Several weeks ago I moved about 35 miles north to another small beach town proudly known for the local shrimping fleet. The town itself is reminiscent of all that is a quaint, Southern village with bistros, boutiques, antique shops, seafood restaurants and a saloon that boasts of its late 1800s origination. The library was the focus of the upcoming town, and I can attest to the validity of the town’s recommendation to upgrade and maintain the library. Ironically, in the local newspaper the following week, despite the decision to move forward, a local resident objected to money being spent on the building. The suggestion was to tear down the brick building and replace it with a couple of modular buildings. I gasped, holding my hand close to my heart. It was beating so fast. Besides, loving books and those who are the keepers of them, I also feel a deep desire to maintain the history of what was and is. Must we give up everything — the words, the books — and replace the structures with modular structures or trailers?
Today, instead of walking into a bookstore, you can just go on to Internet and order it. You can also read a book with a small electronic tablet in hand turning the page with your index finger. Digital has taken over, and now, rather than reading words, the reader can listen to an audiotape too. As a child I believed that when an author writes words that become published and bound in a book, it meant permanency. As all of us pass through life, the one thing I feel you could count on was that the writers (infamous or not so) have the words permanently placed on bookshelves in stores and libraries forever.
In the next decade, it is easy to see the consequences of progress — books located on electronic tablets, patrons of libraries checking out tablets, and bookshelves becoming a memory. Tables and chairs strategically placed in classroom order in the library provide space for your rental tablet, which allows you to browse the digital shelves and find the book you want to read on your electronic device. Eventually, bookstores in general will be history and possibly even the library. Just as the inventions of the past took their place as a lesson in history, the steady progression of development will determine how we enjoy the written word, and that will be determined by the strongest gladiator of them all —progress. In 10 years, our grandchildren will look up at us and ask “Grandma, Grandpa, what is a book store or a li…library?”
I’d like to share a note of thanks to all of the small-bookstore owners who have come and gone, here and everywhere. Surely millions will miss you. Bravo for investing your time and life in giving us the books that chartered our life courses, taught us how to do almost anything, and inspired us beyond words. Those who remain open despite the ongoing hurdles are applauded for living your own succession plan and fighting the inevitable until the final day before closing the doors. A round of applause to the town councils and “friends of the library,” who carry the torch for maintaining our history and fighting to preserve it. Accolades to all!