I learned a new word today, thanks to this article. Tsundoku (not the be confused with the number puzzle sudoku) is the Japanese word for the acquiring of reading materials, followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them.
Now, who among us isn’t either guilty of that ourselves, or at least knows someone who is? It’s a tragedy. When I think of all the trees that have been converted into expensive paperweights in this manner, it makes me want to weep.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of reading. I absolutely love books. What I really hate is stuff. Accumulation. It’s just too much. That’s why I adore libraries. I can always lay my hands on any book I want. I just don’t have to store it myself. I can’t think of a more amazing service to provide the public.
Somewhere in Missouri are about 50 boxes of books, moldering away in a storage shed. They are my inheritance from my late sister. The one thing we had in common was a love of reading. But I don’t know what she was thinking. I couldn’t afford to ship them all from there to here if my life depended on it. And where would I put them? One of these days I’m going to have to fly out there and donate them to a library or sell them to a used book store or something. Meanwhile they just sit there, occupying space and entertaining no one. What a hassle. What a shame.
I guess you might say I suffer from Tsundoku by proxy.
Every once in a while, I think of the Library of Alexandria and I feel like weeping. By ancient world standards, this was the grandest library of its time. At its height, 100 scholars worked therein, and it may have housed up to 400,000 scrolls.
The thing about the loss of this library is that no one knows for certain what caused it. Was it a fire started by Julius Caesar, or was it some combination of a fire, looting, and just a long steady decline? Nor can we know for sure what irreplaceable scrolls were lost. What knowledge, what history… how much more advanced would we now be if we still had this information? This amazing library definitely existed, and now it doesn’t. That breaks my heart in two.
If that isn’t tragic enough, you can go to Wikipedia’s list of destroyed libraries, and you’ll see that Alexandria is just a tiny drop in a horrific bucket. Libraries have been destroyed, either accidentally or intentionally, for centuries.
Of course, earthquakes, floods, and fires happen. And when a fire breaks out amongst books, there’s plenty of fuel. What doesn’t burn is often ruined by smoke and water damage. These things can’t be helped.
But what I really can’t stand is when a library is destroyed by the actions of humans. Wars, looting, religious fervor, hate crimes, and ignorance abound. Nothing pisses off a radical like the existence of knowledge. The Nazis loved burning books. So does ISIS.
One library was destroyed because if it contradicted the religion in question, it was heresy, and if it agreed with that religion, it was redundant. So it was put to the torch without even being examined.
It amazes me that so few Americans really know about the War of 1812. In that one, the British Troops destroyed the entire Library of Congress in Washington DC.
But the one that shocked me the most was one I hadn’t heard about until doing research for this post. It was the Libraries of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It happened in 2013, and insanely enough, it was done by the Canadian government, under prime minister Stephen Harper. This one is too outrageous to paraphrase. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say:
“Digitization effort to reduce the nine original libraries to seven and save $C443,000 annual cost. Only 5–6% of the material was digitized, and that scientific records and research created at a taxpayer cost of tens of millions of dollars was dumped, burned, and given away. Particularly noted are baseline data important to ecological research, and data from 19th century exploration.”
Come on, seriously? This is disgusting. I don’t know if I am more emotionally impacted because it is so nearby in both time and location, but why on earth don’t we know better by now? Why are we so afraid of knowledge? Why?
My only hope for the future is that as more documents are digitized, they’ll be much harder to destroy.
Recently, I blogged about the Little Free Library that I put out in front of my house. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love seeing the books disappear. I love the positive feedback. I love knowing that people get as excited about reading as I do, and I really love making that possible for them.
The most unexpected thing about the whole experience is that I’ve been struggling to keep children’s books on the shelves. They vanish almost as quickly as I put them out there, and they rarely if ever come back. But to me, that’s good. Kids love to read books over and over and over again. The whole point of this library is to encourage reading, not for me to become the book police. It’s not about the inventory. It’s about the adventure.
Fortunately, I know how to ask for help when I’m struggling. I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church near me one Sunday, and during a period when people are allowed to make announcements, I mentioned my library and my need of children’s books.
The minute the service was over, I was approached by an elementary school teacher, and since then he has provided me with a huge box full of books, and he says there will be plenty more where that came from. Yay! Elementary classroom teachers, and their school libraries, are always rotating out their inventories. He’s now my children’s book source. He was even more enthusiastic about it when he realized my little library probably services students from his school, as we’re only about a mile and a half apart.
