The common image conjured up by the term ‘book lover’ is an introverted, cardigan wearing peace-lover who wholeheartedly detests conflict. Nothing shatters this image like witnessing bookworms engage in the buying verses borrowing debate. It can get ruthless. Most booktubers proudly display their extensive personal libraries in ad riddled videos, denouncing libraries as old and unnecessary. In response, many have trashed their fellow book fiends, waving library cards angrily and languishing in their lack of privilege.
Both sides have their points. I shouldn’t pick a side. I shouldn’t add fuel to the fire. But, I will. I am and I will always be a proud library lover.My bank account agrees. Instead of making my point by disparaging book buyers, I will simple tell you why I love libraries.
The library is the place where I fell in love with reading. I can remember coming home with stacks of borrowed books and tearing through them as quickly as I could. I remember being excited to see all the names of people who had read a book before me, wondering what their thoughts had been as they read. I remember being so excited to return one book and exchange it for another…five. There were no restrictions at the library. I could read whatever I wanted. I could read as much as I wanted. The library was a place of freedom for me. And it still is. People of all classes, races, religions, socioeconomic statuses, genders and ages are able to meet in the library for the common purpose of obtaining knowledge. In what other institution does this happen so simply and peacefully? Libraries are more than buildings with books, they are highly symbolic. This institution represents possibility, growth and the free, unrestricted communication of ideas. These values are fundamental elements of a just and democratic society.
One of my favourite things about libraries is that they are silent spaces. Fussy librarians that are constantly shushing people are my heroes. I cherish quietness. In silence we are forced to let go of distraction and be fully present with our selves and our thoughts. Silence is restorative and refreshing. The silence that is expected of libraries translates in to an atmosphere of peace and calm. In our busy and noisy world, very few spaces invite people to slow down and be quiet.
Many have said that those who truly love reading will have no problem investing their money in books. I find this logic incredibly problematic. My love of reading has nothing to do with how much I spend on books or the extent of my collection. Reading is about the communication of ideas, imagination, creativity and human connection. When we put a price on these concepts we contribute to systems of privilege and oppression. When we start to measure the love of reading according to the amount spent on books we unnecessarily commercialize reading and turn it in to an elitist sport. Commercialization and materialism have crept in to nearly every area of our lives, but it doesn’t have to invade the world of reading. Books are a business but reading doesn’t have to be.
At the end of the day, books are an excellent financial investment. But I would still argue that every book lover should support their local library. Libraries support communities in advocating for improved literacy, academic support, employment and volunteer opportunities, and exposure to technology. Libraries are places where people can meet and connect. If it weren’t for the library, I don’t think I would be the reader that I am today. So for me, libraries are worth supporting.
“A library at night is full of sounds: the unread books can’t stand it any longer and announce their contents, some boasting, some shy, some devious.”
What is Not Yours is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi
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Published by Born-Again Hooligan