Gripe with Technology… When Library Books Become Contraband

Salvaged in a book sale

It’s best to start off by saying technology is a marvelous thing. We live longer, live more comfortably and spend more time thinking beyond surviving a winter and where our next meal will come from. One of the many times it interferes with progressive living though, is when it becomes Grendel’s dragon on a pile of gold: it wont share share the goods it’s supposed to safeguard. Things don’t work. Medical facilities go through this when computer systems are down and patient records can’t be accessed. Here’s an example in the world of parenting, in the setting of Hurricane Sandy and the New York Public Library. After a few days of being closed, some of our libraries opened. That’s great. With schools and parks closed, and a subdued Halloween, for many parents this was welcomed news indeed. Libraries continued to offer some of their great programs free of charge–story telling, browsing through a book or a newspaper. Or lounging quietly (if you live by a lucky branch) in a plush new seat. But one thing you couldn’t do was check out books. Their system was down. In the world of vaccines, we call this a Missed Opportunity to Vaccinate (MOV). It’s sort of like when we took our daughter to get a second dose of the flu shot, but were refused at the doctor’s office because the office failed to communicate their walk-in hours correctly and timely, and instead told us to come back another time. One hurricane and busy schedules later she’s a few weeks late for her second dose and theoretically disease vulnerable.

The library example I’m calling a Missed Opportunity to Educate (MOE). A MOE. It’s a Missed Opportunity to Reduce Screen Time, a Missed Opportunity to Open New Worlds… I’m a novelist so I’m going to cry Chicken Little when I see a child at the check-out desk being denied from taking home a book that is perfectly ready to be read at home. The rebel in me will snicker gleefully when I witness a sympathetic security guard sneak the book into the child’s hands and whisper to the parent, “I’ll know you’ll return it.” I wanted to give that guard an “Employee of the Month” award for staying true to the institutional goals of the library instead of a drone to its operational beauracracy.

Would the child ever have an opportunity like this again (no school, maybe no TV or computers because of power outages) where they could be saturated in the world of books, giving reading a fighting chance of becoming a lifestyle habit? Don’t laugh- it happened to my husband. One broken arm in youth he was home-bound for a week and discovered the world of literature that has remained a life-long love of his.

So why make it harder to live a balanced life? It’s moments like these when we shouldn’t let our own inventions created to serve us, dictate another way of life. Time to think out of the system. Undust those stampers with return dates. Pick up those (what?!) pencils and write down names, okay, library card numbers if you must. Enter the data into the computers when the system is back on.

I’m not doing away with technology. But when library books become contraband it’s time to step out of the system box and operate with a little bit more carbon based brain power instead of the unhuman rules of computer codes.

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