He and I are definitely on the same page about this: Reading is the most important skill a person can have. According to this article,
The benefits of leisure reading are enormous:
Readers do better in all subjects including science, math, history and civics
Provides higher verbal ability and better college readiness and success
School work is easier for readers–readers are more likely to stay in school
Stronger civic and cultural engagement including volunteering and voting
Leads to better workplace readiness and performance
Reading is a deep source of joy and curiosity
It increases our imagination, creativity, empathy and understanding
As Dana Gioia, former-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, put it a few years ago, “If I could only know one number about a kid at 18 that would predict how successful he’d be in life, it would be his reading proficiency.”
So I’m very grateful to have found this teacher, and I’m thrilled to assist him in his goal to help children experience the joy of reading.
He heard my plea and came to my aid, so it’s only fair that I spread the word about his plea as well. His school, and all elementary schools, need volunteers who are willing to listen to children read. That sort of thing may not seem like a big deal to you or me, but lending an encouraging ear to a child can do wonders for his or her self-esteem, and it can create enthusiasm for reading.
This kind of volunteerism can be tedious, but it’s so important. You have to be willing to make it a positive, enjoyable experience, not a pressure-inducing disciplinary tool. (This could be the perfect job for a lonely, yet sharp-minded senior!)
Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about it, and then reach out to a school near you. They sure could use your time, and the child involved would be getting the chance to read his or her way to success. What a gift!
In this age of social media, things seem to get all out of proportion a lot more quickly than in days of yore. Personally, when I saw this image floating around in cyberspace, I was charmed. What a lovely way to remind people how valuable their libraries are!
But according to this article, that’s when it all went pear-shaped. Some people got upset that all that money that’s saved by using a library is money that isn’t going into an author’s pocket.
I hate to tell you this, but authors only make a very small cut from book sales. As an author myself, I know it’s mostly pennies on the dollar. Unless you’re a best selling author, you shouldn’t quit your day job. (And in most countries, you still get those pennies if the book is purchased by a library, for what it’s worth.)
Granted, more people read that same book, but it’s a heck of a lot more profitable for us than if someone buys the book and then sells it used on Amazon—thus depriving us of a potential buyer, and causing us not to see any of the money at all.
That, and I really don’t want people to clutter their house up with books they’re only going to read once. Hug a tree and free yourself from chaos. Use your library!
My book is currently in 6 libraries that I know of. That makes me so proud. I’d love it if you’d ask your library to get a copy, too! I want my book to be read. That was the whole point of writing it. I’d much rather have someone read it by borrowing it from a library than if they never see it at all due to lack of funds.
Most of us can’t afford to buy every book we read. That’s the whole point of libraries. Share information. Share knowledge. Encourage reading. I am totally down with that.
Well, my goodness. I just read a fascinating and highly recommended article entitled A History of the American Public Library by Ariel Aberg-Riger, and I learned a great deal about libraries that I didn’t know previously. Some of the facts below are profoundly disappointing, but in an odd way, they give me hope. Because if our libraries can emerge from their dark past to become the amazing institutions that they are now, then perhaps there is hope for our government as well. Fingers crossed.
I’ve always known that one of the very first libraries in America was started by Ben Franklin in 1731. What I didn’t know was that this could hardly have been considered a public library. You had to pay an annual fee, so it was basically a collection for Franklin and his rich white male cronies. Women and African Americans weren’t welcome, and the working poor couldn’t afford a membership. This makes me think rather less of Ben. As enlightened as we’d like to think he is, without a doubt he was a product of his times.
In the wake of Ben’s library, I was pleased to see that women’s clubs cropped up as well, until I discovered that these, too, were exclusively for rich white women. They claimed to believe in the importance of having access to books, but they kept out Jewish, black, and working-class women.
So other libraries were established, each one every bit as exclusionary as the first. There were libraries for people of color, for example, and Jewish libraries. But women did seem to advocate public access to libraries long before men did. Funding was an issue, though, until Andrew Carnegie took up the torch and donated 60 million toward library construction.
It wasn’t really until the turn of the last century that libraries became truly public, but they still had to contend with segregation to a shocking degree. Many civil rights sit ins took place in libraries for that very reason.
Now libraries are a source of reliable information, internet access, education, and community gathering places, and all these services are basically free to all. That’s why I love libraries so much. Knowledge is power.
