A Personal History of Libraries

The first library I ever remember visiting was the library in Red Bluff, California. I was five at the time, and living with my aunt while my mother was recovering from surgery. I remember the children’s area of the library, and in my recollection of the place today, the rows of books went all the way up to the ceiling. I remember specifically, although not by name, a picture book a pulled down from the rows, about children leaping for the moon. It was explained to me that I could take the book home — and not just that book, but any book I wanted in the entire library. I remember thinking, in a five year old’s vocabulary, how unbelievably perfect. I took home a book about stars, which started a life-long love of astronomy.

The second library I have a strong memory of was the Covina Public Library, in my then hometown of Covina, California. My mother and then-stepfather worked all day and I would walk or bike to the library most afternoons, and read magazines and look through reference and trivia books. I also remember specifically spending a lot of time with a book about dragons.

I remember the library at Ben Lomond Elementary School, also in Covina. It was there I first made the acquaintance of Robert Heinlein, in a library-bound edition of Farmer in the Sky. It was the start of a beautiful relationship.

At the West Covina library, I discovered that one could borrow LPs and listen to them at turntables in the library! I remember sitting in a chair, next to a turntable, headphones on, listening to comedy LPs and giggling as quietly as I could (it was a library) while simultaneously flipping through a Time-Life book called The Planets, written by one Carl Sagan.

The library in Glendora was where I stayed in the afternoons when my now-divorced mother worked. I would sit in the just outside the kids’ area, eating Jujyfruit candies (you could buy a whole big box for 49 cents at the Ralph’s just down the street), reading what were called “juvies” then and are called “Young Adult” books now. It was the first place I was exposed to a real live computer: A TRS-80 Model III. I remember programming the computer in BASIC to play simple games. It was there I met Mykal Burns, who was (and remains) one of my best friends. I also met — actually met, not just in a book — Ray Bradbury there, which to me was something like meeting a wizard.

The library at Sandburg Middle School is where I would be in the early morning before school started, reading science fiction and rushing through my homework. It was also the scene of some of my greatest junior high triumphs, as I participated in a school-wide “science bees” staged there, for the Red team (the school divided alphabetically into colors), and would single-handedly utterly slaughter entire opposing teams. All those years of checking out trivia and science books paid off with a vengeance.

At the Thomas Jackson Library at the Webb Schools of California I met Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Harold Ross — heck, the whole of the Algonquin Round Table — plus Ben Hecht, H.L. Mencken, P.J. O’Rourke, Molly Ivins and Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Stoppard and George Bernard Shaw. In the science fiction section I was introduced to Robert Silverberg, Larry Niven and Ursula K. LeGuin. Here was where I discovered many of the writing idols of my youth.

The University of Chicago unsurprisingly had many libraries; the one I spent the most time in was the Harper Library, where the University kept most of its fiction. The space these days would remind people of Hogwarts, I suppose; at the time I thought of it like a cathedral, filled with books, and also, very comfortable cushions to read (and, sometimes, nap) on.

When I left the University of Chicago, my relationship with libraries changed, because my position in life changed. I had a job and money, and for me that meant I could buy books. So I did: I bought new books by the authors I was introduced to in the library, and bought the old books that checked out so many times from the library, because now I could afford to own them. I bought books on the subjects I first became interested in by wandering through the library stacks. I bought as gifts the books I had grown to love and wanted others to love, too. I had become a fervent buyer of books because libraries made it easy to become a fervent reader of books — to make them a necessary part of my life. For about a decade I didn’t use the library much, because I was in the bookstore. It was a natural progression.

I remember the library in Sterling, Virginia, because that was where I lived when I got my contract for the very first book I would have published: a book on online finance. As part of my research for writing the book, I went to the library and checked out just about every book on finance they had, to see how those authors had written on the subject, and to make sure I didn’t have any obvious gaps in my own knowledge of the subject. When it was published I went back to the library and was delighted to find my new book there too. And it had even been checked out! More than once! I felt like a real author.

Finally I arrive at my present library, the one in Bradford, Ohio. It’s a small library, but then, Bradford is a small community, of about 1,800. For that community, the library holds books, and movies, magazines and music; it has Internet access, which folks here use to look for jobs and to keep in contact with friends and family around the county, state and country. It hosts local meetings and events, has story times and reading groups, is a place where kids can hang out after school while their parents work, and generally functions as libraries always have: A focal point and center of gravity for the community — a place where a community knows it is a community, in point of fact, and not just a collection of houses and streets.

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete.  My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Every time I publish a new book — every time — the first hardcover copy goes to my wife and the second goes to the Bradford library. First because it makes me happy to do it: I love the idea of my book being in my library. Second because that means the library doesn’t have to spend money to buy my book, and can then use it to buy the book of another author — a small but nice way of paying it forward. Third because I wouldn’t be a writer without libraries, hard stop, end of story. Which means I wouldn’t have the life I have without libraries, hard stop, end of story.

I am, in no small part, the sum of what all those libraries I have listed above have made me. When I give my books to my local library, it’s my way of saying: Thank you. For all of it.

And also: Please stay.

164 Comments on “A Personal History of Libraries”

  1. That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    For me, libraries are linked to somewhat less positive memories, but still something of a “safe haven.”

    Throughout my school years, a library was an excellent place to go if the bullying on the playground got to be too much. Well, if you’re going to be in a library, what else is there to do but read?

    This started me on my love for books I still have today.

  2. Even though I have internet access and Netflix now, eight months ago I did not have those things, and my local library is where I checked my e-mail and where I got my Doctor Who and Stargate DVDs so I could have my cable TV (which I still don’t have) fix.
    I really don’t know what I would have done without it!
    I can’t imagine a world without libraries, and I don’t want to.

  3. Thank you for your tribute to libraries. I, too, am a product of public libraries.We were too poor to have books in our home, but that didn’t stop my parents from taking us to the library and urging us to check out any book we wanted. I lugged home 10 books a week (the limit at that time in that library). I was the first in my family to graduate from college, lucky enough to secure a professional degree and enjoy a challenging and financially remunerative profession. I now volunteer at my local library and observe the many functions that the library hosts, the many people who read, and compute, and linger. Libraries are essential to the maintenance of an informed populace. We all benefit from our public libraries.

  4. In my local library one time I went to a Poe one-man show. Years later I took an acting class in college and, quite by accident, discovered the professor was the one who had performed in my library all those years ago.

    I only had one local library growing up, but it holds much the same fond memories for me. I was even allowed in the adult section when I was a young person because they knew me there.

    Thank you for being a voice for libraries. I am so grateful for people like you, who stand up for them when they are targeted by people who don’t pay attention to people like me.

  5. One flaw in the argument that “people won’t buy books if they can just get them from the library for free” is that you don’t get to keep the books, you can only borrow them for a certain amount of time before you have to bring them back. (And if you sit on ’em for too long, man, it stops being ‘free’ right quick.) And yes, you can renew them, or check them out each time you want to reread it, but even that gets wearisome and after a certain point, if it’s a book you keep going back to, it’s easier to just break down and buy the thing.

    If I check a book out of the library, read it once and never feel the need to read it again, it’s not likely I would have bought it otherwise.

    Libraries are awesome. I love the fact that there’s one within walking distance of where I live. I’d be gutted if it went away.

  6. Libraries have made as much difference to me as they have to John Scalzi and Ray Bradbury. The now-vanished library on Montague Street with vaulted interior, old Pennsylvania Statione in miniature (Asimov’s inspiration for Trantor). Then the main Brooklyn Library and Grand Army Plaza, where I read the Foundation Trilogy, a few blocks from the Asimov’s candy/cigarette/pulp magazine store.

    “Is there anything sadder than a boy who won’t LIKE his mother’s page on Facebook?”

    That was the opening line of a short story that I dreamed, last night, that I wrote. I’ve often dreamed about my mother, who died when I was a teenager, and she was 46. And I’ve often dreamed about writing, and, indeed, sometimes wake up with a fully-formed story or poem or
    equation, which I scribble onto paper on awakening. Now and then, in the past three years I’ve dreamed of facebook. But this was the first time that all three came together.

    In the dream I knew I had to write the story. In the dream, I dragged out a bulky manual typewriter, and set it on the kitchen table, in the apartment I’d liked in from age 9 months through 15, in Brooklyn Heights. In the dream, I still lived there, a familiar place. But I said: “Wait a minute; I’m not going to type this as ink on paper. That way, how can I get any feedback?”

    I hear my mother trying to talk Mayor Ed Koch from endorsing the re-election of George W. Bush on spurious 9/11 grounds. In the dream, my father’s house had been converted into a library, no expenses spared in finding as many as possible of the books he’s edited, and had signed by authors, that in real life his 3rd ex-wife had sold for about a dime apiece in a local used bookstore to pay for booze. In the dream, my mother’s memorial was an extension of The Little Playground
    near the west end of Montage Street, as a park, akin the “the bushes” on the other side of the spike-topped wrought iron fence around the playground, where me and my friends played Cowboys & Indians, and later called “The jungles of Vietnam.”

    In the dream, I did type the story, and then scan the pages with an optical character readers. There was an eccentric rich woman in the dream who wrote longhand on a tablet computer made in Slovakia, which recognized her handwriting, and posted it on her facebook page. In the
    dream I thought of asking the conference chair for the proceedings of the conference on workplace flow software in the sciences, and then realized that there was no hard copy, and that I should buy a thumb drive at the university bookstore, and hook it up to that branchy thing on the registration table, that was downloading all the conference papers onto a dozen thumb drives at once.

    In the dream my wife was reading an old newspaper interview about my mother “running for Secretary of State.” On asking my wife about this, it tuned out that it was some other woman with the same name as my mother, but not my mother. In real life, my mother was a community
    activist, teacher, lecturer, editor, writer, and co-founder of the West Brooklyn Independent Democrats, an organization that successfully got a New York City Treasurer and a gay congressman elected. The New York City Treasurer, a woman, eventually was the head of UNICEF. In the dream I ask that woman about my mother’s political activism. Why didn’t my mother run for office?

    “Oh, but she did. Remember that she was elected President of the PTA of Robert Fulton Elementary School, that old brick building built right after the Civil War. And was re-elected. And wrote their Constitution, still in use. And went from teacher, after the divorce, to principal. You know, the school where Melov was in charge.”

    She’d been born in New York City, daughter of Matilda “Tillie” Vos (nee Unger) and Alfred “Curly” Vos; brought up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Here she is, holding a glass jar in hand, running down the stone steps in front of that Elizabeth house, number 514, tripping, and the broken glass making that odd scar just above her upper lip.

    She went to school in Elizabeth primary schools and Battin High School, then went on to earn her B.A., Magnum Cum Laude, English Literature with minor in Journalism, Northwestern University,
    Illinois. She loved libraries.

    She and her closest cousin, almost a sister, both wanted to be foreign correspondents. The cousin’s husband was the last pilot to die in World War II. The second husband would not take her to the emergency room in time, and she died from asthma.

    After the divorce, my mother earned her M.S. (thesis on Piaget and Montessori) at the Bank Street College of Education, in New York City. I visited the school. Its library had a book on how to build models of the Platonic and Archimeiean Solids from paper, cut from the xeroxable pages, and glued along the tabs.

    My mother taught at a Brooklyn neighborhood primary school, in a tough neighborhood. One of her 3rd grade girls was arrested for prostitution. Turned out to be false charges, buy a boy whom said he’d given her a quarter and she wouldn’t perform the act.

    Did I mention being 2-time elected President, P.T.A., Robert Fulton Elementary School (P.S.#8)? Oh, yes. Or that she was co-instructor with Rhoda Howard, under auspices of Ford Foundation Adult Education Program, of series of discussion groups on the Bill of Rights (first
    10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution), at the Brooklyn Public Library at Montague Street, circa 1960, a building since unfortunately destroyed, a cross between Borges’s Library of Babel and, as I said, old Pennsylvania Station.

