Sunday, September 6, 2009

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. [snippage]
“I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” [NYT, June 19, 2009]
This is why I think the modern librarians can't wait for Mr. Bradbury to die.

When I was a kid, there were two sections in the library, one for Children and the men who gave us a dollar if we wouldn't tell anyone what there were doing in the kids' bathroom (hint: it involved the wiener), and then the rest of the library that was for everyone else, meaning the adults.

Up until around age 11, the kids' area was okay for me to hang out in. But then the librarian stopped letting me in that room. I don't know if it was a height thing, but there came a point where the Children's Area became off limits.

That left the rest of the library. With the adults. So I had to start looking at the adult stuff, which meant walking around and sitting with adults. Needless to say, the adults didn't like it and complained about my behavior regularly.

So I had to learn to sit quietly and read Aperture or The New York Times or The Illustrated Man if I wanted to keep my library privileges. Otherwise, I had to wait outside for my sister to come pick me up after she got out of school an hour or so later. I would try to be quiet; I listened to Classical music record albums; I read the encyclopedia.

But there was no teen area. There was no place to let me be loud or use the computer to look at cell phone pics of the girls in my class posing in their bras. And there definitely was no tween area.

Now libraries have these areas. When I was a kid, you went straight from crapping your pants to being an adult. I think this was left over from WWII where you could go from kindergarten straight into the Army to kill Nazis. So kids grew up fast and had to act like adults very early. I got a job when I was six and started losing my hair when I was nine.

Now the teen area has posters of "cool" stuff. Images of emo vampires and hip rock stars decorate the walls.

We have shelves filled with books like All This Weird Shit is Happening to My Body and it's Gross; and These Boobs are Awesome! and You're a Tween, You Should Be Freaking Out!

Teens and tweens are allowed to play games in the library now. The library buys all this crap.

Libraries design special Tween Areas where there are no mirrors and the lights are dimmer, so the kids don't have to see what's happening to themselves or each other.

But the Teen Areas are filled with bright lights and sounds and video games. And we have to write all this new policy on how to let teens be just noisy enough to enjoy the library, but not so disruptive that we have to throw them out.

When I was 15, the only reason I went to the library was because all the girls were there studying. The librarians didn't want me there. But there were no policies for how to let me be a teenager. But I guess we didn't need video games or computers. The librarians knew why I was there. And I and every other teenage boy were there for only one reason (hint: it involved the wiener).

But now, the modern librarians love teens. They don't give a crap about educating the public, but providing afterschool facilities for latchkey kids turns them on.

In Ray Bradbury's day, I had to behave like an adult if I wanted to use the library. In his day, the public library was his education, his university, because nobody could afford college. But today, every kid goes to college, so libraries have devolved into playgrounds.

In Bradbury's day, the library was the higher learning surrogate because that's what the public needed and couldn't afford. But today, our taxpayers don't need an education; they have the Internet. What they need from their public servants is to keep the teens and the homeless off the streets and away from them.

So libraries are changing. For better or for worse depends on who is here to say.

When Mr. Bradbury and his like are gone, libraries will be free to pulp all the books and fill all the reading rooms with computers; and to shred all the newspapers, except for the ones the homeless guys use for blankets.