Thursday, January 16, 2014

Requiem for a library

I went to the central branch of my local library today, hoping to do some research for my story Night Shift. I'm looking for information on Assyrian and/or Babylonian ritual. This is the sort of thing my library, IMHO, used to excel at -- books on subjects that were not well-known. Back in the 80s and into the 90s, I used to "lose" hours in that building. I'd get caught up looking through book after book, utterly absorbed in all that knowledge. Well, no more. Today visiting the library was more like visiting a morgue.

I had heard several months ago that the library closed its second floor and put a lot of its books into the closed stocks, because they didn't have the staff to take care of a large circulating collection. I don't question that. I'm well aware that public libraries across the country have had to cut hours drastically because they don't have the funding for staffing.

Still, there's a difference between hearing that and going to the rooms where the shelves are only 10 - 20% full and there are huge gaps in the Dewey numbers of the few books that are on the shelves. The mythology section is reduced to books on Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. A section about religious history only had books relating to those same religions (and a couple other books).

There was nothing on ancient cultures. Honestly.

Time was when I could wander the aisles, picking up a book here and another there, and skim through them to find out if they had any info I wanted. Sometimes I would just photocopy a few pages rather than check the book out; sometimes I would come home with 6 or 8 books. The library was my portal to everywhere and everywhen. I found books on subjects I had no idea existed. You know what I mean? And I'm only talking about non-fiction; in the fiction areas, all those stories just waiting for me to find!

Today I spent about 15 minutes in the library and left empty-handed. Except for a strong sense of loss. 

My options are to try to continue online research on my own; go down to whichever college libraries I can reach by bus and try to explain what I need; or use the public library's "Book a Librarian" service where they match you up with an expert librarian for all of one hour at a time.

I don't blame my library at all. I blame politicians who repeatedly cut funding for institutions like public libraries. It's times like this I am ashamed to belong to a society that lets this happen. But have you noticed how the politicians always appear in expensive pinstriped suits? There's always money to bump up their salaries, isn't there?

My library has become a kind of anti-TARDIS, much smaller on the inside than it appears on the outside. I wish I knew some hotshot author who could pull some strings somewhere to help with research like this! What about the public library where you live? Have you been there lately? Does your town still have one? What are some of your favorite library memories?

Image By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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