    In real life, after her M.S. (thesis on Piaget and Montessori) Bank Street College of Education, she got her New York State Teaching Certificate, and was indeed a teacher,at, now I remember, P.S.#29, Brooklyn, New York. She was indeed active in international education through The Nuffield Foundation (England) especially in innovative math and science curricula and materials. Is that why I became a science and math teacher, in slums and barrios, after my decades in the Space program, in management and executive management on internet companies, and my professorships?
    She was active in local politics; active feminist in 1950s-1960s, when that was as radical as Vegetrianism or Communism, organizing Consciousness Raising groups which led many women to return to school for masters and doctorate degrees and to otherwise succeed professionally, sometimes connected to divorces. What happened later to all those women, after I moved to California? Dottie Jessup became a professor, won tenure, divorced. And the others? There names all on sheets of paper that my brother through away, traumatized by her death. I still have the letters that her 3rd graders wrote to her in the hospital. Reading them makes me cry.

    When she came to New York after he college degree, she hoped to work in book publishing. Before she ever get her diploma out of her purse, the interviewer would ask: “So, girl, how fast can you type?”

    She became Executive Secretary to Hiram Hayden, book publisher. Hiram Haydn is the listed author of A World of Great Stories. But, actually, she was unacknowledged co-editor of several books including “Thesaurus of Book Digests”, editors-of-record Hiram Hayden and Edmund Fuller,
    New York: Crown, 1949.

    The acknowledgment reads in part “… to the late Will D. Howe, under whose supervision the project was started some eight years ago. Thanks are also due to Samuel H. Post and Patricia Vos, for extensive and valuable editorial work…”.

    To make ends meet, she was also a freelance typist/editor/author, most famous book typed/edited from dictaphone recording of English translation: “Pippi Longstockings”; author of various short nonfiction and humor publications; and one fantasy novel about archaeologists digging up tomb near Stonehenge and finding a skeleton embracing a white-bearded body who awakens and is discovered to be Merlin; most unpublished manuscripts lost in the period of chaos after her untimely death.

    One day in 1949 at Crown, she was doing the popular eye exercises. Big medicine said “no” Thousands of people who have used eye exercises disagree, claiming it has helped. In the 1940s, a case against one eye exercise teacher (Margaret Darst Corbett) was dropped because of the
    courtroom testimonies of many pupils who had seen vision improvements from the eye exercises.

    Be that as it may, she was making funny faces, rolling her eyes, and a handsome young former U.S. Army Air Corps Officer/Flight Instructor walked into the office, found her attractive and amusing, and started a conversation. They were married later that year. I was born. My brother Andy was born. My brother Nicky was born, and It took us some time to realize that he was profoundly deaf. But he loved libraries for the Art books.

    My parents argued about whether he should be mainstreamed (mother’s opinion) or in a special school for the deaf (father’s opinion). That was not the only thing they argued about, as there was always politics, my father being a 2nd generation Wall Street Conservative Republican.

    When the 1956 Presidential Convention, held in the International Amphitheatre on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois August 13–17 1956. was held on TV, I was baffled that my parents knew who all the candidates, nominees, TV commentators, and some state delegates were. The 1956 National Convention of the Democratic Party was the one that nominated former Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois for President and Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee for Vice President.
    Unsuccessful candidates for the presidential nomination included Governor W. Averell Harriman of New York, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, and Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri.

    As the unsuccessful 1952 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Stevenson had the highest stature of the active candidates and was easily renominated on the first ballot. Former President Harry S. Truman, whose support for Stevenson in ’52 helped secure him the nomination, was opposed to his renomination in 1956, instead favoring Harriman. It did no good. Why? Because Truman was no longer a sitting President, and Stevenson was nominated on the first ballot.

    After Stevenson decided not to reselect his 1952 running mate John Sparkman, the convention was marked by a “free vote” for the vice presidential nomination in which the winner, Kefauver, defeated Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The vice presidential nomination vote, which required three separate ballots, was one of the last multi-ballot contests held at the quadrennial political convention of any major U.S. political party.

    The Democratic convention preceded the Republican convention in the Cow Palace, San Francisco, California. At the GOP gathering, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for reelection. NBC-TV assigned two of its reporters, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, to co-anchor their 1956 convention television coverage. The two men were so successful at this assignment that the network promoted them to anchor their evening news broadcast, the Huntley-Brinkley Report

    So we all watched the Huntley-Brinkley Report every night. But watched Walter Cronkite cover all the launches of astronauts, and when Buzz
    Aldrin and Neil Armsatrong walked on the Moon, and Ray Bradbury was in the TV studio, also cut to by camera #2.

    Truman had been leading America in the Korean War, I remember that on
    TV. Men wore top hats at inaugurations then. Truman started the National Security State, and built the CIA out of the World War II’s OSS.

    I ended up writing peer-reviewed papers on Counterterrorism. I ended up co-authoring four times, all nominated for awards, with that same Ray Bradbury whom I saw on TV, and whose stories and novels I’d read as a boy.

    I ended up at a Pizza Hut with Buzz Aldrin, eating salad and drinking a plastic cup of red wine, and starting into his blue eyes that had looked out at the regolith of the Mooon, and to infinity. My father chatter with Neil Armstrong at The Explorer’s Club, pilot to pilot. At that same The Explorer’s Club, I ate a cube of mastodon meat, that had been dug from Siberian ice. It tasted muddy, gamey, chewy, and made me a Siberian Shaman, living in a hut of mastodon tusks.

    In that hut I started painting the story of my mother on mastodon hide, as that was the library of The Mastodon People. The story began: “Is there anything sadder than a boy who won’t LIKE his mother’s page on Facebook?”

  7. Simply beautiful, John. Thank you.

    While reading this, I flashed back to being in the library at my elementary school. School libraries seem to have a scent about them – a mixture of old and new. Even now, as an adult, hearing the crackle of the plastic book covers gives me a wonderful and blissful feeling of calm and joy.

    I love the library here because I can get a book from anywhere within the state borders [Minnesota]. If the 32-library system of which my branch is a member doesn’t have it, I can request it from nearly any other library in the state and have it delivered here. For FREE.

    Thanks for this post, John. You brought some smiles today for me and probably for some other folks here.

  8. A great post, and I too am a library-lover. I lived in central London as a child, and managed to get myself membership of THREE libraries, borrowing up to thirty books a week…! Wherever I live, I use libraries; sometimes more, sometimes less. Civilisation would be the less without them.
    And – coincidentally – I have just finished reading Jo Walton’s book ‘Among Others’ in which libraries feature heavily (this book was a Big Idea here when it came out, and has won both the Hugo and Nebula awards).

  9. My seven year old daughter and I used our local library yesterday. The first thing she did when we walked through the door was ask the librarian “where the kids chapter books” were. While we were there she ran into two kids from her school (their arms full of books they were checking out), the computer room was full of people using them, there was a family playing a board game. My daughter checked out nine books and read three of them as soon as we got home. If nothing else, she reads more than she would if I just went out and bought every book she wants to read. It pains me that our local libraries have reduced hours and is closed two days a week.

  10. I live in a small town. Very nearly the only thing to do here that doesn’t require money is the library, especially in the winter. They changed directors a couple years ago and have very nearly succeeded in eliminating the thriving children’s program that they had. They had a program where the Storylady from the library would go in to the local elementary and middle schools and talk about books with the kids. That was cut first. Then they changed the content of the Summer Reading Program to include more movies and changed the times it was available. Our community is barely able to support one small bookstore. The Storylady (my friend) worked there for 17 years and was forced to quit because of those changes and other political junk. The library now is (it appears) more focused on the older patrons and has forgotten that they will run out of them if they don’t build new readers. Which is what I think the other author guy has also forgotten. Kids, and many adults, do not have the money to purchase every book they would like to read. Especially if it’s something they aren’t sure they are going to be interested in. People who don’t have exposure to books, won’t become readers. I come home from the library with a huge bag of books that I would not have purchased on the chance that they might be cool. As you pointed out, libraries made you a reader, which made you a writer.
    I made my library buy your book for me and will be picking it up today.

  11. Yay, you! Despite having been a librarian, my kids are what got me going to the public library again. Eventually I started to stray off into the grownup areas and remembered how rewarding it is to browse shelves, grab anything that appeals on total impulse, and take it all home for free. Or not free, that’s right, my taxes help pay for it all. Crazy gorgeous books from the oversize section. Fluff nonfiction to leaf through once. Enough biographies to build a shack. Fiction I have no clue about but the spine and the first paragraph snagged me. The music, the movies, the Wii games, the magazines, the Rosetta Stone stations, the online collections of audio books and film…

    And I’ve definitely bought books halfway through reading the library copy, or even after I’ve taken them out a couple of times. In fact I read a lot more new books since I started checking the “new books” shelf every two weeks. I can afford it. Macklemore should do a song about it.

    For extra special sweetness, you could tuck a 20 in with those new books, for the mylar covers and bar codes and stamps and strips and data entry and circulation staff. And/or send this to whatever local body is in charge of allocating tax funds. Not to get all ex-librarian on you. Bless you for this post, Mr. Scalzi.

  12. John,

    Great, as a library worker one of my greatest satisfactions is hearing how we help someone, whether to find a book on stars for a kid, help with job databases, homework research for students, or even a good book. Not to mention they are great place to browse. I love them so much I work in one.

  13. This was wonderful, and very well timed. I just found out via a search on Google Earth that my childhood library is gone, and I’ve been sad about it ever since. When I was growing up, libraries were an escape for me in more ways than one, and I hate thinking about kids who might not have them.

  14. Thank you for sharing! I feel absolutely at home at a library. I think it’s shortsighted to think libraries have gone the way of the dodo. That children’s book author who spoke about libraries needing to go is horribly wrong.

  15. I practically grew up in libraries. My mom tells stories of how the librarians would hold me when I was a few days old so she could look for books to check out.

    I was about 4 when I conceived the ambition to read every book in the library. I was allowed to check out a many a I could carry. I discovered that if you rest your chin on the stack you are carrying, it is more stable, and you can carry more.

    When I was 5, the library had a contest for kids – make a poster about books and libraries. I don’t remember what my posted was about, but I remember that I won, and my poster was displayed prominently at the library. It was the first time I ever did something that earned acclaim, and when I first realized that Doing Things could lead to praise, and pride, and a sense of accomplishment. In many ways, that poster contest set me on a life of working on things and taking pleasure in goals.

    When I was 9, we moved (a new library!) and I discovered Heinlein’s juveniles, and Nancy Drew, and Lang’s Fairy Tales. The world grew bigger, and it was a wonderful place. The library was my door to the universe. I never thought of it as a little brick box. It was a place of wonders!Hi Mel

    When I was 14, I began volunteering at the library. I shelved books, helped run the kids programs, and eventually began tutoring children who had trouble reading. I was sharing something I loved, and it made me happy.

    Sometimes I think about getting an e-Reader, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I love books – the feel of them in my hands, the musty smell of an old book, the crinkly pages of a well-loved and well-read book.

    I’m with you. I love libraries. They are a blessing on the world, and have had a huge impact on my life.

    thanks for writing, and reminding me of something I love!

  16. My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means.

    Sing it loud and often! As a library trustee I find myself continually assailed with claims that libraries are obsolete in the e-book/internet age. Yet our actual usage continues to climb, up 20% in the last few years, even as our budgets come under extreme assault.

  17. Oh, and I think it’s downright negligent of the Gruaniad to pimp up Deary as an authority on libraries without noting some of his other (to be kind) off-the-wall less-than-mainstream views, such as his complete opposition to public schools, which he also thinks are obsolete.

