These days, to think of a library is almost always like to think of a very distant, analog past. It is like considering the biblical stone tablets over an iPad. But still what a timeless and relevant past it is! Though it is ironic we celebrate books in the digital age, last month’s National Book Week celebration gives me hope for humanity.
Why? Even with the increasing proliferation of technology, it suggests books and what they symbolize for still matter. If we are to believe that books are dead, we must not be having the celebration at all, we would not be having this discussion, and certainly, we would not be in a place where we are right now. Technology is auxiliary, a support factor, and not a hindrance to books and how we enjoy them.
Everyone must have heard of the maxim “knowledge is power.” It is no joke. It is real and proven by history. Knowledge could challenge a dictator (see Benigno Aquino), it could threaten a colonizer (see Jose Rizal), and it could defy false conventions (see Copernicus). This knowledge can be lifted from books, and books can be pulled out of a shelf in a library. Therefore, if knowledge is power, then power is available in multitudes inside the library.
It is easy to shrug this off as another academic speak, like it is some kind of propaganda to wrench people out of their smartphones and plant their heads between the pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude. But this is not the case.
When was the last time you searched for a book in a library not out of obligation but of leisure, out of a deep-seated desire and choice? It is a fact that we go to the mall instead of libraries. We go to the movies instead of libraries. We go to the beach instead of libraries. “A bucket of beer later? Nah. I’d rather go to the library.” I am sure no one’s heard anything of that sort from anybody.
I myself am a victim of these choices. In most weekends I would hang out with friends or binge-watch on Pushing Daisies and The X-Files (old school, yeah?) instead of occupying myself with a paperback. There is nothing wrong with these routines that we cannot shake off from our system, but there is nothing wrong too in allowing ourselves to crack that mysterious book in the nearest library.
It has long been prophesized that the advent of technology—particularly electronic books and reading devices—would replace the physical book, paper and all, thus rendering a genocide of bookshops and libraries around the world. But that did not happen. Although a couple of Barnes & Noble stores are closing in the U.S. and our very own Goodwill Bookstore is now completely erased from memory, we can still sigh with relief that the prophecy was a dud like the Y2K bug of the late 90’s. Even if we have all the gadgets to grab our attention, libraries and books are here to stay. Nothing beats the experience of being surrounded by books when you are hungry for trivial pursuit.
The library, in fact, houses the collective memory of thinkers, from one generation to the next. Getting into one is like being ushered into a hall of blinding light, and only when we get into focus that we would be welcomed by the masters of knowledge themselves. So if we ignore this in a corner like an old, abandoned building, we neglect a vast compendium of ideas. It is our responsibility to uphold these ideas, to sustain the progress these thinkers have made. We can only do this through reading.
That is why with the unparalleled accessibility of information today, it breaks my heart to hear people say “I don’t like to read” with so much entitlement, if not pride. I have a feeling an angel in heaven would drop dead whenever that statement is said.
[ 1st of 2 parts ]