, and what’s old news?
This is why my “Books to Read” list goes on for days; there’s so much out there that I want to get my hands on, but I don’t have the money to buy the complete works of Lemony Snicket, Tamora Pierce, Rick Riordan, etc. This problem got me thinking: “I wish there was a place just like Barnes & Noble, where I could go and sit and read for as long as I wanted without having to buy anything…and, hey,”–this is where I really started thinking crazy–“maybe I could even borrow a couple of books for free and return them at my convenience!”
Yeah, so basically I reinvented the concept of a library…how clever of me.
In theory, libraries are great establishments. So why is it that I never go to the library to borrow books? I suppose part of it is a generational thing–I don’t want to date myself, here, but I did have a set of encyclopedias when I was young that I used to look up information for school projects, but it didn’t take long before those were replaced by encyclopedias on CD-rom (how futuristic!) and I started to become a “tech-savvy” kid. DOS prompts were traded for Microsoft Windows, and, before I could say “floppy disk,” the internet had come along and I had convinced my parents that IMing my friends would do much more for my typing skills than letting Mavis Beacon yell at me.
Now, as we all know, Google has become a verb (is Bing next?), and we’re all nano-seconds away from obtaining avalanches of information (both credible and not-so-credible) about any topic we could imagine, all with a few strokes of a keyboard/taps of a touch screen. This explains why I no longer feel the need to go to the library to do any sort of research. If I’m working on a psych manuscript, all I need is to link to PsycINFO or Google Scholar through my university’s library website and I can view PDFs of peer-reviewed articles to my heart’s content. Note that the library is still involved, here, but in a digital way. It’s great for accessing scholarly journals, but, at the present time, books still need to be checked out the old-school way.
Am I just too lazy to get up and go to the library? I don’t think that can really be the issue, because I’m never too lazy to go to Barnes & Noble and stroll (better verb) through the aisles of children’s literature. I think part of my problem has to do with my stereotypes of what libraries are and what they’re used for (and even who they’re used by). My schema (or mental representation/set of associated features) for The Library includes: a librarian, library cards, check-out desk with a slot for book returns, shelves of books in plastic jackets, a dusty smell, alphabetizing, Dewey decimal system (ha I pulled that one out of nowhere!), silence, carpets, the crackling of a binding when a book is opened for the first time in a long time, and tables and chairs strategically placed in corners. Perhaps most importantly, when I think of The Library, I think of old books–a few classics in a sea of ancient stuff that I probably haven’t heard of, nor care to read. “The Library” doesn’t make me think of technology, or popular fiction, or NY Times bestsellers; it doesn’t make me think of e-books or audiobooks or graphic novels. In short, I see Barnes & Noble as containing all of the new stuff that I want to buy and read, and the library as a place I would go if I’d like to find a really random old book that I’m supposed to use for a class report.
But is my schema accurate? Are my stereotypes justified? Probably not. I mean, the last time I went to a public library might have been that field trip in elementary school, the one where I was captivated by Animalia and then a kid “leaned against” (or so he claimed) the fire alarm and we all had to stand outside to wait for the fire trucks.
I guess there’s only one way to find out–I’ll have to visit a public library soon and see what I’ve been missing. Who knows–maybe libraries have kept up with the times more than I realize, and maybe my Barnes & Noble dream won’t be too far off the mark.
One thing is certain: if libraries have changed, my schema will have to change, too.