  18. I have found memories of libraries from my youth too, but where I am they seem stuck in a bygone age where they close at 6pm weekdays and are only open until noon on Saturdays. I can see a very positive role for them if they morphed much more into community hubs but my impression is that like many of our public bodies they are far too focused on their own operation and lack imagination to do more with less, a bit of a shake up might not be such a bad thing.

  19. This is a wonderful piece of writing. As a librarian and someone who’s very concerned about access in the digital age, I would love to be able to borrow Redshirts on audio from my library. I really want to listen to it. Does your publisher have any plans to make it available somewhere other than Audible, so I can add it to my library’s collection? Thank you for your advocacy!

  20. You did not mention the fact that 4 of the 6 major publishers (including yours) either refuse outright to sell eBooks to libraries or mark them up 300% or 400% (no I did not add an extra zero by mistake). That is right, the ONLY John Scalzi eBook libraries can purchase is his immortal “Book of the Dumb” from the Uncle John Bathroom Reader series. Audiobooks are another story.

    I’m a librarian at a public library and I love my job (I’d better because I’ve also been a lawyer and a reporter and my wife says three career changes in one lifetime are enough for anybody). Obviously, it makes me feel good to hear all the nice things people have to say. Still, to say otherwise is a little like arguing against puppies or walks on the beach.

    Libraries are still extremely relevant, but they won’t be if they cannot provide their patrons with materials in the format they want.

    It is also directly against your interests as an author. Local book stores cannot compete in today’s environment and are rapidly disappearing. People who used to browse at stores to discover their next author are now coming to libraries. They will check out one book and buy the rest. For example, I suggested Charles Stross’s “Family Trade” to him. I didn’t see him for a while because he had bought the entire series from amazon (thereby hammering in another nail in the indepentants’ coffin). He then did the same thing with the Dresden Files (he had already read your books). We have elderly with failing eyesight who prefer eBooks because they can adjust the fonts.

    I could go on, but I’ll suspend my rant at this point

  21. I grew up in a small city which, if what I’ve heard is true, was the very last city in New York State to get a library. It opened when I was seven or eight, and to me it was the best place in town. Between that and the libraries in the public schools, I had access to books that my folks never would have been able to afford. To this day, I’m an easy touch for anyone raising money for a library, even if it’s one I know I’ll never use, because it’s a safe bet that some kid just like me (well, a little less odd, one hopes) will need that library as much as I did mine.

  22. Couldn’t agree with your more about the positive role a library plays in a community! Thank you Scalzi!

    I don’t understand this AT ALL: “I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant,” Deary told the Guardian


  23. Thanks for this piece.

    I notice you don’t mention librarians, though. The article by Terry Deary that you linked to is part of a wider debate going on here in the UK, and part of the background is that many members of the Conservative party in both local and central government believe that libraries can be run just as efficiently by volunteers as by trained librarians. They’ve cut budgets accordingly.

    In my own experience half the value of the library came from the professionals who organised readings when I was young and helped me find the answers to questions when I was a teenager and student.

  24. I was raised through libraries, too. Like you, my first library memory is also an astronomy book. My usual m. o. was to check out everything I could carry on my current topic of interest (which over the years was everything from space travel to paper sculpture to the lions of Tsavo) then lug them the 10 blocks to my mom’s office where I would wait reading in the back room until she finished for the day.

    I know I checked out plenty of fiction as well, but for me the library was primarily the place I went to for knowledge. The Aberdeen Public Library is where I met both John Dillanger and Susan B. Anthony, the history of Australia and the journeys of Magellan. It’s where I learned to bake like a pioneer and tahk like they do in Bahstahn. I was a knowledge addict as a kid and there’s no way my parents could have purchased enough books to fill my need, though God bless them, they tried. The public library, and later the libraries at my schools, were the only way to fill the gap.

    I did my student teaching in the same elementary school I attended as a kid. Though now in a new building, the library collection is the same and still has the old check-out cards inside most of the older books. I remember vividly the day I came across my name scrawled eight-year-old-style inside I book I was sharing with a student. My niece and nephew attend that same school now and love discovering my name (or their dad’s) in a book at school. It’s like exploring our own personal family Wordhoard Pit. Libraries aren’t just community space, they also link us across time.

    Now I teach 8th graders at a thriving metropolis twice the size of Bradford. We’re poor and rural with almost nonexistent public transportation. As someone who walked to the library every day after school, it broke my heart how many of my students had no way to regularly visit the public library. But for the first time in my career, more than half of my students now have an app-capable digital device. The local public librarian came this month and taught them all how to check out and download ebooks from the library via the school Internet connection. If they can’t get to the library, now it comes to them.

    The way we use libraries constantly shifts and changes (which is why we need strong, diverse library services), but the need for them isn’t dying. A kid who checked out space travel books in the 70s just helped an 8th grader download Red Mars onto an iPod. We will always need libraries to take us places. The day we stop needing them isn’t the day they become obsolete; it’s the day we stop going anywhere.

    Thank you for this piece, John. It was a wonderful way to begin the morning.

  25. When I walk into a library, I feel like I am in a place that borders on holy. Admittedly, they’ve changed since I was a kid, but that’s what keeps them correctly filling their niche. We humans accumulate knowledge, and pass that knowledge on to the future generations. I believe that this accumulated knowledge belongs to Everyone, and that it is our Responsibility to make that knowledge available to Everyone. Every piece of knowledge lost is a problem that may go unsolved someday, with much concurrent misery. I have no problem with my tax money being used for libraries. I want and expect it to be. As with anything, spend it responsibly please. I am disgusted by the number of duplicate copies of popular current fiction that I see on the shelves (I know they’re rented copies, but there’s 20 copies sitting there, not checked out!), while the reference sections get smaller and smaller, or there’s many great writers who are not represented at all. But I never want to see my planet without libraries that are local, free and open to everyone. Knowledge belongs to no one and everyone. There’s the saying of ‘Power to the People’. I say ‘Knowledge to the People’. Because knowledge IS power.

  26. Thank you for this lovely piece on the importance of libraries. Like many here; when I was growing up,my parents couldn’t afford to buy all the books our family wanted to read (and the bookstores were few and far between anyway), but we went to the library regularly. I have an early memory of being at the library circulation desk and being so small my head didn’t come up to the desk; but I was comfortable in this place with all the books.

    Later on, I would discover Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury in my local library and in my school library—magic men! I loved libraries from before I could read and still love them now that I work in one. On my days off; I’ll go and browse at another library just so I can come home with a stack of wonder.

    Libraries obsolete? Hah! Tell that to the clump of people waiting for us to open on Sunday afternoons; to the people using our computers to look for a job or fill out an application; to the teens looking for a book for a school assignment or to read for pleasure; to the people who want to read every book by a particular author; to the many who use the databases we offer; to the people who come in to sit by our tall windows looking out into the courtyard and read the newspaper.

    Want a book we don’t have? We’ll try to get it for you from another library in the state or even out of state and it almost always won’t cost a dime. Want us to add a title to the collection? Ask us and we may very well do so.

    Libraries have changed in some ways over the years, but a lot of what we do remains the same. We still matter


  27. This retired librarian and lifetime user of libraries thanks you. You’ve made me get all nostalgic about my first–Cazenovia Park Library in Buffalo, NY. I wore a groove in the pavement between there and my house.

  28. Thank you John. I’m a Librarian at the Burbank Library you visited last year. Our histories with Libraries are very different and yet oddly similar (which is probably true of most people with personal Library histories!). Thank you so much for emphasizing the importance of Libraries, past, present and future, so elegantly!

  29. @Grant Ingram
    “…where I am they seem stuck in a bygone age where they close at 6pm weekdays and are only open until noon on Saturdays. I can see a very positive role for them if they morphed much more into community hubs but my impression is that like many of our public bodies they are far too focused on their own operation and lack imagination to do more with less, a bit of a shake up might not be such a bad thing.”

    When I started working in a library ten years ago, we had eight staff members and got maybe 150 people in the door per day (250 in the summer; we’re a tourist town), and we thought we were busy. Now, we only have 5 staff members, and yesterday we had 390 people (we’ll likely top 500/day this summer). Less than 5% of our town’s annual budget goes towards the library, and yet last year we served more than 60,000 people (in a town with 4,000 residents). We have 250+ special programs and events each year, story time twice a week, and I usually help upwards of 45 people per day on the computers (I’m our resident techie).

    I’m not sure what your local library’s like, but here, if we didn’t have imagination and do more with less, we wouldn’t have electricity in the building right now (ever worked 10 hour days in an office that’s 60 degrees Farenheit? Because I do; we save the heat for our patrons); we’ve had to cut our hours because we can’t pay our power and water bills, not because we don’t want to help people. If any one of the five of us wasn’t running at breakneck speed, every moment of every day, the wheels would fall off completely. We’re the lowest paid town employees; they’ve had to raise my coworkers’ salaries the last two times the minimum wage went up (they’d make more if they quit and got jobs at Taco Bell), and as the second-highest paid staff member, I still make $5000/year less than the custodian. Oh, yes, and we each took a 5% pay cut last year. My boss is already joking (at least, I *think* he’s joking…) that we may have to do some bake sales to raise money for copy paper, because we’re already 80% over our office supply budget for this year.

    So, please, enlighten me: when you say we “lack imagination to do more with less,” what are your ideas on how we could accomplish that?

  30. I spent my childhood summers living in a house across the street from a public library. The entrance steps were flanked by two lions. There was a park across the street. I would check out a stack of books, go across to the park, and sit there and read. There was no better way to spend the summers. During the school year I checked out every Herbert S. Zim book the school library had until I read through them all. Then I started over again. My career and my life has been influenced by libraries. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way.

    And, what would the world do if one could not ever again fill their nostrils with the scent of a library?

  31. Great post. The small town in Iowa where I grew up had a Carnegie library and I still get nostalgic for the smell of books and old woodwork. I’m not sure who was first but my memories of that time and place are of “Storm Over Warlock’ and “Step to the Stars”; “Podkayne of Mars” and “Martian Chronicles”. I remember looking for books with the icon of a spaceship and the inside cover illustrations with all those robots and spaceships. Or picking up anything with a title remotely science fiction-y. That was in the children/teen section.
    The adult section brought me “Alas, Babylon” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” among others. It’s only now that I wonder if the librarians had to fight for certain books. After all, when I was a freshman the local Birchers tried to get some books banned from the school library. If they were having a cow over “Catcher in the Rye” and “Looking Backwards” what did they think of “I Will Fear No Evil”?

    Some of my greatest thrills in used bookstores and library sales is spotting old favorites and finally owning them myself.

  32. Coincidentally, I just got back from a trip to Washington, DC, and of course one of the first things we did was visit the Library of Congress. Then we had to go back on Monday because it was one of the two days per year when they open up the main Reading Room to the general public. I even got to go look at a room whose aisles were filled with (a small fraction of) their card catalog.

    Libraries didn’t make me a writer but they certainly made me a reader.

    Two libraries I remember in particular: First, the school library at Sumner Elementary where I first discovered John Christopher and Lloyd Alexander and many, many others. I vaguely remember other classmates having to be sent to the library to retrieve me from happily lying on the floor and reading.

    Second, the public library in Austin, MN. It was a Carnegie library but the incarnation I remember had been extensively remodeled in the 1960’s and had a distinct Brady Bunch feel to the interior design. But if it still existed (it was demolished in the 1990’s and replaced with a really nice new building, but since I had left town by then it doesn’t hold the same sentimental value for me), I could walk right through the front door, over to the SF section on the first floor, and probably place my hands on a particular book while blindfolded. Or I could walk into the children’s section and pull the d’Aulaire Greek & Norse myth books right off the shelf.

