On Living with eGuilt

| January 23, 2011

I need to make an e-confession: NYPL revoked my borrowing privileges. As a newly minted librarian and outspoken fan of public libraries in all forms, I’m horrified and extremely embarrassed. Naturally, I’m writing about it on the internet.  Here are my excuses:

1. It’s kind of out of my way, they don’t have a night drop and their hours are inconvenient. (see excuse #4)

2. My love of books compels me to take them on vacation, but my absentmindedness condemns me to leave them out of state.

3. For five years I worked at a public library and one of the perks was freedom from fines. It’s hard to make the transition. (I realize this is a “poor little rich girl” excuse)

4. I’m hesitant to donate to NYPL or advocate donating to them until they get their efficiency act together.  Granted, I only know the system as a patron and volunteer so I guess it’s possible they have secret ways and justifications for what seem like work flows, structures and rules from a long-dead era of librarianship. I also understand that it’s hard to communicate and implement changes over a humongous system, but maybe they just need to swing a little more governance towards their branch libraries.

b. It makes me feel better if I’m making a stand rather than just being cheap.

6. I have a little holdover bitterness from my bonus round in library school. I’m working through it, but I would be lying if I said that sticking it to the biggest, baddest library system out there didn’t feel rebellious in a good way.

In any case, this paltry fine has emboldened me to take a wild leap against almost everything I hold dear.  In a fit of pique, I purchased an e-reader. Against all reason, I kind of like it. It makes me feel like reading the NY Times website is as legit as reading a book, it allows me to check Facebook compulsively during the nautical description parts of Moby Dick and lets me look up unfamiliar words and concepts on Wikipedia. It encourages all the worst things about my reading and never judges me! Unfortunately, it also makes me feel like a cheap turncoat.

It’s clear from the selection of e-books available through conventional means that very few serious readers use them and the kind of reading I do on my e-reader is less serious. It’s also less adventurous, less focused and absent of the kind of forethought I’ve put into book selection for most of my reading life. For my commute I like that it fits in my purse and allows me to flit back and forth between books as I am wont to do, it also allows me to finish books out of the house, something I planned carefully to avoid in my physical book-reading life. For my commute it also provokes a lot of e-reader conversations with strangers and makes me feel like physical book readers are judging me as I have judged e-readers for years. Part of the glory of being a serious reader is the sweat and inconvenience of the medium, the ebb and flow of book accessibility and the physical presence of books haunting the bags and coffee tables of your life. This new creature is delicate and conspicuous. It makes an awful coaster and a worse doorstop and can’t be wedged away in precarious places or disappear into the fray of all its cousins in my apartment. The e-reader is a different thing entirely and is going to take some getting used to; I’m glad I’m getting a head start. I don’t see e-books completely obliterating physical books in our lifetime, not while there are still people around who value the experience of a physical book, but I also think e-reading is due for a golden age of content, cheap hardware and an explosion of widespread use. Luckily for me, this e-book frontier will be overdue fine free.