Out of circulation?

The humans at Seven Trees Farm are enthusiastic users of modern technology. Email, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Wikipedia, WordPress….the whole ‘web’ of information access online.

Need a recipe for nettle braggot?

What the heck is a plantiecrub?

How do you measure a horse for working harness?

A few clicks and the answers appear, usually free of charge, with pretty pictures, up to date and linked to relevant information elsewhere.

And why not succumb to the luxury of ebooks? Download them from the purveyor right into the reader of your choice, thousands of titles, old and new. A small price to pay for the convenience of a pocket library at your fingertips, right?

So why are books, the old fashioned bulky paper things that take up precious shelf space, so important to us?

The main reason for us is – if you don’t own it, own your very own hard copy, then it isn’t yours. The recent internet protest against SOPA was an eye-opening lesson in just how much we depend on the internet for basic reference material. When major information portals like Google and Wikipedia staged a blackout or made their sites more difficult to access, the pitfalls of depending on others to store knowledge became evident.

Also, rights to ebooks can be revoked in a copyright/publishing dispute(remember when Amazon erased George Orwell titles from users’ readers?), a favorite recipe site can change from free to subscription, privately-owned websites can just disappear completely, and so on.

Another reason to keep your personal reference shelves full is that you may need that information during a crisis. Power outages, earthquakes, windstorms, zombie attacks can all get in the way of internet access. What if your prize heifer decides to calve in the middle of a storm and you need to know how to help, immediately. How reassuring to reach for your copy of Handyma’ams Guide to Everything that resides on your living room bookshelf!

But even if you can’t run out and spend your paycheck on books, libraries will always have books won’t they?

That depends. Libraries, especially cash-strapped academic libraries, are going through a time of massive upheaval right now. Most books don’t circulate. They cost money to purchase and shelve, never mind maintain (the demise of books also means the demise of an ancient craft – book mending). And they take up space that is increasingly in demand for a new library concept – the learning commons. Library-as-book-warehouse is becoming library-as-information-portal. Study spaces, laptop checkout, ebooks, and online databases are winning out over the nostalgia-value of paper. As the Once-ler said to the Lorax: “Business is business, and business must grow!”

Next time you hunt down that 1897 treatise on market gardening, it may not be there.

So while we make the most of the convenient digital virtual world, we also make it a regular practice to buy books that support our endeavors at Seven Trees (buying local/used also supports our economy). Book-learning is no substitute for experience, but someday that book might be all you have to learn from.

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4 thoughts on “Out of circulation?”

  1. The photos of abandoned libraries made me very sad. But the video at the end helped brighten my mood a little. 🙂

    My husband and I are packrats, and a large portion of our “clutter” consists of books. We just can’t seem to get enough of them. We have years and years worth of reading to catch up on. And yet we keep acquiring more. Yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, freecycle…

    In a continuing quest to declutter and simplify our lives, I keep telling myself that we don’t need to archive everything, that there are others who will have the information we need when we need it. But as you have pointed out, what happens during a power outage…or if the internet is censored?

  2. Those photos scare us as well. Since the dawn of time, the mark of being a civilized society was having libraries. Now they are too expensive or unnecessary, and take up space. There’s also that new meme permeating our world that if something doesn’t make money then it should be eliminated. That’s absolutely ludicrous, especially when applied to something like a library.

    We have a very small house, but have 2 floor to ceiling book shelves in the living room for books. Totally relate to acquiring. There’s also just something wonderful about having an old tomb like a first edition Jack London or the like. 🙂

  3. Maybe we should start all over with a book library co-op. The library was a good idea until it was sold to the highest bidder. Perhaps it is time to consider a total volunteer operation…or indexing people’s personal libraries and expertise within a community, should a question need answering.

    1. I love the idea of going back to a real community library. I think a good use of technology might be some kind of linked “Library Thing” http://www.librarything.com/ listing of who has which books available. That way book owner & borrower could communicate directly between themselves about the books in question.

      I wonder how many books our neighbors or friends might have that we never know about or think to ask.

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