    I learned many valuable lessons there, not the least of which is that it’s a Bad Idea to try to read a book that you have balanced on the handlebars of your Schwinn Sting Ray while riding home.

  33. Spent many summer days (and less the rest of the year) in the Flesh Public Library in Piqua OH (near Bradford) from ages 6 to 18. My siblings would go to the movies but I loved to just sit and read – could even sneak up to the adult sections and curl up in an old leather chair with a young adult book.
    My love of libraries transferred to both our children and my son now supports his family as a librarian for a big-tech company…mostly digital. But our love of reading still is with books … as I read to my granddaughter all sorts of interesting stories.

    Love to check out from our local library your books John!

  34. The first library I loved was a van. Our little rural Pennsylvania village was too small to have a library, hell, we didn’t even have a government. In the 60s some genius had the idea that every summer the public school library would be loaded into a van converted into a mobile library with lots of light and shelves and a desk for the librarian, and then driven around to every village and hamlet too small to have a library. The first time I heard about the “Bookmobile” I was 9 and astonished that such a think could exist and that it would come to where I live. I immediately ran there and signed up, getting as many books on racing and astronauts as I could find.

    Half way through that summer I’d exhausted those parts of the collection and started browsing kid’s science books. After that I came upon a section of big-kid books that had small type and hundreds of pages and no pictures and sciency story names about space, maybe there’d be more about astronauts? I wasn’t sure, so I took a smallish blue book and opened it up on a story about a planet that only has night every few thousand years, the story was called “Nightfall” and I was hooked! What marvelous ideas for a 9 year old! Asimov got me to switch to reading books for older people and, except for a short stretch when I was a college sophomore reading “real” novels, I’ve read mostly scifi and fantasy fiction ever since.

    I could go about libraries, how I volunteered at my high school library even though all of my friends thought it was weird and I was the only guy (that’s where I learned to flirt with girls!) and how the head librarian turned me on to “Gravity’s Rainbow”. How I spent my years as a moneyless student borrowing books and how one bitter winter when I couldn’t afford to keep the heat on I would visit the library for the entire evening to do research and work on my art in the too-hot building. Nothing is better that getting warm when you’ve been cold for days! Man, all of the poor folks need libraries!

    Librarians are really wonderful people. They don’t always show it, but they are usually worth knowing. The woman I love and married was a librarian when we got together and her mother volunteered at her local library and donated a new book every week to it. Librarians are essential and libraries are even more so. People who read a lot get knowledge, and libraries are where they learn to do that. Getting rid of libraries is announcing that you prefer ignorance and stupidity. I hope we have not come to that! Libraries are an essential part of our society and we need to pay it forward.

  35. I have a very strange love hate relationship with libraries. I adore the libraries themselves. Books are wonderful. Thousands of books is heaven. We own something more than 1300 books ourselves. All kinds, fiction and non-fiction. I’ve adored libraries since I was little. My parents had books at home, though they were not Readers, if you know what I mean. Our elementary and high school libraries were excellent. At UNM Zimmerman Library was awesome, my favorite place to study, to waste time in and to just plain enjoy the atmosphere. I have (and will continue to) donated to libraries, books of course (new ones usually) and always vote ‘Yes’ on the Library Bond questions.

    But …

    I hate librarians, in general, and public librarians in my town specifically. I have never met a more conceited, arrogant, unfriendly and just plain mean group of people. No matter which public library I go to, this seems to be the case. Always. And apologies to those of you above who are/were librarians. I don’t know you and won’t include you in this unfriendly category as that would not be fair. But, man, what gives? It’s almost as if a citizen walking into a public library tarnishes the very shelves, by their attitude. Our libraries are always full (huzzah!) with people browsing and using the computers, but no one, absolutely no one (I hung out for an hour one afternoon counting because I was curious) hangs out at the desk and talks with the librarians. They do move the people along in a quick and really remote method. Strange.

    Like I said, a very strange love hate relationship. Love libraries, librarians though ….

  36. My local library has an inscription on its facade, reading “The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.” This has always struck me as terribly important, and one of the main reasons why libraries are *needed*.

  37. Also, what Terry Deary seems to be forgetting, is that through taxes and levies, Patrons actually do pay for the books they read. The library buys books and everything else with these monies and Patrons don’t get to keep any of these items but must return them. It is, after all, a lending system.

    I will accept the argument that the libraries could use the monies more responsibly , but I do not accept the idea that the Patrons are getting all these benefits and services for free.

  38. Not only do I adore my local public library; the public library on Saint Simon’s Island is one of the reasons it’s my favorite vacation destination. Among its many attractions are a deep covered porch with rocking chairs and outlets and free WiFi, so you can sit and watch the boats go by and feel the ocean breeze while you check your email or work on your writing.

    (Also, the last time I was there I found a copy of “Reptilicus” in their used-book-and-video sale. Best souvenir EVER!)

  39. @grant ingram: they are far too focused on their own operation and lack imagination to do more with less

    Our funding body has been telling us to “do more with less” for over a quarter of a century, and we didn’t start out with bloated budgets. And we have done more with less, to the point where we are one of the most efficient public library systems in the nation. But reaching that point means there is pretty much nothing left to cut, no further workflow/structural efficiencies to be gained in our current facilities or operations, no way to shave the cost margins any farther while still maintaining the current service levels. much less achieve the higher ones being demanded by the public. All we can do now with less is less.

  40. One of the things that I’m happy to do every year is to provide the local library and the local Jr. High library with subsciptions to The Smithsonian. I still remember the delight that I’ve taken in every local library. There’s a wonderful filk song from Bill Roper about his first library card..

  41. I live in Red Bluff, CA. Our town has struggled with unemployment and poverty. That library is the only reason many kids get to read books in the summer. I will share this with the librarian. I am sure she will love it. Thanks for sharing.

  42. @jboorn @1:38 I don’t understand this AT ALL: “I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant,” Deary told the Guardian

    Roughly translated it means, “I am a short-sighted git, who doesn’t understand that getting rid of libraries will not automatically translate into more book sales for me and will hurt everyone in the long run.”

    My local library was the destination of our first school field trip in either kindergarten or first grade. We all signed up for library cards. (I assume parental permission was arranged in advance.) I remember the children’s section fondly, right down to the library cat.

    Do libraries ever have cats any more? I assume, with more awareness of allergies, this has gone the way of the dodo.

    I still frequent my local library, which is small, but part of a great interlibrary loan system. I’ve almost forgiven them for selling off my favorite book while I was in college. (It took me several years to find a copy to buy.)

  43. Libraries are an important part of my childhood. The check-out period for our local library was 4 weeks, therefor every 4 weeks there was a family trip to the library. All 5 of us would go to the library and pick out our maximum number of books (earlier it was 6, once they switched from a photographic checkout system to a digital one, the limit went up to 12). We’d check them all out, and they’d go into a double-thickness brown-paper grocery bag. When we got home, my dad or mom would write down all the books. I’d read all mine, then all my two younger sisters. Then maybe re-read some. Then, it would be find-the-book day. We’d always be a book or two short, and we’d have to turn the house upside down looking for the missing books — having the titles helped. Then back to the library to return the books, and repeat the process.

  44. You can tell how out of touch that guy is when he says book stores are closing because of libraries. He’s implying no one buys books anymore. I bet if we look at statistics people are buying the same amount of books they always have. The reason bookstores are closing is because of ebooks. That may be a separate argument but clearly this idiot has no idea what he’s talking about. I wonder if he knows how many of his books have been purchased because someone has discovered his work in a library.

  45. It seems that the people who are loudest about libraries being pointless, that money and effort poured into them is ill-spent, that all you need is an Internet connection, that libraries are full of smelly drunks and mean librarians and useless books, haven’t been arsed to visit a library in years. They, however, by no means represent our patrons. I wonder what childhood trauma put them off?

  46. @TheMadLibrarian:

    In my community the loudest critics also tend to be the least literate. Which doesn’t explain Deary, only our local critics. Maybe they were beaten with books by mean drunk librarians. :O

  47. John, have you ever been to the Library of Congress? My mother, sister, daughter and I went on President’s Day, one of the two days a year the main reading room is open to the public, and it was such an amazing experience. The building itself is a gem, a real tribute to the importance of knowledge, and getting to browse the card catalog and the Lincoln Bible (special exhibit) was a joy. If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend it. Next on my life list is getting a LofC card, and figuring out some way to need to do research there.

  48. The world would be a very small place without our libraries. And for some of us, libraries are our second home. Thanks for the great post. I am looking forward to reading your book Redshirts.

  49. i remember my first library. it was a double-wide trailer that was driven to different parts of my side (i.e., the poor side) of the city. the book shelves had bungee cords across them to secure the books during transport. my first ever summer reading program started in that trailer. i remember the mcgruff the crime dog poster, the poster of the boy and girl sitting on a rainbow with a book shared between them, and the poster where they coloured in how many books each child had read so far (plus we got a sticker for our individual papers!). i remember the careful scrutinizing of each book because i was only allowed to take two. and i remember how excited i was to climb those two metal steps every week, open the flimsy door and step into a world that had the potential to be so much better than my real one. without libraries, from the trailer library to the school library to the public library, i don’t think i would have been able to survive childhood.

  50. I had the privilege of growing up with my dad’s personal science fiction library at my beck and call, but public libraries helped fill the gaps in his collection, and let me do things like research for one-off projects, where buying a book for that project would be prohibitive either in terms of money for what I get, or space to store it (my personal library space is very, very limited).

    And as noted earlier, libraries aren’t free, I’m paying every month in some fashion for the libraries here. What I think Dreary has fallen into is the trap of not remembering that some people can’t afford, or can’t justify for other reasons, the money, while he thinks that every single borrowing of one of his books is a lost sale (I’d be surprised if there was any bump in his sales, plus I’m sure his books are on the used market anyway, which he doesn’t seem to account for). The library is an vital part of the economy that he has chosen to be in, and if the libraries go away, eventually, his income will follow, possibly in as little as five years, but most certainly inside of twenty, as his readers move on to cheaper entertainments.

  51. My first memory of a library is the small branch in a strip mall in Orcutt, CA. I was probably in kindergarden or 1st grade, crouched down so that I could peruse the joke books and the Bill Peet collection.
    I rather quickly outgrew the branch library, and my mom started taking me to the main library, in Santa Maria. It was this large (to my mind), Mission style, building. That’s where I discovered I could check out records (vinyl, for the young’uns) of things like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (surely, one of the greatest pieces of classical music to introduce to kids). Thanks, mom.
    That library is also where I discovered the existence of science fiction beyond Tom Swift. Asimov was the source of many mind-blowing reading experiences (Pebble in the Sky and The Stars, Like Dust particularly stand out).
    After that, it was up to Kent, where I discovered that the Fairwood librarians were really cool and would let me check out more than the official max (15 books at a time). The librarians at Kentridge High School were pretty awesome, letting me take cover during my lunch break in one of the back alcoves. I actually got teared up after graduating, at the thought of not being able to visit there.
    Wichita State University’s main library was were I discovered that I could walk back into the stacks, close my eyes, breath deep, and practically have a religious experience as the sheer physical presence of the books washed over me.

    Libraries rock.

  52. It’s interesting how a love affair with libraries leads to certain things ingrained in our hearts; I get completely freaked out if I inadvertently fail to return a book on time, and live in terror of spilling tea on one…

  53. Speaking as a former librarian (you can take the librarian out of the library, but you can’t take the library out of the librarian), this warmed the cockles of my heart.

