When did you last go to the library?


If asked, I would look up but unseeing the sky as I search within me for an answer. Maybe three weeks ago, I did but to browse for new items at the Gift Shop, use the washroom, check for new titles, and then cross the famed lobby of the Vancouver Central Library downtown to one of the cafes for a pizza and decaf tea. Note that my list skips borrowing a book or taking one out of the shelf and sit in a corner, to be lost in a page say, of an Anton Chekov novel or Lorca poem, or copy critiques, furiously handwriting paragraphs for a research paper as in my university years—how strange to realize it’s within my lifetime.

A few months ago, nonetheless, I hurried to a workshop on memoir writing; that week of the annual Bookfair, crowds streamed in and out of exhibits, book sales and workshops on book making in the lobby. Braiding with us, eagle-eyed for rare items, either in trams or on tiny steps, some fretful but mostly wide-eyed, children who had maybe dozed already in the children’s room, where they could have romped, played house and tinkered with books that talk or squawk, with their mothers by then carrying more books she borrowed from children’s collections.

Maybe two years ago before my laptop eased up for the WIFI at home, I would rush to one of the computers on the 2nd floor for a free access to the web. Most seniors make it a daily routine; some stay for a couple of hours, signing in and out every hour when their session expires. I’ve also attended Philippine presentations on human rights violations in one of the conference rooms, watched a Filipino film, listened to readings by local authors, and voted in the last local elections.

Indeed, while libraries still house knowledge as those dated BC, communication breakthroughs in our century have caused such explosion of information in invisible spaces called the web, jarring their role. Now shifted from mere resources to “agents of change”, as the American Library Association reported in the recently held Library Week, libraries today significantly offer space to resolve issues, or even a “safe haven” during chaos like in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; when “…protests divided residents and caused schools and city services to shut down…the Ferguson Municipal Public Library stayed open, and served as an ad hoc school.”  

Ask me then, how do I, like a growing number, get a book these days? On Kindle or from Amazon, such virtual places that lend and sell books on one’s computer without ever passing through the senses—for me, the soft silence, the carved nooks, the baroque high windows, the scent of paper, and one’s own breathing. While Amazon still delivers a book the way we’ve always known it—printed on paper—Kindle, like most have it these days, slips a book onto a screen. One might buy a Kindle book as well, or borrow through a library with which one has a library card; libraries in most North American cities have since digitalized their collections. As for research, who hasn’t Googled wikipedia these days?

Still, because I do miss it, I still want to feel the spine of books on a shelf and also seek out a librarian to talk. In one such session, I learned that poetry hardly ever gets borrowed; hence, noting a couple in my arms, she had cheered me for the book’s sake because apparently, if any book moves at all, it takes on life. “Hundreds of them do not,” she said.

I had to ask, “What then awaits such ‘dead books’? She answered almost inaudibly, “Given away, and most often begged to be taken.”

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, April 20, 2015