01 December 2009

Instant Gratification

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
-Jorge Luis Borges

I love libraries. I remember going to the old Santa Monica Public Library when I was a kid. The childrens books were downstairs, around the corner from the main entrance. We could only go to the library when my mom was in town running errands. Most of the time it was the bookmobile, at the end of our street on Saturday afternoons.

There was the chemistry library and the biomed library at UCLA.

There were afternoons sitting on the floor of the kids' section of the Lansing Public Library, browsing through books to take home to read to Tuffy.

For a while, I even had a job where I spent much of my time digging up information in the Library of Michigan and the Michigan State University Library. How cool is that? (Unfortunately, not cool enough to put up with a sociopathic boss. But it was a pretty cool job.)

In Seattle, of course, librarians are revered -- one even has her own action figure. Living out in the 'burbs, our local libraries are part of the King County Library System (KCLS). When we moved to town, we got library cards before we unpacked our stuff. Browsing for books is one of the best possible ways one can spend an afternoon.

Book browsing is, however, a hands-on activity. It's just not as much fun when you have to ask somebody to take the book off the shelf, open it for you, and turn the pages so you can read bits and decide if you want to check it out. Scarecrow is willing to help me, but I don't do much in-library browsing anymore.

For me, the coolest thing about the library these days is online access to e-books. I can check books out, download them, and read them on my laptop -- no hands! It's all about instant gratification. On Thanksgiving day I ran across a reference to a book that sounded interesting. The library was closed, but the web site was open. They had the hardcover, the audio book, and a digital version. Five minutes later I was reading it.

Reading a book on my laptop is not as satisfying an experience as holding a physical book in my hands, I admit. But it's a lot better than whining about how I have nothing to read!

Downloading audio books has the same instant gratification factor and no-hands accessibility, and depending on who reads them, they can be pretty good (or really terrible). The thing is, if you fall asleep when you're reading a physical book or an e-book, it stops turning pages so you can pick up where you left off. An audio book just keeps on reading.

KCLS even participates in an adaptive technology loan program. I got to borrow a trackball, to see if it would work for me, before I went out and bought one. How cool is that?

I love libraries.

Our whole American way of life is a great war of ideas, and librarians are the arms dealers selling weapons to both sides.
-James Quinn

In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us how to swim.
-Linton Weeks


  1. Great post. I agree life would be so much more difficult without libraries.

    I live in Snohomish county and use another great library system SNO-ISLE. Even with budget cuts I can still reserve books online for my wife to pick up (with my MS I can't pick them up myself). They still offer inter-library loans so I can find just about any book I want. The library helps keep me sane.

    BTW: I also have access to the KCLS system via inter-library agreements. e-books certainly are a boon.

  2. Zoomster - I haven't really cottoned on to eBooks yet. I really prefer to read lying in bed, which isn't possible when the book's loaded on my laptop. But, it's clear they're a huge boon, as Grandpa Oddball said, when there are physical issues to contend with.

    I was an audiobook junkie in the 90s, with a commute of about an hour each way. I agree with you how the reader can add or detract from the materials. There was one reader, Doneda Peters, that I like so much, I picked books just because she read them! That got me to listen to a wonderful biography of Marie Antoinette that I otherwise would never have heard.

  3. Hi Zoomdoggie,
    Thanks for this good post.
    What a brilliant idea, I have also always loved libraries.

  4. Nice thing about my assisted living home, library comes to me! Fun! PLUS they keep a library here, a pretty good one to. I LOVE libraries and used to LOVE going to all the Seattle book stores! With my MS, yep, Amazon.com is heaven on earth. LOL

  5. Hi Zoomdoggies,
    Please come by my blog and pick up your award.

  6. Grandpa - Ain't technology wonderful? Another cool thing about e-books is that when they're due, they automatically go back to the library. No more late fees!

    Cranky - I agree that even a small laptop with a hefty battery is still just not the same as going to bed with a book. When I tried substituting an audio book, I ran into that problem where I fall asleep but the book keeps going. But listening to Stephen Briggs read Terry Pratchett is so much fun that I've listened to him read books I've already read, and got to enjoy them all over again.

    Herrad - Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm flattered. I love your blog, and look forward to the art du jour.

    Diane - Let's hear it for Seattle bookstores! When I was first thinking about coming here to work (15 years ago) the company showed me around town, including a visit to the Elliot Bay Bookstore. They obviously knew my weak spot, and used it to suck me in.

  7. Zoomdoggie,

    Interesting timing on your post. After ignoring libraries for the past 20 years and just buying book after book, usually on Amazon.com (I have run out of space to store them), I rediscovered my local library just a few weeks ago. A lot has changed in 20 years! I'm a card carrying member again.

  8. I found your blog via the link on Caregivingly Yours. I was only going to peek for a second or two, but several of your posts drew me in and here I am, 25 minutes later posting a comment and wishing I had time read more! Thanks for your sharing your stories, and I'm glad I had the time to visit.

  9. Thanks for the kind words, Dan. One of the (few) good things about getting old is that you have lots of stories to share -- and you forget if you've already told them!