  54. My first library was a bookmobile, when I was around four or five years old. I was already reading at that time. Then, when i was 6.5 years old, we moved to about two blocks from our local branch of the Ventura County library system. When i was 7, my parents started letting me walk to the library by myself (it was a different time, in the mid-1960s, when you could let a kid do that, even in Southern California). I was there pretty near every day, often twice a day during the summer.

    Age 7 was also the time when I started checking books out of the adult section of the library. At first, the library ladies thought I was checking them out for my parents. When they figured out that I was checking them out for myself, they made me sit down and prove that I could read them. Then, they made me prove that I was understanding what i was reading. When I showed them that, they didn’t give me any trouble until I started to want to read things like Rosemary’s Baby and The Graduate, when I was aroundd 10 or 11. They wouldn’t let me check those books out…so I just sat in the library and read them.

    When I was 16, we moved to L.A. County, near a regional branch of the library that was very good.

    Then, at age 21 I moved to the San Joaquin Valley and started to get acquainted with the Fresno County Library system. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the libraries here in Fresno. I was horrified, after a remodel, to find that the central library downtown has cut it’s adult fiction section to about half of what it was. At this point, I much prefer the branch libraries, even the small ones, to the central branch. Not only has the central branch cut down on the fiction section, it has drastically reduced the number of tables where patrons can sit and work. It’s nice that they’ve expanded by quite a bit the number of computers they have for use, but I still like to go into a library and sit and use the reference books and write or read, and it is difficult to do that now.

    I still love libraries, and with my current budget (I’ve been out of work for over a year now, and with the continuing high unemployment rate around here, and considering that I’m over fifty, my chances of finding anything soon are not that good even though I’m actively looking for work) I can’t afford to buy books. So, for me, the library is the only game in town. So, I was horrified to read Terry Deary’s comments. He seems to be saying that the only people who should be allowed to read are people who are rich enough to go out and buy books. Or, maybe he thinks that people who don’t have money don’t read. He’s wrongheaded on both counts.

  55. My high school librarian (back in the early ’90s) was awesome. Because she knew I and others loved the WoT series, she picked them up as Robert Jordan wrote them. I was a poor-ish kid, so borrowing books was the only way I could not, you know, go crazy knowing there was a new WoT book out that I couldn’t read.

    In retrospect, since she was really good friends with Raymond Feist, I suspect maybe there was another reason why my library had such a good fantasy/sci-fi section. =)

  56. Elaine, I live in Fresno, too. The local libraries here are pretty amazing, even though I don’t especially need them any more… they’ll do things like host community events, run D&D games, etc. James Tyner, a librarian at the Gillis Library, arranges D&D games on a monthly basis for the kids in there. I’ve volunteered at it, and they’re awesome.

  57. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the reader, writer, or man that I am without public libraries. They were always a safe place to indulge my curiosity, let my imagination have free reign, discover new authors and new ways of looking at the world, and generally be myself. When you’re a bookish, nerdy little kid and you find a place that seems to have built especially for you, this is no small thing. Even today, a library is a refuge for me. It’s invigorating to spend some time in a quiet place, surrounded by nothing but books and readers. Not book buyers – readers. Libraries will always make sense to me, will always be relevant, and will always give something back to me.

  58. Amen, Mr. Scalzi. I love libraries with every last little ounce of my heart. From my start going to my local county library as a young child ( Hello, Encyclopedia Brown!) to the astonishing libraries of New York City, libraries have always played an important role in my life. Communities are made far richer for having them and it always kills me to see that some damned politician or gibbering talking head is trying to put them on the endangered list. Every great civilization on Earth has kept repositories of knowledge and the best make that knowledge available to everyone. Seems there are some folks who will just never, ever get that.

  59. @Noah – Small world. I had a card at the Santa Maria Public Library from the age of about 4. (I will admit, my sister and I thought the coolest thing about it was the fact that it had an elevator…but we were there every week and I don’t think we ever left with less than the maximum of ten books – later fifteen when Mom authorized us to check out from the adult section.)

    Libraries have been a constant through my entire life, from Santa Maria to the base libraries in the Air Force (where I first discovered, among others, George MacDonald Fraser and Molly Ivins), to the glorious Old Main Library in San Francisco (now replaced by a sleek and lovely building that holds only two-thirds as many books.)

    My best and worst library memories both come from my late return to university in the early ’00s. The worst: realizing that I was the first person since 1947 to check out a truly memorable book (Norman Corwin’s On a Note of Triumph) from my university’s library. The best: researching a term paper and deciding to hit up the library at UC Berkley for additional material – I was over 30 and had NEVER been in a library that huge.

    Deary is a fool. His “Horrible Histories” are informative and hilarious, but he’s a damn fool.

    Some years ago, a close friend got into a long discussion with his doctor at the end of an appointment; the discussion was on opera. After about ten minutes, the doc remembered that she was discussing this with a guy from a working-class background, in a skilled-labor job that left him with busted knuckles and oil under his fingernails, and asked “How do you know about this stuff?!”

    His quiet response was, “Libraries are free, and PBS went down poor people’s antennas too.”

  60. I practically lived at the library some days. Books, computers, a safe quiet place to sit and read or write or study or hide out from batshit family members. Our system hosts a lot of educational events too — literacy and science stuff for kids of various ages, but also things like tax help, ESL, and computer literacy.

    My local library isn’t just a resource, it’s a haven.

  61. One of my early jobs was as a ‘page’ at a branch library in Las Vegas. It meant re-shelving books. It also meant me learning the library of congress system (sorry Dewey decimal).Reading more science fiction that I had already been reading before, pissing my brother off by bringing books that he didn’t approve of into our room, and generally finding out that there really was more out there than just science fiction. There is something very peaceful to be found.

  62. I know short-term followups are frowned upon here, but I have to say @Eliska: I suspect it was no accident that the biggest driver behind the development of PBS was a former National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy.

    And @Tully: Don’t slag off the Guardian for reporting; Deary wasn’t writing for that paper, they interviewed him after his comments in an earlier story for the Sunderland Echo.

  63. We have a nice personal library but, for various reasons, we don’t buy books much anymore. I miss them, and hope to return to expanding our collection someday. I love books, especially first editions. For now, we rely on the library. In fact, sometimes we go to the bookstore just to make note of new books we want to get out of the library. In the greater Boston area, we have the Minuteman Library network, comprising almost 40 libraries. You can search the catalog and if at least one of those libraries has the book you’re looking for you can put in a request and it will be delivered for pick up to your local branch. It’s really a beautiful thing.

  64. I can still remember the smell of the children’s floor in the basement of a library somewhere in downtown Rotherham, Yorkshire where I first discovered fairy stores and Sherlock Holmes (my first crush).

    I worked part time in the reference department of Brentwood library in Etobicoke for several years in high school. Best job ever.

    Today I have a Carnegie library two doors from my house, and it breaks my heart that I have to move. It’s always busy; people studying, using the internet, hanging out. I usually have at least 15 books on hold and it’s so great when 5 arrive on the same day.

  65. As a former librarian (at the library in Piqua, thankyouverymuch) I appreciate your sentiments. Helping to bring together people and books was a wonderful job, one of the best I ever had.

  66. I love that your childhood libraries were in the three towns that surrounded *my* hometown, Azusa Calif! My grandmother would drop me off at our library, when she had Church Board business. I loved it! One summer, I joined the Summer Reading Club, and received a certificate! (I surpassed the required quota, of course. and still have the certificate). Years later, my high school art was in a display in the front window! I was sooo proud! I used to visit my mom in Apple Valley, and would use their library for the wi-fi, and bought books from their sale table.
    Wonderful tribute, John!

  67. The one good thing generated by Mr. Deary’s nasty little screed is articles like yours. Thank you, Mr. Scalzi.

  68. “…and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house.” John, if you (and, alas, I) were not already taken, I’d be on your front doorstep with a marriage proposal!!!

  69. Sadly, the modern library – at least in larger cities and towns – s no longer the bucolic literary nest you describe. Now it is prowled by the homeless, bringing with them the pathologies of which many are afflicted. Now the computers often are occupied by men surfing porn. I doubt that a reasonable parent would allow their younger children to be alone in one of these libraries now.

  70. leatherneck6693 @ 11:31–I worked at a public library in an urban area in the 1980s (not as a librarian, just as floor staff) and we had the same problems with homeless and disturbed individuals that you mention. There were a lot of them, and it was often unpleasant. Still, we coped, and did our absolute best to shield our patrons from any threat or discomfort. It seemed to work; there certainly was no lessening of the number of children wandering around the building on their own, or reading in the corners, or asking for help with school projects. I have no doubt that big city librarians today are also coping, and probably succeeding about as well. Libraries in cities may not be the “bucolic literary nest[s]” that more rural or even some suburban libraries are, but I don’t think they’ve changed all that much, and they are almost certainly still safer than most other places children can/will congregate in urban communities.

    In the 1980s, we didn’t have the problem of internet porn, of course. We did have the problem of people salivating over the “dirty” books and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue . . . which we were responsible for protecting. Librarians aren’t responsible for preserving people’s access to the porn, at least, and can take action accordingly. I imagine that most do, again as best they can.

  71. I grew up in a place (not a town) called Tyhee, Idaho, which most people in Idaho have never heard of. Anyway, it had no library. After we moved to town, Pocatello to be precise, I first saw a library at age 11. My first impression ws “How am I ever going to get to read all these books?” I love libraries. Very few people are financially gifted enough to be able to buy every book they want to read. I was not one of those, although during my early married life I made a major effort in that direction. Getting rid of libraries would decrease literacy. It’s a stupid idea, and if he thinks that libraryes are really “a drain on authors” then he is incredibly selfish. Nobody uses them any more? Then why do I have to wait up to 3 months to get one of the many available copies of a new book? I have seen waiting lists over 1500 people long. Every time I am in a library there are a lot of people around, little kids, teens, young adults, old people like me, every age group. Keep them.

  72. As a librarian, it’s sentiments like this that remind me why I choose library science in the first place. I unashamedly admit I got a bit teary as I read. Thank you.

  73. Beautiful. Most of my favourite places are libraries (from the historic Bristol CIty Library, through our tiny village library to the student-run sci-fi library of my old university where I spend more time than in lectures).

  74. Libraries. that ass has got the be the only writer i’ve ever read [i read his piece, i mean] who didn’t LOVE libraries.

    most of my books, i can directly attribute to a library

  75. When I was a kid growing up on the Northern Virginia side of the DC Metro Area, not far from Sterling in fact, both my parents worked full time and my dad was going to night school at George Washington University. On days when I didn’t have practice, class or other after-school activities, I would tag along with my dad to school. Eventually he let me explore the campus and pretty soon I had my own Metro Pass (not sure if a kid could get away with riding the Metro alone these days with all the paranoid security).

    During the summer I would take the Metro downtown and explore the city in daylight, always sticking to routes with lots of pedestrian suits and always knowing where I was going so I didn’t look like a lost tourist. DC has some remarkable libraries. A favorite was the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library of the DC public library. It was there that I discovered books I could never have found in my local or school libraries…books ranging from the history of anarchism to nuclear physics (no relation, scout’s honor). This also lead to my first quasi-real job at the same library when I was 16 as a summer intern.

    Reading John’s memories brought back a lifetime of my own library memories, fond recollections of burning through the Hardy Boys in the stacks of my local branch when I was in elementary school to half a dozen other libraries that signify the glow of childhood. To me, libraries were like the tesseract in the children’s fantasy novel A Wrinkle In Time, a place that could fold me away to any world ever imagined. I probably never got very much into video games because I had the best virtual reality machine money couldn’t buy.

