Libraries offer real books to read

As the New Hampshire State Library celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, we are reminded that not everyone appreciates the value of libraries in this digital age.

Indeed, a local official recently said he saw little value in libraries because when he wants to read something, he does it on a computer.

Well, lah-de-dah.

Given his point of view, we must assume, then, that everyone feels that way? Of course not. Given the increase in use at Milford’s Wadleigh Memorial Library, for instance, a lot of folks around here still see value in things printed on paper.

But before we go on, here is some information about our State Library in Concord from its website:

“The beginnings of the State Library were in 1717 and it is generally considered to be the oldest such institution in the United States. In colonial times, the British government sent over its statutory commands in great folios which were preserved, and moved about as the seat of government changed from one place to another. In 1777 Congress passed a resolution recommending ‘to the several states to order their statute laws and the additions that may be made thereto to be sent to Congress and to each of the states together with all discoveries and improvements in the arts of war made in such states respectively’ This is done today, as in the 18th century.”

Now, one could look at this and think, “Well, it’s not the 18th century anymore, and we have computers now and e-readers and other devices that do much of the work for us.” That’s true, but so what? Where is it written in granite that our lives must be based on the principle of all or nothing? We are either all in on devices or all in on paper? Why? We can, and really should, appreciate and work within both.

Electronic devices have made our lives easier, but there is still something almost magical about wandering the stacks of even the smallest library, as people do, for instance, at the J.A. Tarbell Library in Lyndeborough, and pulling out books, reading the cover flap, reading the first few pages, perhaps putting them back and wandering a bit farther and suddenly … Why, what’s that? That’s a new James Lee Burke? I didn’t know there was a new one. A new Maeve Binchy? But she died. Did they find an old manuscript? Fantastic. Oh, my God, will Stuart Woods ever stop writing? He takes up two shelves, and here are three I haven’t read.

Sure, you can find the newest Louise Penny mentioned somewhere on an electronic device if you happen to think to Google her name, but it just isn’t the same as coming across it by happenstance.

Oh, and a note to any local official who thinks libraries have little to offer: Not everyone owns an electronic device, and libraries offer the use of computers. And they have actual humans in the library to help you find things or, sometimes, just to say hello and chat a bit. Humans. Humans are a good thing.

Our local libraries have become places for people to gather or to sit quietly and read, sometimes alone, sometimes in the quiet company of others. Just check out the comfortable chairs near the stacks in the Wilton library.

Libraries offer meeting rooms for local groups, and now some of them offer coffee, tea or cocoa at a nominal charge – libraries, like some school groups, are always in need of funds because, after all, some local officials don’t see them as particularly valuable.

It’s possible a lot of people haven’t been to their local library in some time, what with having their electronics right there with them, but we would ask you to do this as we celebrate our state library’s 300th birthday:

Go. Check it out again.

Oh, and please, take the kids.