Will this era be remembered in the future as the time of the lost libraries?
The death and closure and breaking down, falling-apart and becoming-something-new of the library, the bookshop, the very book itself, are constituents of our times. Squatters are running public libraries, people write angry and anguished letters to the press on the closure of local libraries and the discarding and pulping of library books. We talk about the death of the book; passion for the old intimacy of the paper book tempered by pragmatic leanings toward the convenience of the e-reader.
“Lost libraries” evokes images of Alexandria burning, the Nazi confiscations. From the libraries lost from ancient, pillaged monasteries to our own lost libraries; the forgotten books of our childhood or the ones given away in later nomadic wanderings between cities and jobs and broken loves.
Lost Libraries. The old, hushed, wood panelled space, the dusty, pungent smell of old paper. The visual and tactile things of the library; tickets and stamps and plastic covers, bent and peeling. Something of tweed and people wearing glasses, of rattling trolleys and Dewey’s abstruse ordering.
This will be gone.
Libraries will embrace change and the future; the e-book and the computer. And maybe that is right. Maybe that is imperative to the survival of the library. So in the space of the new, gleaming, efficient library, with its self-service kiosks and its café and lively chatter, there is a ghost, many ghosts, the ghosts inside our own heads, those of us old enough to remember or those who know their history, of the lost library.