Loveable Libraries & Bookstores
My Road Goes Ever On
No matter how dominant Artificial Intelligence may become in our society, there will always be a place in my heart for Loveable Libraries & Bookstores.
I’m sitting outside under a canopy of yellow-gold leaves and understand—in the depth of my being—why Tolkien filled the magical land of Lothlorien with late autumn colors. There is something surreal about rustling, twirling golden leaves above, and the soft crunch of a soft brown carpet of foliage underfoot. Drowsy peace fills me, and I find myself in a living dreamland.
It’s unusual to be sitting in the backyard without a coat this time of the year, but I’ll enjoy the sunny warmth and peaceful beauty along with the blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, squirrels, and various other critter-kind who are bustling about in surprised joy.
This week I’ve been pondering libraries and bookstores, wondering if they are doomed or pointing the way toward something we always knew but almost forgot. As far as I know, our town of Fillmore never had a library of its own. The nearest library was a volunteer project set up by worthy individuals in the next town over. Unfortunately, it closed a couple of years back. COVID did not help. Its demise seemed inevitable at the time. Lots of great books but not enough interest.
Still, my kids are insatiable readers, so I went to the larger town of Hillsboro and paid the annual fee (since I was out of the district) to borrow their books. The librarian told me that they were moving to a new building and expanding. I thought she must be mad. How on earth would she manage to keep a library vibrant in a post-COVID world with millions of online books and Amazon freebies?
I was in for a surprise. When I was finally able to get over there—with my daughter who needed fresh books—I discovered a community center armed with the latest technology, meeting rooms, private workstations, public computer stations, and much more. Heck, they even had a puzzle table where anyone could join in the fun.
What was more surprising was my daughter’s love of the place. Their selection of history and biography books attracted her like bees to honey. Sure, I can buy books for her from Amazon, but since she doesn’t always know what she wants, a taste of several books gives her lots of options, without the guilt of having asked for a book she later discovers she doesn’t like.
We still buy books! Lots of them. But the taste-and-see variety available at a friendly library allows us to pursue a much greater spectrum of interests. And there is much to be said for a welcome center for knitting/quilting circles, tutoring sessions, community meetings, and a warm inviting place to read and study without having to buy copious cups of coffee. Memories of the hours I spent at UWM’s multi-level library, finding the perfect corner to settle down and read, still fill me with the happy glow of peace and good fortune.
Bookstores offer much the same sensation but with the personal pride of a business owner who loves his or her work. I know of two bookstores that have closed over the years, but like the land of Lothlorien and the fabled halls of literature, I trust in the deep yearning within human beings to touch the pages of their favorite books, in much the same way that we need to caress our children, pat a dog, cuddle a kitten, and embrace our family and friends.
As impersonal AI and online services invade our world ever more deeply, I pray to God that we don’t forget the value of dedicated librarians and passionate bookstore owners.
May we have the opportunity to search through countless shelves, find a quiet corner to spread out our selection, and then delight in choosing our next adventure. Or, if very blessed, perhaps we will pluck the perfect illustrated storybook off a shelf, then scurry home with our child through the cold and rain to read it together with a cup of cocoa waiting for us.
Though I now sit in an autumn yard in the late afternoon with birds chattering overhead and a couple of silly dogs meandering through the thicket, I know with certainty that every truly mystical, magical land has at least one library and probably more than a few bookstores. Even in Lothlorien. And Tolkien—like me—loves them.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 18 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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