The last time I spent any legitimate time in a library — I mean before this last time or two and not counting those mid-day carrol snoozes on campus so many years ago — I had to decipher the Dewey Decimal System, flip my way through drawers and drawers full of little index cards, wander my way around looking for the correct aisle, walk through the stacks all cockeyed-sideways, find my book, stand in line, get out my library card (or, so many years ago, my student ID), do something (I don’t remember what, but I think it involved stamping) with a card in a cute cardboard pocket in the back of the book (those are called Book Pockets) and, finally, be on my way.
Libraries aren’t like that anymore. I’ve just learned this. Libraries are so, so much easier these days. If people knew that, they might use them more.
With a virtual library in everybody’s pocket, it’s certainly understandable why more people don’t rush to hang out in a place filled with, you know, actual books. Who needs analog when you have digital? Who needs to go somewhere with books when, you know, you can find out practically anything without moving at all?
About two years ago, the City of Milton opened a brand new library, not a par-5 from my back porch, through the trees, over a neighbor’s house and across a small street. It’s a pretty building, modeled after the horse farms in the area, with shiplap siding reminiscent of some barns and an entranceway that looks a tad like a stone silo. (Never mind that there’s really no need for a silo on a horse farm.)
I wondered at the time whether a spiffy new faux-farm with books was a great use of Fulton County’s tax dollars. (Fulton County is the home of both Milton and Alpharetta, suburbs in the north part of the county, along with the City of Atlanta 25 miles south or so). The Milton school district has an elementary school, a middle school and Milton High less than a mile up the street. All of them have libraries. Plus everybody has those libraries-in-a-pocket.
Still, up it went, and with it came the books and the meeting rooms and the children’s reading area and a place to vote. A few carrols. Study rooms with barn-like doors. Another real barn, next to the main library, was preserved and is now periodically used for book sales.
This new library, as soon as you walk through the silo, also has rows and rows of computer screens. It has a couple computerized self-checkout areas. You can borrow e-books for the gawdawful commute down to Atlanta. You can borrow videos of all kinds. You can check out passes to some area attractions.
And, like most modern libraries (or so I hear), maybe the best thing about this library is that you barely have to be there to check out a book. Instead of floating around neck-bent in the stacks, you can fire up a website, see if any of the Fulton County library branches has what you’re after, put it on hold and wait for it to make its way to Milton from anywhere in the county. (The library has 33 branches; it’s a pretty big county.)
Once it arrives, you strut through the sliding glass doors, pluck your book off a hold shelf, walk to the self-checkout machine, scan your library card (^) and, if you do everything right, stroll back through the silo without setting off the stolen-book detector hidden in the Book Pocket.
Also, this: Taxes aside, it’s all free.
Like a lot of government services, I’m not sure I’ll use the library itself very much. Maybe someday, looking for a new place to work, I’ll shut myself behind one of those barn doors in one of those eerily quiet and antiseptic work rooms. Maybe I’ll roomba around the stacks for old time’s sake. Maybe I’ll take a yoga class, or learn to play mah jong, or learn what mah jong is. Maybe I’ll join a book club.
If not, like a lot of government, it’s still nice to know that my library is there. In case I need to go pick up, you know, a real book.