    Like John, I eventually graduated to the bookstore in college and started putting money in the pockets of authors like Terry Deary. Were it not for libraries, I would not be the reader I am and I would not be giving the Terry Dearys of the world the time of day, let alone my hard earned money. Libraries make lifelong readers, and without readers there are no book sales, and no livelihood for Terry Deary. It’s too bad he can’t seem to see past his own nose, too bad for us and too bad for him.

    Some day when I have kids of my own, I want to be able to take them to that same sanctuary of intellect and spirit, that most unassuming of civic buildings. There are many services for which my taxes help pay that I doubt the return value. My public library will never be one of those.

  76. <3 Thank you, Mr Scalzi. I will have to pin this somewhere for when I have those inevitable trying moments with budget issues, community apathy, and difficult patrons…

  77. When I was a child my family had no money to buy books for amusement (we did have a dictionary and encyclopedia). We went to the library twice a week and each of us took out the maximum allowable number of books, and in the following three days each of us read _all_ the books that had been taken out by all of us. We became fast readers; we had to be, or we’d miss out. Then we took them all back and got more. If we hadn’t had a library, my education would have suffered immensely.

  78. Milan, Ohio. A small town south of Sandusky and Cedar Point. I remember mom giving he a dime to ride the mile to downtown, the town square. We had a classic Carnegie library. Books, Oh so many books. I would dive in and get my 5 or 6 books, then hit the Korner Kupboard for a nickel coke and 5 cents worth of candy. Enough to last another week.

  79. The little library I used to go to when I was in elementary, junior high, and high school was within walking distance of my house. It wasn’t very big but it had more than enough to keep me busy all those years. (It also allowed me to check out all of those 2-3 inch adult level historical romances my parents didn’t want me to read without getting in trouble.) It also allowed me to discover Piers Anthony, Robert A. Heinlein, Joan D. Vinge, and many others.

    A couple of years ago I was driving though my hometown with my parents and was stunned to see the NEW 2 story library taking up over 1/2 a block. It’s about 10 times the size of the library I grew up with. I was thrilled to see it.

    In a way I feel sorry for Mr. Deary if he has never experienced the wonder that a library can instill in a person; or to never be able to understand the lifelong passion libraries have created in millions of people.

  80. Thank you, John, for a more thoughtful and eloquent response than a vile, cramped human being like Deary really deserves.

    I think my favorite observation about the value of free libraries comes from Kirk Douglas: “My mother and father were illiterate immigrants from Russia. When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject. They couldn’t believe this access to knowledge we have here in America. They couldn’t believe it was free.”

    (And re Deary’s hand-wringing about taxpayers, as a taxpayer of the income class that he no doubt would deem Worthy, I invite him to cram it. I can think of many worse uses for my tax dollars than ‘making sure everyone, rich and poor, has access to books and learning.’ Or ‘insuring that trained librarians receive enough salary to put food on the table’.)

  81. Here’s the other thing about my current local library:

    Since the beginning of the economic recession (4-5 years ago) this library has been PACKED any time I go there. There are people with their families checking out kids’ books, adult books, movies, and cd’s. There are seniors and teens sitting around in comfy chairs reading. There are people roaming the stacks looking for new books or (like me) bee-lining to get a specific book. There are people looking through the library book sale (books and movies which have been donated to the library) seeing if they can find a copy of something they had already read or something new. All of the money from this book sale goes directly to the library. Library goers can help out a dollar or 50 cents at a time.

    What’s sad is that according to the library staff their budget is constantly being cut despite the rise in usage.

  82. Same here, Mia. Usage up about 25-30% since the start of the recession. And the know-nothings insist we really don’t need libraries anymore anyway because everything is gonna be ebooks and/or free on the internet. Naturally, the people saying this are mostly techno-idiots who know diddly about libraries, or the internet, and are weak on how they’re supposed to check out ebooks, even when we can get them what with the Big 6 boneheadedness on library sales. Not to mention the little detail about how those tens of thousands of existing reference and historical works are not going to magically transform themselves into free e-texts anyway.

    “Google can bring youu back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” –Neil Gaiman

  83. Sigh. West Covina was my home library too. I too checked out the maximum number of books per week, and started reading them on my way out the door.

    My current library is a university librrary, Cal Poly Pomona, since that’s where I work and go to school. I could walk blindfolded to the spot on the 4th floor where the Patrick O’Brian books live. (Thanks, Jo Walton for that re-read!) All the librarians and student assistants know me for my use of the inter-library loan system- up to 20 books at a time. I still love browsing shelves, looking for interesting titles and authors.

    I also support my city library, although I’m not as likely to use it. However, others do, especially kids, and I want to get others to love books as I do.

  84. In my local branch library–which I don’t visit all that often on account of the incessant buzzing of the 1980s-era fluorescent light fixtures–there are also a trio of computers dedicated to helping people find jobs, a binder with printed job notices for the City, ten free internet stations, printers where one can print for about 15 cents a page (far cheaper than kinkos), free readings/lectures/classes/art exhibits, arts and crafts programs for children, income tax filing assistance given by a small brigade of retired accountants (and they are awesome), english language lessons, spanish language lessons, and materials directing one to any number of events, classes, and other useful things in the area. All this, plus de facto child care for the elementary to high school aged kids. (It’s not meant to be that way, but when it’s not far from the local school and the parents are working, that’s what happens.)

    There are also, of course, books, magazines, and newspapers for all ages.

    Like many others, I have never been in the library when it was not at least busy and frequently it is packed. They are the only city buildings outside of downtown that are almost always accessible by public transportation. I think they have a bookmobile, too.

  85. For those wondering, this piece is inspired by the following newspaper article: “‘Libraries Have Had Their Day,’ Says ‘Horrible Histories’ Author”

    Wow – what an idiot.

    “Bookshops are closing down because people are giving away their product”?!?? Libraries are thousands of years old, and public libraries have been around since the seventeeth century.

    Libraries and bookshops exist on a continuum – the vast majority of books I have bought, first hand, have been from authors encountered in the library. Without libraries, Deary would not be getting his author’s slice of the 500,000 library loans in sales; he’d probably be getting less sales than he’s made with libraries.

    A caveat here – I’m a librarian, and therefore biased. But I honestly believe that a good, healthily literate society will have both an active library system AND book sellers. If book sales are down, it is more likely to be due to competition from e-books, alternative entertainment forms such as the Internet and movies, and the economic downturn tightening budgets.

  86. KMS says:

    I was about 4 when I conceived the ambition to read every book in the library. I was allowed to check out a many a I could carry. I discovered that if you rest your chin on the stack you are carrying, it is more stable, and you can carry more.

    Heh heh heh

  87. I notice you don’t mention librarians, though. The article by Terry Deary that you linked to is part of a wider debate going on here in the UK, and part of the background is that many members of the Conservative party in both local and central government believe that libraries can be run just as efficiently by volunteers as by trained librarians. They’ve cut budgets accordingly.

    Which is a little like saying your next operation doesn’t need a surgeon; one of the candystripe volunteers will do just as well.

    I’ve spent some time trying to explain to people outside the library profession how the training leads us to consider the “library” as an organic entity distinct from the collection of books that it consists of, a changing entity matched to the current and future needs and demands of the community which it serves, with a value more than the sum of that of its components. It’s like claiming that a garden is just a bunch of plants.

    This doesn’t even deal with the value added by cataloguing and accessioning, book lists and recommendations, or the library as a physical community hub.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that a really well-run library is Taoist; the librarians themselves seem to disappear, the users find that they can find everything they need easily and simply, and they fail to see what is really going on to make things seem so natural.

  88. I am an elementary school librarian, although my correct title is media center specialist as most school libraries are also the home of the computer lab now. I love books. This job is perfect for me. It was cut by the district 5 years ago and I am now part-time and parent funded. At least the parents of our district understand the value of a good library run by a credentialed teacher. I teach technology literacy, research and how to use the library. My local library is well used. Certainly can’t say that no one uses it. Hours have been cut – only open 5 days a week and some limited hours, but it is heavily used. When my husband and I were stationed in Germany I ran a Stars and Stripes book store. I always knew that books were in my blood!

  89. I came from a chaotic unsafe family where sometimes a book helped me to both hide and explore the world. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we always had some books at home. However, when you move a lot and suddenly; sometimes those books didn’t move with you. I started reading at 4 and was reading adult level at 7. Even now as an adult, I can’t buy every new book when I want to read. I worked with a lot of refugees and the libraries in America would always stun them. Anyone can learn in America, I would hear.

    I vividly remember all of the libraries of my youth but my favorite was the Carnegie library in a small town in northern Minnesota. The librarians practically adopted me and there were no limits on books and lots of treats. I would try to pay them back by volunteering to stack books and clean bathrooms and they both would just give me a half hug and tell me to read as my thanks. They introduced me to some of the greatest written heroes and would discuss books over Snickerdoodles. During the war zone of middle and high school the library was my shelter and home. I discovered not only some of my favorite authors there, but due to the size, I also read books that I would never have thought I would like. (I am still searching for a copy of “Sawdust in His Shoes”). Those books and those sweet women helped make me who I am today.

    Also, just as a sad note – St. Paul has tried to close our neighborhood library every other year since I started going. It is “too small and inefficient”. However, it is the center of the neighborhood and I feel safe to leave my children reading while I search for the next new author. These librarians with no funding have a great children’s program, an amazing summer kids program, and every new Rick Riordian book as soon as they come out.

    Another sign of the times is that my kids public school doesn’t have a librarian anymore. Yep, no librarian in a Montessori school in a good neighborhood. Budget cuts strike again. We also only have a PT nurse 2 days a week. Now we do have parent volunteers to stack books and an amazing aide that helps the kids on library day. But come one…no librarian???? Our librarian was a 30 year veteran and KNEW kids tastes and how to find that amazing book on castles, puke, or any book with a muttered description like that one about a time traveling dog.

    Libraries…anyone who disses them is an ignorant fool.

  90. I’m a librarian. Thank you for this, John!

    Re mythago at 12:26 – This happens all the time at my library. Kids come into the library in May, having been told by their teachers to get library cards and read over the summer, literally dragging their parents by the hand to my desk to have me tell them that yes, the library card is free. Once a kid asked how many books he could check out at once, and I told him 50. He translated my answer to his dad, and his dad, who didn’t realize I could speak his language, said, “She did not say that! What did she really say?” When I told him directly that yes, it really was fifty, the amazed look on his face was wonderful.

    It’s a good thing my boss pays me, because I would do my job for free.

  91. The new thing I got from Deary’s comments was the existence of the “Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600.” Wow- interesting concept, of authors getting money for having their books checked out. Is there an analogue in the States?

  92. I grew up in an out of my local libraries. I still use them (in fact I can see the library from my kitchen window, one of the things that made it seems like fate when I found my current apartment). Thanks for this reminder John, it prompted me to finally set-up that recurring monthly donation (I’ve donated before but on a one-off basis)

  93. MNMom: Oh my God, Sawdust in His Shoes! I loved Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I think I took our library’s copy of Mara, Daughter of the Nile out so many times, my library number filled up the whole date-stamp card . . .

  94. @Mary Frances
    They have reissued a lot of Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s books both in paper and e-book, but not Sawdust. I totally could see that book as a movie. Mara has been reissued, so it may be at your local library again. I am in the process of trying to find all my old favorites for my kids.

  95. Within a week of receiving my author’s copies (I usually get about two dozen), six copies go to my town’s library, with a request that the local library keep one and distribute the rest to the county’s library system of which it is a part. I’ve been doing that for most books since I moved here in 1999. That’s been around 30 different books, so that’s maybe 180 books that didn’t come out of our always-strapped library budget.

    A few times I’ve gotten a thank-you letter from the technology book acquisition librarian at the central library. It’s funny how praise from a librarian still makes me squee.