So naturally, Trump is trying to cut federal funding for libraries. Because he’s a man of the people. Sigh. Please support your public libraries, folks. They’re the last truly democratic institutions that we have, and it was a long and winding road to get them to that place.
Recently I stayed up until 4 am, catching up on season 2 of The Orville, eating junk food, and playing sudoku on my phone. I just didn’t feel like going to bed. And I’m a grown up, so I get to make these stupid decisions. Naturally, I regretted it when the alarm went off, but hey, that’s life.
I have many fond memories of making that same stupid decision, only the activity in question was a really good book. I haven’t read a book in a long time. Nobody told me that married life and just day-to-day life would be so busy. No regrets at all about being married, but I do miss reading books.
I long to encase myself in flannel, hunker down in a comfy bed with a warm dog, and lose myself in another place and time. And no, the book can’t be on kindle, either. No glowing screen allowed. It has to be a cozy, heavy, substantial thing of print and binding. A dog-eared, page-stained, dusty old tome. That’s what I want. Yeah.
It’s not that I’ve stopped reading entirely, of course. I spend the bulk of my day either writing this blog or reading various and sundry articles on the web. But that doesn’t feed my need.
From childhood into my late thirties, I pretty much carried a book with me wherever I went. Books were my security blankets. They were my shields against the chaos of the world. They were how I blocked out the dysfunction of my home life.
I have no idea when or how I stopped carrying a book everywhere I went. I suspect it was about the time I got a laptop. And while I do love my lappy, I sometimes wish I could go back to being that book-nosed girl that I used to be, if only for a little while.
I’d love to see some book recommendations in the comments below!
Librarians have always been my heroes. They preserve and impart knowledge and literacy. They inspire curiosity. At a time when “intellectual” seems to have become a dirty word, they are keepers of the flame. Call me a geek if you want to. I think librarians rock.
Recently, I was thrilled to discover something about the history of librarians that I never knew. During the Great Depression, in the rugged and remote Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky, the Works Progress Administration funded the Pack Horse Library Project, and the vast majority of librarians involved in it were women.
These women would ride an average of 120 miles a week, two weeks out of every month, in the rain and snow, through the mud, along cliffs, and up icy creeks, to bring books to people who otherwise would not have access to them. They promoted literacy and education, and improved people’s chances for employment. They’d often read to families themselves. These women risked their very lives to spread knowledge. Not only did they have to tackle rough terrain and inclement weather, but they also had to gain the trust of communities that generally viewed outsiders as highly suspect. I can’t imagine a more noble pursuit.
Their funds were quite limited, so they also had to ask for book donations, and they got creative in other ways as well. They made Christmas cards into bookmarks, and license plates into book ends. They also made books of their own. They created recipe books and quilt pattern books from information gleaned from the community. They did their best to get to know their patrons and provide them with books that would spark their interest.
I’d like to imagine that if I were alive in that time and that place that I’d have been a Packhorse Librarian; a bringer of information, a messenger for truth and art and literature. It was a hard life, no doubt. But I bet at the end of the day, they took pride in this honest work. That makes life worthwhile.
Now those same communities are served by bookmobiles. This, too, is noble. I hope the librarians in those vans, with their dry feet and their warm hands, take a moment each day to think about those intrepid women who paved the way for them. And I hope they keep up the good work, because, I’ll say it again, librarians rock.
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Recently I stumbled upon a scholarly controversy that I didn’t even know was a thing up to that point. Apparently some researchers doubt that people used to read silently before the middle ages. Several books and articles have been written on the subject.
There seem to be two arguments for this theory. The first is a quote by St. Augustine, in which he complains about visiting Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and upon entering the room, Ambrose continued to silently read. St. Augustine makes much ado about this, and some interpret this as shock at such unusual behavior, i.e. reading silently. On the other hand, other scholars interpret this to mean that St. Augustine was shocked at Ambrose’s rudeness. I tend to agree with this interpretation, having taken the time to visit people myself, only to have them distracted by the television, the computer, the newspaper, texts, etc. It’s just plain rude to ignore a visitor. I suspect that is a timeless concept.
The other argument is that before the middle ages, the vast majority of texts were written in what’s called scriptura continua. In other words, there were no spaces between words. Talk about your compound words! Howwouldyouliketoreadanentirebookinthischallengingformat?
The argument here is that people did not read silently back then because with scriptura continua, it was impossible to do so. To this I say poppycock. Did you not just read that sentence above silently? I did. Yes, it’s a bit of a struggle. Yes, it’s slow going, but it can be done.
