Living Library ~ Acts of Kindness #29

I’ve been helping out at the library once or twice a week with shelving, mending, and with setting up book displays. My full-time colleagues handle the queries and all the other administrative tasks. I enjoy my time there immensely because it is quiet (usually) and I get first (or second) dibs on new books and magazines.

After these several months, I’ve come to realise something rather sad: technology has relegated librarians to sorting, mending, shelving and hunting for misplaced items. As one of my colleagues puts it – “Nobody sees us till they don’t see the books.”

Books Reading Library Little Library Free
photo: LisetteBrodey

The typical users in my library look for their books on computers. They can check if the books are available, and an automatic layout pops up with the locations. They borrow their books by scanning their Library IDs and then the books, and out comes a little date-due slip. The same computers tell them where to locate reference books and resources meant for in-library reading. If there is a fine to be paid, it is deducted from a cashcard. Librarians not required.

My colleagues find themselves excelling these days in two major areas: on search and rescue missions when the computer says a book is right there but nobody knows where it really is, and by listening when visitors come in more for a chat than a book. Because, yes, we do have visitors who stop by mid-morning and stay past teatime as the library represents their only human contact for the day.

As the march of technology continues with ebooks and elibraries, and as funds are diverted to apparently more useful purposes than maintaining a building for reading, the community library and its librarians may be endangered. I find that sad.

Now, I realise not all libraries are the same, nor are their visitors. My experiences may simply be the result of my particular community. But I suspect there might be some similarities wherever you are.

So what has this rambling piece got to do with kindness?

I want to say “thank you” to the three teenagers who asked if we needed help with putting up posters. To the lady who asked if we wanted coffee on her way to get some. To the two little girls who said, “thank you, and see you in two weeks!” as they left. To the visitors who wave, smile and plain old recognise there is a human being sitting behind the counter.

And to you, the librarian: thank you for doing what you do in promoting reading, in caring for reading material, in maintaining a safe environment for reading whether it is in a school or community hall, for being the forgotten guardian of what we want to know.


15 thoughts on “Living Library ~ Acts of Kindness #29

  1. An interesting perspective, and a very important one to reflect on. Was it really that long ago when libraries were awe inspiring structures, and maintained for generations to come?
    Somehow, entering a building whose sole purpose is to store books and make them available to those wishing to learn, enjoy and/or research … is not the same as locating the digital file and waiting for it to load.
    What can beat holding a treasured book; feeling the embossed print on the cover, and slowly turning the pages? The generations that followed me will no doubt have an answer. They may never get excited over a hard copy of a book, but perhaps they will get excited over a latest book download … and is that necessarily bad? Surely the purpose of a library is to store literature of all sorts, and make it available to the public. This is very effectively done with today’s technology.
    I guess I am just not adapting to change in these senior years. Perhaps I am just wallowing in nostalgia (he writes as he looks at a full bookshelf and smiles! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. I have an ereader and, despite the obvious benefits of just carrying one gadget instead of multiple books, I still prefer the feel, smell and simple honesty of a paper book. A great day is when the little ones visit and plonk themselves down with a picture book they’ve found, then toddle over to ask “what’s this word mean?” Joy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An uplifting post. Although I am one of the guilty technology users getting most of my books from Amazon in digital form, now and then a library visit calls to me. There, surrounded by the comforting book smells and respectful silence I am reminded that there is still a place where wisdom and knowledge live on.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely! I, too, own a little piece of technology but I still prefer my paper tomes. Interestingly, I’ve started to notice that teens are preferring to read books, leaving technology for social media. I’m taking it positively.
      Thank you so much for commenting.


  3. Excellent post…lots of food for thought. I have often thought of helping out at the library. Our small village library has not reached that level of automation yet, in that while you can order, reserve and renew online (which I find a great convenience), the librarians still have to scan out the book with your card, so that provides the human touch. There are usually two librarians working as people come in to use the free computers and the 3D maker and need help with those as well as with e-readers and ordering books. I have noticed the librarians branching out more into the technological aspects of the job. As well as children’s activities they also have social clubs, like knitting and current events discussions, so it is often a beehive of activity. They have told me they are trying a variety of activities to get people esp. kids to come into the library. I hope they never become redundant. As for the kindness aspect, all our librarians are very nice people, (book lovers generally are!) and I have heard them say they are often the only person a patron might have talked with that day. One of them also told me when she works at one of the larger city branches, some of the homeless people come in so they can use the washroom and clean up a bit……and that is really sad, but when you think about it, where else could they go. Most restaurants don’t want them unless they purchase something. So that is a kindness offered as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Where else indeed. I’ve also heard tales of young kids being left in libraries while the parents run errands. Community libraries have evolved, I think, into more social hubs and that’s ok. We’ve had some craft sessions and there’s some buzz about creating a makers’ corner. I just don’t want librarians to be replaced by automation because being a social hub needs a human touch.
      Thank you so much for sharing about your library. I totally understand about using library facilities – where indeed could anyone go to be safe and warm.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The library must be a great place to volunteer; thanks for doing so!
    I happy to report that all the libraries in our county seem to be thriving. I, for one, rely on many actual books. I also rely on DVDs from the library for the times I actually want to watch the TV(mostly documentaries and movies).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Although I rarely enter one (due to downloading ebooks from the library while sitting on my couch) I do see the libraries in my community as more community center than a repository for paper books. I like to think that less focus on things they did in the past allows librarians and other staff to focus on finding ways to serve the community in other ways and ways to be more inclusive. I can see our libraries doing this. For example, there is a program (which is also a place in the central library) that is the the Bubbler which provides presentations and workshops and allow young people to explore art, technology and career choices. So valuable. Thank you to librarians and all library staff. Libraries are a really wonderful thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like this idea of an info-tech hub, and an totally for expanding the role and scope of a physical library. I just don’t want paper books or librarians to dwindle away 🤗
      Thank you so much for commenting. I know my colleagues will thank you for your kind words.


  6. Well done on doing such a good job in the library. They are such wonderful places that some forget about. I can no longer read books but I remember as a child when I could just about make out the blurry print that the library was the best place ever to visit as it felt like you were entering a place that held all of the secrets of the past to present day. There is also nothing like the smell of book so thank you for keeping such sacred places open ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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