    But the real reason I give books to the library is this: I remember being that six year old kid who first walked into a library and was wide-eyed at all the books I could read. I make my living writing and selling books, but giving these books away is just one small thing I can do to pay forward what libraries have done for me for my whole life.

  96. I didn’t see any mention above of the fabled Bookmobile. A converted school bus, it brought the library to us and was like a visit from a wizard. Reading the comments I thought about the library copy of Astounding where I found Tom Godwin’s “Cold Equations” when I was 11 which launched my lifelong obsession with SF.

  97. Libraries have been and still are heaven for me. From early childhood on, i went regularly to our local library and got home with books on nearly everything. Because of my love für books I later became a professional bookseller. My two boys have inherited my wives (also a bookseller) and my love for the written medium. We go to our library every week and they could, from the very beginning, take what ever they wanted to. When the books were too difficult for them to grasp we would make up stories to go with whatever pictures we found inside. Now (ages 10 and 11) both are voracious readers, the bigger the better seems to be their motto, which is quite fine by me!

  98. I grew up in libraries – my mother was a children’s librarian, then a cataloguer and finally a branch librarian. I literally cannot imagine a world without libraries. What British (and other libraries) should do is simply not buy Mr. Deary’s books. Let people who want them buy them, and Mr. Deary can get his 30 p(ieces of silver) per book. That should make him happy. Oh,wait – there are people who can’t afford his books? Oh well. I guess he just won’t sell those books.
    He blames the loss of brick and mortar bookstores on libraries? They have co-existed for the past 100 years and more quite peaceably. What is killing brick and mortar bookstores are e-books and internet booksellers like Amazon. Why isn’t Mr. Deary complaining about them? Weird. Just weird.

  99. My favorite Library was at the Northside Junior High in El Campo, Texas. They limited you to having 4 books checked out at the time. I went there weekly and took home the max.

  100. Librarian here. I grew up in my local suburban library. I was blessed to have one of the best libraries in the county to go to–one with a huge selection of children’s books and an entire collection of science fiction and fantasy. I could ride my bike to the library and often did, filling my saddlebags with the maximum number of books I could check out. I remember summer days spent curled up in a corner with a book, or chatting with librarians or just reading one of my many books at home outside in the grass.

    I’m a children’s librarian in a huge urban library now. It’s a different animal than my old suburban branch (quiet is rarely found after school on the children’s floor). But every day I’m running around exhausted from all the books I’ve shelved, programs I’ve run, questions I’ve answered etc I have the pleasure of knowing our library was needed and used well. I work in a poor community full of new immigrants and hard working families. Many, if they have a computer, have it reserved for the adults. They come in to go online, to be with friends in a safe environment. I have about 10 schools with kids from ages 0-12 that visit our library for programs. Maybe we have less nonfiction on the shelves and more databases than we used to–that’s a change of media, not a change of information availability.

    Whenever patrons ask if libraries are going to become irrelevant because of e-books, I note the number of people reading books and magazines and articles online at the library, or through the library website.

    I have the honor of working in one of the old Carnegie buildings. I work on the Lower East Side, where the old Tenement histories, tell of the days when people lived in tiny apartments with no light or windows. My library is a huge four story structure with gigantic windows to let in the light. Carnegie not only wanted to give people the materials to learn, he wanted to give them a place to learn in–a place to inspire them and capture their imaginations. I hope we’re still following through on that today. I would never have become a SF and Fantasy reader without the library. I could scarcely have afforded one book, let alone the hundreds I read through. I have kids at my branch now (they’re few but amazing) who read so fast I have trouble keeping up and recommending new things to them. We tend to dash through the shelves while I pull out books and they’ll decree they’ve read it already. Now how could any child who reads several hundred books a year afford to pay for even half of those?

    While libraries may have to shift and change somewhat to fit the new media systems and delivery out there, I don’t see them ever becoming irrelevant–unless we decide that educating and inspiring our kids, supporting our schools and providing information to people of all ages becomes irrelevant as well.

  101. I was the exact same way growing up. We were too poor to buy books, and the library was just heaven. Now I can afford to buy books, I don’t use libraries much but that doesn’t mean others don’t or I won’t again. I live in Sterling, VA btw. I don’t know about the older Sterling area, but the Cascades library is always hopping when I go by.

  102. @Amy: I live in Reston. The Reston library is typically crowded. I generally have 3-6 things checked out any time. The taxpayer makes money off of me, since I tend to accumulate fines;. So in a sense, my absent mindedness is paying it forward…

    About the link to the original article. That author is foolish if he thinks all those library checkouts will turn into sales. He is also leaving out all the book sales he made to the library. I think Childrens books in particular would get far less readership if libraries did not exist. Parents would not be able to buy kids all these books. Odds are sales would decline.

    I checked Old Mans War out of the library to read. I later bought it for a friend who was having surgery. He was having surgery for an enlarged prostrate. I figured a guy having gross old man surgery might like this book.

    Some business target libraries for sales. There is a business called ‘The Teaching Company’ that sells lectures series by college professors. They are pretty expensive. I have watched or listened to atleast 60 of them. All of which I got out of the library. Absolutely outstanding quality. I don’t think their business would exist if it wasn’t for libraries. I don’t have $6000 to spend on these lectures. These types of things are more valuable when they can be used by many people instead of one person buying it. I emailed the professor who did a series on the Middle Ages (great series to listen to if you are a fantasy author) and he said he worked on it for a year before recording it. I asked the guy for some tips on additional books to read and he gave me a few. All of which I got out of the library. Their business model targets libraries.

  103. Oh libraries! Our village in Herefordshire was too small for one, but we had a converted bus that come round once a fortnight. The driver was also the librarian and used to have to drive very carefully on the narrow winding roads to stop the books cascading from the shelves. It was magic climbing the steps into the bus to smell that wonderful library smell. They would never let me have enough books so I picked really thick ones. It was even more magic when I discovered that if there was a book you wanted that they didn’t have you could pay a penny and they would order it for you. Thanks for bringing back that memory.

  104. Of course libraries are necessary; they’re where you go to learn whose books you want to buy.

    I ticked off the local librarian at the age of four because first, when I asked to get a library card she said you had to be able to sign your name in cursive to get one (thinking I couldn’t) — and then I showed her I could (I’d been practicing just.for.that. Not sure I could write anything else.). Second, I went straight to something like the second-grade readers, and she kept trying to make me go back to picture books. I had to prove to her that I could actually read at that level. My mother was standing around snickering and only commenting when appealed to, I think.

    And now, my SO tells me I’m the only person he knows who can turn reading into a vice. It’s an addiction. But it could be worse, right?

  105. I used to practically live in our county library, which was too far away for me to walk to, but my weekly Brownie meetings were in the adjacent community centre, so every week before Brownies, we’d go to the library. I think I probably took out all the Asterix comics over the course of about two weeks. Later on, I made a mission out of trying to read as many of the “important” books they had as I could manage. I still wonder what the librarians thought of the summer where I checked out and read Mein Kampf, The Fountainhead, Gone With the Wind, and a couple of Holocaust memoirs. (I think I was fourteen.)

    I don’t go to the library much anymore, because the one closest to me moved out of its Carnegie-esque building to a new location in a downtown shopping mall (gross!) and got an extensive “revamp,” and is now covered with corporate logos. Not only that, but for whatever reason, they opted to buy shelves which are at most chest-high on a 5’6″ person, and I hate standing there bent over, trying to find what I’m looking for. It’s probably not a coincidence that I tended to check out library books shelved above my line of sight; it’s uncomfortable for me to stoop.

    I still love libraries, though, but for the love of squid, tall shelves, and no corporate logos!! I get bombarded by enough ads in the course of one day; can’t the library be a sanctuary? I miss that old central library, I really do. (I also miss telnetting into the catalogue from home using a command line, but that’s another story, which probably explains why I’m a search engine wizard now. I learnt young and so have had a lot of practice!)

    Also, now I make enough money (and have little enough time) that I literally can buy as many books as I want to read…and I don’t have to give them back, nyuh ha haaa! Mine! Mine! Mine!!!

  106. Interrobang: I also found my love of libraries from girl scout meetings! I went to the Catholic school, which got out 45 minutes before the public school (we had to be there 45 minutes earlier, so no bargain there), and so my friend and I would wait for the meetings to start at the library, which was in the basement of a church (it was a small, rural town). Our school did not have a great library, so the public library seemed like a magical world to me. The librarian even ordered some Nancy Drew books for us, as that is what we were both reading at the time.

    I also feel a little guitly for not going to the public library very often. I live in Cincinnati, and we have a great public library system. I work at a university, and so I tend to get my books from there, mostly because my reading habits are sporadic and I can keep the university books out for an entire term. Even though I do not use the public library system as often as I wish I could, I think they are incredibly valuable in promoting a love of reading in children, and in continuing a love of reading in adults.

    I wish every child the joy I used to feel in the small town public library, discovering worlds outside of my experience. It developed my imagination and my appreciation for things outside of my experience. I like to think that my experiences in the library lead to my academic curiosity and my present love of research. LIbraries are central to civilzation, and the destruction ofl libraries denotes the destruction of that civilzation – look at Alexandria and Baghdad (ancient and medieval, not present).

  107. I also wish to thank you, John, for your support of public libraries in the face of doodooheads like this person, who seems to be motivated primarily by non-enlightened self-interest. I am a children’s librarian, and while I may wish you spent more time reading and less time playing games on our computers, if you want a book or other information I will do my darndest to find it for you. It’s a thrill when someone comes up to you and mumbles, “That book you gave me a couple weeks ago — it was great! Do you have any more?”

  108. …and a shout-out to Mrs. Zeleznik, the children’s librarian who always set aside the newest Anne McCaffrey for 10 year old me after I mentioned that I liked a short story by her.

  109. Loved the Covina Public Library growing up. I also spent a ton of time at the Covina Bookstore in downtown. I’m glad my dad didn’t give me a budget when it came to buying books.

  110. Oh my gosh, reading this just made me think of the Bookmobile. Did anyone else have a bookmobile? A big panel van converted into a tiny library that went from neighborhood to neighborhood on some mysterious schedule that I can no longer recall. But I loved it when it showed up. It was like Christmas.

    Haven’t thought of the bookmobile for decades. Thanks. Oh, and Deary is a jackass.

  111. Thank you so much for this wonderful piece. Libraries are never going to be unnecessary!

    I too was raised in a library. Roseville, CA had a Carnegie library (still does, and it’s a museum now) with the children’s section in the basement. I went there for storytime every week, and always came home with a stack of books. They also had book sales, where I picked up books about archaeology, wildlife and, yes, astronomy! Years later, a new library was built and I worked there from age 14 to age 20 as a page, doing storytimes myself and shelving and helping with anything I could get my hands on. My first boss?… the lady who used to read me stories when I was a kid. We’re still in touch today. Even now, I still frequent our local library in Davis, CA. Yeah, I can buy books, but it’s a LIBRARY, for Heaven’s sake. What’s not to like?

    I don’t know where I’d be without access to all of those books, without the ability to find and discover great authors and do research and just hang out and discover things.

  112. Libraries are awesome and if they’re innovative, they can increase their awesomeness. Our downtown branch in Fort Wayne, Indiana has a Dunkin’ Donuts IN THE LIBRARY. I think our library also participates in a buy program on Amazon, where it receives proceeds from books bought after they’ve been checked out on a Kindle (don’t quote me on that). So Dreary’s argument, if it was ever valid at all, is outdated. As many people have commented, people often end up buying the books they check out, and ebooks make that process easier than ever. I often buy books that I didn’t finish in the 3 weeks I had it from the library.

