Ever since my mother taught me to read at age three, books have entertained me, educated me, infuriated and exhilarated me. Their presence comforts my soul.
I love books and they are all over my house. They fill every available shelf, spill over into every nook and cranny, are stacked on tables, in corners and stuffed in cupboards. And there will be more - my Amazon Wish List runneth over.
Every year or so, I promise myself that no new books may come into the house unless an equal number leave and I’m serious about it, I really mean it – until I buy the next book – because although there are many I am unlikely to ever open again, you never can tell, and it’s my experience in life that as soon as you get rid of a book, you need it again.
When computers first became a presence in our lives, when we began using them in our jobs but before we all had our own, there was talk they would replace books, that in the future everything would be available digitally and we would read Moby Dick, Shakespeare and the latest political thriller on screens.
“Never!” I said. Computers have their place, but I intend to be the crazy old book lady that kids point to as hopelessly old-fashioned, my home musty and dusty with a lifetime collection of thousands of volumes. They would become antiques, collector’s items of a time gone by after I died. Maybe someone would then turn my house into a museum to show how life used to be before books disappeared.
Such has not come to pass and in fact, I read somewhere that book buying has increased in recent years. But now there is word that college libraries are cutting their collections:
“…as college students headed back to the University of Texas this fall, they found the main undergraduate library there missing a key ingredient: books.”
- - The Christian Science Monitor, 7 October 2005
A New York Times story earlier this year reported that colleges are building “digital learning laboratories” and according to Geneva Henry of Rice University in Houston,
“The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared. It’s having a conversation rather than homing in on a book.”
- - quoted in The Christian Science Monitor, 7 October 2005
As the reporter notes, however, digital learning and book learning are two different things:
“There is no question,” he writes, “that the online researcher can access material never available inside one set of walls and under one roof. In fact, the internet lays at a scholar’s feet resources from all over the globe. Yet by its very nature the online world is geared to deliver quick facts. Because eyes quickly tire of gazing at a computer screen, serious contemplation is discouraged…We believe that serious students must have access to both books and the wide world of online resources.”
These days, I have trouble imagining how I got through everyday life without the internet. Need to know who Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president was? A couple of mouse clicks, a few keystrokes and it’s on the screen in seconds. Can’t remember if Warren Beatty wrote or produced Reds, or both? Before the Internet Movie Database, I had to trek to the library to find out.
But the internet can never be a substitute for reading books. Listen to Alberto Manguel, the author of A History of Reading whom the Christian Science Monitor writer quotes:
“There are characters in books that become our own because they speak to us as intimately as if they’d been imagined for us, and define us as forcefully as the first time we meet a great teacher or the first time we fall in love…
“It is relatively easy to be superficially literate, to follow a sitcom, to understand an advertising joke, to read a political message, to chat online. But to go further and deeper…we need to learn to read in other ways, differently, in order to learn to think.”
How is it, do you think, that college-level educators,the people who are experts in teaching, the ones ditching books in favor of “digital learning laboratories” don’t understand that? My home may yet be turned into a museum when I die.