You do occasionally visit Boston Public Library, yes? If not, get on it! You were raised in and on libraries. They are in your blood!

You called me out rightly on that one! I’ve never actually been inside the BPL – it’s on the Green line, the cantankerous part of the subway – and I just haven’t been out there. Somerville’s is pretty limited – not nearly as big as Englewood’s library, and it’s got a selection that’s definitely not aimed at me.

I just saw the Arlington library night before last, actually, and it’s this big huge modern building, it reminds me of the Koelbel library we used to go to. It’s the first one I’ve been so excited to try to go to in a while.

It’s funny that you bring this up right now. I’ve been reading article after article for the last year, but especially in the last weeks by librarians and book publishers and authors talking about what the role of libraries are in a world where it’s relatively easy to get ahold of the actual text anywhere and anywhen.

There’s a whole argument that libraries are obsolete; a lot of this came out of the crazy world of the California tech scene, where there’s this huge Libertarian ‘government is evil, technology will solve all our woes’ thinking, but that tends to assume that everyone is on average white, male, and upper middle class. They’ve got a point, though, that for pure access to thought and information, the Internet has done something unprecedented.

But libraries serve a few other purposes that e-books and the Internet can’t solve. So many of my queer friends pointed out that that libraries were their refuge as kids and teenagers, from a world that was pretty intent on being horrible to them. Often they come from families that were more than borderline abusive, and the library was their safe place. There’s a whole generation of us for whom that rings true, and kids coming of age now less often say that – but there’s never been anything to replace that need for them.

Libraries are one of the few first-class public service, one of the few that historically has ignored what economic class you’re from and has just provided a service to everyone. That’s starting to change in some ways – inner city libraries are starting to think of themselves as intervention points for kids who won’t have access to reading before school, for poor families who can’t cross that ‘digital divide’ and get on the Internet, they’re buying computers and setting up more and more space for non-book-oriented services. They’re focusing on the poor around them and abandoning the universal service model.

(I read a great quote today – “In Europe, public services are for everyone. In the US, public services are for the poor who can’t afford a private alternative” – and libraries are one of the few services where that’s not been true.)

I’ve never been too keen on the model of librarians-as-authorities to appeal to for information, but even so, having someone who knows the information out there and can guide you is super important – it’s the role teachers really should play, but don’t.

There’s a lot of thoughts on this rattling around in my brain trying to escape coherently, but nothing’s made it out beyond this yet, and certainly not me figuring out how I fit into it yet. Libraries are in my blood, but I’m not sure if the thing I’m after is there, or if it’s something more abstract that I’m chasing.

Anyway just wish we could be sharing another book together.

I’d like that, a lot. I think that’s one thing that’s been lost in the mostly fast-paced tech words world is sharing thoughts about a big piece of writing. I comment on blogs and articles, and discuss on Twitter a lot, but books don’t have the convenient handles where you can just link to them and highlight something and say “THIS is what’s right about this”. I want to share some of those things and it’s not happening as much as it used to. I miss sharing them with you!