Material Culture

Our Friends of the Library Spring Book Sale takes place this month. Throughout the year, our little band of volunteers gather to accept donations, sort books, and prepare to fill a gymnasium. Like they do in so many communities, Friends of the Library contributes thousands of dollars to the library budget each year, so everyone wins. The community recycles books and the library receives funds for new materials.

The books that surround us remind us of who we are and what we value.

Seeing the thousands of books available for sale got me thinking about avid readers. With all the content we’ve absorbed through our books, we often don’t see the world in black and white; instead, we realize that life – in all its variety – is far more nuanced. That’s why I’m surprised when I hear smart, educated people wonder out loud whether bookstores and libraries will exist in an age of internet and e-readers. Why wouldn’t both continue to play important roles in our lives? Sure, we want access to the world of information, but we seek solitude and connection too. We need guidance to find those well-written stories and research done with integrity.

If everything resides on a computer or a gadget, what happens when their life spans become obsolete? When the next great innovation renders current technology useless? Remember the 8-track tape and VHS video? I don’t want my books trapped in a microchip that ends up in some trash heap. My books are more important to me than that. Even if I only look at a spine on a bookshelf every once in a while, the fact that it is a part of me and a part of my home matters to me. I’d like to think that the stories I’ve read, the places I’ve traveled through the pages of a book cannot be zapped with one click. Yet I feel fine about closing a file on my computer when I’m done with my work.

So I’ll use technology and I’ll still want printed books in my life and in my home. For people I care about, I’ll continue to buy books because they are such thoughtful, caring gifts. They remind us to slow down, not absorb everything in bits and bytes. They remind us of who we are and what we value. And they remind us to be still, find comfort in silence, learn something new, listen to another voice.

I’ll be at the Friends of the Library spring book sale where it will be evident that books are a part of our material culture. Glancing across the gym with books arranged on tables, I’ll have occasion to remember the greater freedoms of speech, to read, to question, to grow. And I’ll likely find a book or two to add to my collection at home.

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