Arts and Culture

The Library vs. The iPad

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We are supposedly closing in rapidly on an era where printed materials will be yesterday’s news. Anybody heard of this new gadget from Apple, the iPad? Sounds like it could be useful. Possibly.

Anyhow, I’ve recently headed in the other direction, spending more & more time at my local branch of the New York Public Library, the Ottendorfer. According to the New York Times, it’s “the first free public lending library in New York City and the oldest operating branch of the New York Public Library.”  Who knew? And what an amazing idea the lending library is: a place where one can find a book, bring it home, and read it for free. Nowadays, if you think you might be late in returning it, you can just go to their website and renew it online. Brilliant.

The beauty of the library is that it allows readers to take more risks, and that’s been clinically proven to be helpful to sustaining brain health. Get a copy of that esoteric biography about that Russian gent you’ve always been a bit curious about, or dig deeper into the history of that one town that always intrigued you. It won’t cost you one red cent!

I’ve found myself reading more poetry, reading the autobiography of one of my favorite actors from the ’40s, and even reading a practical book about running small businesses. The joy of holding a book in your hands is not to be underestimated. Yes, I’m all for online publications — I run one, and I write for more than one — but make no mistake, printed matter is as valuable to me as it’s ever been. And this isn’t just the stubbornly Luddite side of my personality talking. I’m into digital tools, to a point. At the same time, ambience and mood are hard to replicate. Yes, I can order in food for my favorite local restaurants, and it will arrive at my house nice and warm. It will still taste delicious. But is not much of the appeal of these places their character, the visible craftsmanship, the attention to detail?

Clearly, in this example, the quality of the food is quite important–we are discussing restaurants, after all. But is unfettered, immediate digestion of the content our only goal? The experience of life is rushed enough, as it is. I like chatting with my waiter sometimes. I like the anticipation, hoping that the next gorgeous plate coming out of the kitchen is for me. When I head to the library or a used bookstore, I’m on the hunt, hoping they have the book after which I’m chasing. And if they don’t, then I’ll have to live to search another day.

There’s beauty in mystery and searching, and in holding an item that’s passed through hundreds of other pairs of hands in its storied life. Here’s hoping that the rest of the reading community will feel the same.

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