Guess how I came to know that April 14-20 marks the 55th National Library Week? Before I give away the answer, you might appreciate that this observance started in the 1950s to combat Americans' growing preference for radios and televisions over books. Over half a century later, libraries are now being threatened by our growing preference for Internet and social media.
I had no idea about libraries when I first stepped into one, at the ripe age of 1. My mother tells me that I was excited for story time (though not yet foreseeing my addiction for the books that would come to define my childhood). During the summers of my elementary school years, my arms would ache from the timeless, biweekly tradition of carrying as many books as I could without falling over. But then my library visits became few and far between, what with the Internet, assigned school projects, and worrying about high school. All of a sudden, I was too old for my local library, with its fully devoured children's section.
Then, earlier this week, out of the blue, I revisited the library, this time holding the hand of my 2-year-old sister, I picked up a Dan Brown book, browsed the teen section, and ran into a friend I haven't talked to in ages. All the while realizing: I haven't outgrown the library after all. Instead, I found myself wondering why I — along with most of my peers — had chosen to forget its quiet murmurs and familiar shelves.
And just before I left, a colorful sign caught my eye: "Join us in celebrating National Library Week with light refreshments."
The message could not be timelier. A 2013 Pew Poll showed that approximately 1 in 2 Americans ages 16 and older visited a library, bookmobile or library website in the preceding year. However, teens in libraries have become such an anomaly that when I Googled "How much time do teens spend in the library?" I was met with polls on how much time teens spent on the Internet. It seems that for people my age, visiting the library is a dying tradition that needs to be revived.
Now, I definitely don't support the "Internet-is-ruining-today's-youth" notion. Not even close. I love the Internet, and Google is one of my best friends. But I also don't believe libraries are old-fashioned, dying institutions — because they're not. In fact, many libraries are integrating the Internet into their offered services, through things like e-books and online databases.
Still, the convenience of the Internet is no reason for traditional lending libraries to disappear. Can online browsing ever feel like running your hand across a bookshelf, physically opening a book, and flipping to its back cover? I don't think so.
What really disappoints me is the lack of faith in libraries. Although 91 percent of Americans believe that libraries are "important to their communities," only 1 in 4 report an increase in their recent library usage. Even when I asked our local librarians whether they were holding any special events for the week, they responded: "No. Besides the refreshments, we are not holding any special events. It's one of those national things we have to participate in."
If libraries are so important to us, why isn't their staff more excited about holding special programs this week to increase visitation? And why aren't we taking our children and grandchildren to show them the wonders of this tradition?
So, in honor of National Library Week, I ask you to set aside just half an hour of your time and visit your local library. Browse. Maybe check out a book or run into a friend. Maybe realize that you've missed this place.
Or … you could run for the computers and let the Internet save you from my ridiculous request.