All my life, I’ve loved libraries from reading as a child to studying as a teenager and student, back to reading novels as an adult. I have many fond memories of spending time in libraries, but they’re not a part of my life anymore. How did this journey go, and why did it end?
As a kid, we went to the library often. Lending books there and buying them second hand were where I got most of my reading material. Of course, I had some new books too, but they were expensive then as they are now.
I remember one visit to the library specifically. My father asked the librarian if it was okay for me to read from the adult department instead of the children’s section, as in books for grown-ups. He said I had finished all the children’s books. I remember thinking that was a lie. I looked around, and I hadn’t read all the books by far. But I felt so special being able to select a book for grown-ups.
As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the library. A lot of it was spent on doing research for school projects. Looking up the right book, see if it held the correct information and then make photocopies of these pages. It’s hard to imagine that’s really how it went in the nineties.
I would go alone, or together with friends. It was part of our routine.
I remember how special it was for me to find information for a school project on the internet for the first time. I didn’t even need to leave the house for it. I feel ancient for saying this, but children nowadays really don’t know what is available to them.
During my studies at the university, naturally, I also visited the library a lot. The one we had at my university was depressingly small, so I often went to the Royal Library in The Hague. They have every book that has ever been available in print in The Netherlands, so you could say they have a vast collection.
While I was a student, I also visited London once and went to the British Library. As a tourist, I could only see the general areas, but my mind was blown with what was shown there. Books from the 11th century I had just studied during Old English classes and original manuscripts of both Chaucer and Shakespeare. I felt so connected with history, seeing the original works.
Around this time, I also signed up to my local library. I remember how I felt walking between these rows and rows of books. It was pure magic. In theory, I could take all these books home with me. That’s also when I found one of my all-time favourite books: Roma by Steven Saylor. It’s a historical fiction account taking you through different parts of the religions and battles in and around Ancient Rome.
Today, I don’t visit the local library anymore. And no, that has nothing to do with Covid. The library here has few books in English and even less in the fantasy and science fiction genres. They changed the general outlook of the library. I suppose having straight rows of books was too boring to the public nowadays. Everything has to be about the ‘experience.’ Books are divided into different categories, as they have always been, I know. But instead of having just a section for ‘novels,’ everything now has to be subdivided to every specific category you can think of. You used to find this information in the catalogue, of course, but now they need to take you by the hand and shove the most popular books in your face. It’s not a place of secret discovery anymore. These are the bestsellers, and that is what you should read. They even remove books that are of unwanted political colour.
Newer is Always Better
So no, I don’t visit the library anymore. Instead, I find my books online, through services like bookchoice.com or other websites. I read all my books through the iOS Books app so that Apple tracks my reading time and registers how many books I finish.
In a way, I am sorry things have changed so much and no, not all for the better. Like with music, I now have access to all the books in the world, but I’ve lost my magical visits to the library. Going there with the excitement of possibly finding the next favourite book.
Now I read blogs and scour Reddit for my next life-altering book. At the moment I’m immersed in the Terry Goodkind ‘Sword of Truth’ series. For right now, I’m content enough with it. And who knows where I’ll find my next favourite?