Another reason that I think people read silently is that I’ve read out loud to someone before, and it’s a pain in the behind. After a while, your mouth gets dry. And after that, your voice becomes strained and hoarse. And it takes effort not to reduce your reading to a boring monotone. It’s no fun to read aloud. These physiological truths would have been equally true in ancient times.
And monks, who were well known readers, sometimes took vows of silence. I don’t care how religious you are, doing nothing but your chores during times like those would have made it seem like an eternity. I bet they read, just as they wrote, silently. They were accustomed to listening to internal voices.
Also, we know that libraries existed as far back as 2600 BC. Can you imagine what an unwelcoming din there would be if people were sitting around in a library, each reading a different cuneiform tablet, aloud? Nonsense.
I’m convinced people have read silently for as long as writing has existed. On the other hand, did they read aloud more often than we do now? I’m convinced of that as well, for many reasons. But reading aloud because you want or need to is completely different than reading aloud because you’re incapable of reading silently, or because it has never occurred to you.
First of all, literacy was less common then than it is now. If you have a group of people wanting to hear the news or be entertained by a good story, and the vast majority of them can’t read, then, yes, someone read to them.
Second, books were relatively rare and expensive. Even if you have an entire household of avid readers, if there’s only one book to share between you, then, again, someone would have to do the reading, or else you had to wait your turn.
Third, lighting was at a premium. The average household was lucky to have a candle or two. So it stands to reason that one person might “hog” the light and read to others.
There is a related theory that reading alone in bed was considered highly controversial at one time. What were you reading? Erotica? Why else did you need to be lying down and alone to do it? What wicked, wicked thoughts were you having that they couldn’t be shared? Gasp! Scandalous!
Now that theory, I’ll buy. Freedom of thought goes hand in hand with reading, and such freedom always has been controversial. I bet you didn’t realize you were a revolutionary, did you?
Ever since my mother told me, at age 4, that when you go into a library you can go anywhere in the entire universe, I’ve always gotten butterflies when passing through the doors of a library. For some people, it takes love at first sight or at the very least a trip to Disney World to evoke such a response. Not me. Libraries are awesome.
So imagine the level of my ecstasy when I received a notice from the King County Library System here in Seattle, telling me that yes, they had honored my request to include my book in their catalog. In fact, they’ve bought 4 copies and scattered them in branches across the county.
My mother would be so proud. I’m still in shock and awe. I’m going to have to go to one of the branches and actually SEE my book on the shelf in order to believe it’s true. (If I do, I’ll add a picture below.)
I’m sharing space with Shakespeare and, I dunno, Stephen King, for crying out loud! Imagine that. Someone may be perusing the shelves and stumble across my book and read it. They may never have heard of it or me if it hadn’t been for the library. Now that… That’s just cool.
I hope all of you know that you can request that your local library carry books that they don’t currently have. They may or may not honor your request, but it’s a chance to try to make your library even more diverse. Many libraries even include request forms on their websites.
If you haven’t gotten the hint yet, I’d LOVE for my book to be in your library. Help a sister out, will you? Thanks!
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At a time in our history when ignorance seems to be winning, when public education is under threat, and when people are increasingly afraid of fake news but seemingly unwilling to take steps to find reliable sources of information, it is extremely important that we support our public libraries.
Libraries are under constant threat of budget cuts. It seems logical that a city’s fiscal priorities should be its first responders and its infrastructure rather than its libraries. But that overlooks the fact that the more literate a population is, the safer it tends to be. Even something as simple as participating in a summer reading program will increase your likelihood of being on the honor roll in the fall. Libraries also serve as community centers. They are often safe places in islands of chaos.
It is important to let your city councils know how important your library is to you. Show up. Speak out.
Also, get involved with your library. Get to know your librarians. Participate in their programs. Donate books to them. Join organizations that support your library. Help them raise funds. It’s the right thing to do.
It is also important to let your library know what you want in their collection. Think of it as a living, breathing, growing source of media that exists for the citizens of your community. Suggest new titles. Promote local authors. Your librarians will appreciate your insights.
On a personal note, it would mean a great deal to me, dear reader, if you would recommend that your local library obtain a copy of my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude in either paperback form or the new Kindle version! Or both! I’d be honored if my book were included in its collection. And the more exposure I get, the more success I’ll have!
If you are a blog reader, you’re a reader, full stop. You know how important libraries are. You know how important literacy is. Take a moment to support your local library!