  113. From the time I was 6 til I was 21, my dad was a librarian. We were already a bibliophile family, but that turned us into bibliophibians. My sister and I were homeschooled, and several days a week were spent hanging out at the library after our regular schoolwork was done. No books were off-limits (well, my mom asked me not to read “Jaws” when I was 9, but that was about it); if we could read it, and wanted to read it, we got to read it. My dad volunteered us to help set up the yearly Friends of the Library booksale; normally we hated being volunteered for things, but that meant first look at what was in the sale. Score! We never came home with less than a bag of books per person. I knew how to use the library computer catalog before I was old enough to have my own card; when I did get my own card, I checked out the maximum number of books every week. We used to have this specific spot in our house for library books; there’s a great picture of me around age 5, asleep on the floor with my face in a book, with a trail of already-read books behind me leading to the library book shelf.

    I can’t imagine life without libraries.

  114. @shakauvm on Feb 23, 7:18 pm…Gillis the the branch closest to where I live, so I’m in there a lot. Also, I knew about the meetings. My SCA Barony has been holding our monthly business meeting at the Sunnyside branch for several months now. Nice to see another Fresnan on here.

  115. As a librarian and now an at-home mom and frequent library patron – thank you. I found Mr. Deary’s thoughts to be horribly out of touch and it warms my heart to hear them contradicted. Libraries give back in countless ways and many librarians put their souls into their work and their communities. It has always given me so much joy to witness the connections made at the library – it truly is a place for everyone. Although libraries are undervalued by some there are many out there who continue to value their importance and place in society.

  116. @Kevin in Albuquerque, Feb 23 2:23 pm – On behalf of good librarians everywhere who actually appreciate the people who use libraries, please know that we’re not all like that! I’m sorry you’ve had such terrible experiences. I wish more libraries would hire staff who enjoy people as much as books. Thank you for continuing to support your libraries, in spite of clueless staffers.

  117. There are days when I think that I spent half of my childhood safely ensconced in a library, surrounded by the smell of old books and new ideas. I was exceptionally fortunate; my town had a university, which meant that we had a spectacular library. But I was probably the only twelve year-old in town who knew how to use a card catalog or who understood the Dewey Decimal system.

    As for those who claim that we do not need professional library scientists (to use their proper designation), they probably think that simply sorting the books alphabetically by title, the way that they do their cookbooks, is all that is needed. They do not understand how tricky and complex an undertaking categorizing and preserving human knowledge truly is.

  118. I also make a point of comparing small public libraries when I’m travelling after getting interested in analysing them during my training.

    If you’re going through the Wairarapa in New Zealand, Greytown has a lovely one in a converted building, with an open hall framed by a timber deck on the first floor. The smallest one I’ve seen is in Foxton, barely more than a room, and Palmerston North’s is a bit of a mess with too much in one place (admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to really get a feel for it in action, so it may work better than I think). The Wellington Public Library is big, but a bit sterile (except for the neat childrens’ section), and I think the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library is probably my favourite.

    And if you want to see what happens when the Scandinavians put their mind to public libraries, check this out.

  119. My reward for learning how to write my name (when I was 3) was my own library card, with my signature on it. Borrowing books was a privilege and I am eternally grateful to the taxpayers of Carlsbad, CA, for supporting phenomenal public libraries. The library shaped me as a citizen and a scientist.

  120. I too have fond childhood memories of Saturday trips to the library. I still recall the thrill of getting my very own library card. As an adult student at University of Washington I was amazed at the sheer number of libraries on the campus and was wowed by the Suzzallo Library, and spent many happy hours studying in the Graduate Reading Room. Look it up on google images. It is stunning.

    Now I am incredibly rich to have two library districts within shouting distance. The Multnomah County Libraries in Portland Oregon (with the gorgeous Central branch in downtown) as well as the awesome Ft. Vancouver Library District in Vancouver, WA. The latter is my favorite due to the very user friendly main branch.

  121. The bookmobile! So fabulous. I lived what seemed an endless distance from the library — it probably wasn’t, but Mom had to drive me there. So the bookmobile coming directly to the parking lot of my school every couple of weeks was magic. If a book I wanted wasn’t there, I could ask for it and the next time, it would be. Or I could just wander up and down the aisle. And there were different books every time! Even grown-up books.

  122. “Sawdust in His Shoes”–I still hope to stumble across a copy somewhere. I did find a hard copy of “David and the Phoenix” for a friend at the local library sale.I haven’t given up hope of finding a used hardback at the library sales or used bookstores yet. Just saying “Hey rube!’ can take me back to it.

  123. Just to add another dimension of how much this idea of libraries being obsolete is wrong, libraries are amazing things even when you can afford to buy. I was really lucky as a kid in that my mother made a pledge that my sister and I could get anything from a bookstore that we wanted on the condition that we promised to read everything we got (easiest promise ever). She’s an avid reader, and it’s a trait she passed on to us. We always had a lot of books in the house. But she also imbued us with things like sense and the value of money; we went to the library constantly. I still go to the library constantly.

    And it’s the library that I still remember fondly, not the local Barnes and Noble. I could access the library all by myself, which as a kid was like the most amazing thing ever. It was a tiny, two-room branch library, but it was within walking distance of home and school, so I could go there whenever I wanted. I could experiment with new genres, authors, subjects, and reading levels. I could come away with my own reading material. That kind of independence was great.

    As I got older and started to understand that, horror of horrors, books go out of print and so the library copy of something might be the only copy I ever saw in my life, they only became more important. Bookstore stock, unless you happen to have an awesome indie/used bookstore in your town and not all of us are so lucky, comes and goes depending on how well books sell. So many of my favorite reads were discovered through libraries because the titles/authors weren’t popular enough to be in stock long, or at all.

    Now I’m a broke grad student and having access to free fiction is both kind to my wallet and keeping me sane. As a broke grad student studying to be a teacher, libraries are an essential part of helping kids to become proficient readers, which I could easily spin into a whole other rant and won’t.

    I seriously can’t believe that of all the fingers somebody could point with regards to why brick and mortar bookstores are dying, someone would point to libraries. When any idiot can see that it’s things like internet sellers and eBooks (which are also awesome, because books). There’s other, more convenient, and sometimes cheaper, ways to get access. O noes.

  124. Library class. Fifth grade. Librarian reads aloud to us Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. Then she reads to us Tolkien’s The Hobbit. And, wheeee, I’m hooked on reading for life. Three cheers for libraries and in particular, Librarians!

  125. As an archivist and library school graduate, I just want to thank you for writing this piece. Thank you for sharing your experiences and arguing that libraries aren’t obsolete.

  126. Libraries are far from obsolete. Everyone seems to be decrying the loss of the brick and mortar book store, but to me the library changes far more lives. I started to love books in the library, and they have always sustained my passion for learning (from Cicero to LBJ) and for exploring new worlds. This is an age of austerity in National, state and municipal budgets, and often the first thing to be cut is funding for Public Libraries. This is a travesty because libraries are often gateways for self-improvement and learning. We must support our libraries and encourage our political leaders to do the same.

  127. John, this really really struck a chord with me. Libraries have been very important in my life. I still remember my first visit to a library; I think I was about seven or eight at the time. The children’s room in that library was bright and comfortable and made me feel welcome. (For some reason the color yellow dominates my memory of that room.) If memory serves, the first book I checked out had something to do with a hidden moon, mushrooms, and kids going into space. That probably started my lifelong love of SF&F.
    As we left that day (I was with my Aunt and some cousins), we passed through the adult section. I remember being awed by that great somber room with its seemingly endless shelves of books. I promised myself that I would be back there when I got a little older — a promise that I have kept many many times since.
    Also, as a service brat, I frequently had the wonderful experience of leaving all my friends and everything I knew and moving to some strange place. I soon learned that I already had friends in that strange new place. My new school had a library room and the new base always had a very good library. (Thank you, US military.) The old friends and new I found in those libraries certainly helped minimize youthful depression and angst.

  128. Reblogged this on considering the lilies and commented:
    When I was a child, the library came to me. Every couple of weeks, the mobile library van parked around the corner, its desultory young driver oblivious to my excitement as I climbed the steps up into the back of his van, a cramped space lined with shelves of books. For me, it was Aladdin’s cave. It was the place where I fell in love with books. Everyone should have such a place. Thank you John Scalzi, for thanking libraries . . .

  129. This is a heartwarming and beautiful tribute to public libraries, and the force for good they represent in communities. In my mind, any such assessment of the value of libraries is impossible to read without the mind echoing to ‘Design for Life’, the fantastic 1996 single by the Welsh band, Manic Street Preachers. The unforgettable, rousing opening line of the song, ‘Libraries gave us power’, apparently was inspired by a sign ‘Knowledge is Power’, which was displayed in the former library in Pillgwenlly, Newport, near the band’s hometown of Blackwood in Wales. In that spirit, I take the liberty of linking to this song here (with apologies for the pre-video advert; you can skip to the song in five seconds): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfEoVxy7VDQ
    Thank you for this, John, and in return, this song is dedicated to you.

  130. As a librarian, I thank you. As a lifelong library patron, I thank you. Reading what you wrote made me think about how important libraries have been my entire life, even before I made the decision to change careers and become a librarian. Thank you for being such a cool author, and library supporter.

    I just put up a post on our book group’s blog, linking to your post — because this is too good not to share. And hey, since we’re devoted enough to have a “scalzi” category on the blog, it’s only appropriate.

  131. Thanks! I buy books for my grandchildren, but they also have stacks checked out of the public libraries where they live. And the closest branch also is a center for community activities. I spent a lot of time in that branch reading about local flora when my son bought his house and tasked me with cleaning up the yard. My book club tries to choose books that are available at our library so that everyone isn’t forced to buy books they may not like or want. How can that selfish author claim that libraries are obsolete? If anything, they are better than ever despite being strapped for resources that are being cut.

  132. I definitely read more voraciously and buy more books than I would have because of my access to a quality library that my community supported while I was growing up. Much like John I left the library for about a decade in my 20s, but have returned with my own kids to find the resources have continued to improve. I vote for library levies. We stop by at least once a week. I have library cards to 3 different library systems in my city. I hope my girls learn to love their libraries as much as I have and I hope it builds a lifelong love of reading and learning in them as it did for me.

  133. I want to give a shout out to Georgia Library PINES, which is the system linking most of Georgia’s public libraries, offering free (and fast!) interlibrary loan services. Brilliant idea and good execution.

  134. I love libraries so much. All the knowledge and secrets of the universe are there, just waiting for you to find them, to pull the book down off the shelf, to turn the page.

    libraries are my cathedrals.

  135. Thank you! I am an ex-librarian and you can find me and my family at my local library EVERY WEEK. This year it’s all about feeding my daughters’ Manga habit, which I could never afford (they devour a $16 book in 30 minutes). But it’s so much more. All of us are constantly discovering authors and movies and books that we wouldn’t find otherwise – mostly because we can borrow a book, CD or DVD and try it out for free.

  136. Thank you for this.
    As a newly minted librarian in my first professional position reading essays like this bolsters my spirit. I’ve been in my position less than 2 months and I’ve already had to help compose a defense of part of our collection.

    I had the pleasure of meeting you a few years ago at the TLA conference and my respect and admiration for you has only grown. Thank you!

  137. Dear John Scalzi,
    Thanks for writing this rebuttal. I would have, but I was too busy trying to extinguish the flames coming out the side of my head.

  138. The library is where I discovered Old Man’s War . . . I was walking through the San Francisco Public Library’s scifi section and happened upon “Scalzi, John” . . . and thought, “Hey, I know that kid! We went to school together!” So thank you SFPL for introducing me to John’s (and many other folks’) work.

  139. <3 this post so hard. My middle/high school library was very important to me since I spent a lot of time there waiting for my parents to pick me up and it was the first time I really just wandered through the aisles and picked up whatever books caught my attention.

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