Adventures in Wonderland: The Inestimable Value of Libraries

This post came about after reading a comment on another blog by a well-intentioned writer, who said that libraries sap income from a writer and are therefore counterproductive.  I disagree.

What are libraries for anyway?  They serve many purposes; for example, they are a path of education for the poor.  They enable those who cannot afford to buy all the books they need to have access to them.  They allow students and other researchers to browse through a multitude of volumes for information.  Look at some of the bibliographies in university thesis papers or works of nonfiction:  can you imagine having to buy all those books, some of which may have been only necessary for a paragraph or two?

But libraries are much more than that.  Libraries are mystical portals to other worlds.

I was very young when I got my first library card, and very soon afterwards the weekly or biweekly trip to the library to browse around and then come home with a stack of books was one of the highlights of my life.  I looked forward to it much more than, for example, going to the cinema from time to time.  I was a voracious reader; my family never could have afforded to buy all those books.  So should I have been deprived?  Should only the wealthy have access to reading material?  The education I got from those trips to the library was at least as important as the education I got at school, and now that I think about it, probably much more.  At the library I could choose what I wanted; my mind could roam whithersoever it would.  I read all sorts of books that the school would never have assigned.  A very special feeling always came over me whenever I entered the library.  I never knew what I might find.

After my catastrophic first year at university, when I discovered writing and science fiction, I found that the library I frequented had copies of all the Nebula award volumes that had come out until then.  What better education could I have hoped for than to read the works of the masters?  By then I had moved out of my parents house and was on my own, and could even less afford to buy books.  But I needed those books; I needed to immerse myself in them.

What goes around comes around though, and later when I could afford to I bought books by those great writers I had read in my leaner years; in some cases I bought everything I could find of their writings.  But there was a time when I never would have read anything by them at all if I had not been introduced to their work at the local library.

I still go to the library.  I buy a lot of books, but my appetite is still voracious and my family still struggles financially and so I still supplement what I buy with trips to the library at a local Greek/American high school, one of the few English language libraries here in Thessaloniki.  I am very thankful for that library.

In conclusion, I guess the point is that it’s not all about the money.  It’s about readers.  It’s about communication.  It’s about realizing that there other others out there like I was(and am) – hungry to absorb knowledge but unable to afford to buy it.  I empathize with those readers, and I would be honored if my books someday find their way into libraries, financial remuneration or no.

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