Sunday, February 28, 2010

Libraries and the Decline of Civilization.

I don't know how one would define civilization, but I would guess that it includes relationships, pairings, groupings or collections of people. Hell, Charlton Heston needed Nova before he could ride off down the beach to curse the maniacs who blew up the Earth. You can't start a civilization with just a shirtless guy named Chuck on the back of a horse. At least not one we can show on TV.

And these relationships need some permanence. They can't keep forming and dissolving every ten minutes. Relationships need to endure long enough for shelters to rise and children to grow.

So what does this have to do with libraries? Don't libraries preserve culture? Aren't they centers for communities to gather and leave horrible messes in the toilets?

Traditionally, yes. But recently, libraries have begun contributing to civilization's decline, collapse and total failure.

What is the length of a good relationship? I know teen girls claim they are "bff"s with just about any other girl wearing a "Team Jacob" charm bracelet around her wrist, but how long is that relationship going to last? Best Friends Forever only means "until I change my mind and hate you forever."

So let's say a proper relationship lasts 3 months. And a good relationship lasts several years. Where does that leave libraries?

Libraries used to loan books for a month. You checked out a book and got a card stamped with a date at least 30 days in the future. And for those 30 days, that book was yours to read and reread to your heart's content. You formed a relationship with that book.

But then libraries started buying "popular items," meaning things that real people might actually spend their own money on at the store. And these popular materials couldn't circulate with just one person for a whole thirty days; they were just too popular. So we reduced the time one could monopolize those items to allow more people to share them. Those books circulated twice as much or even four times more often as regular books. In my library we call those books The Slutty Books. They've been left on more bedroom nightstands than Warren Beatty's underpants.

And after these sluts get passed around twenty or thirty times like the whores they are, the library will change their due dates to reflect this decreased demand as fewer borrowers want to riffle through the sheets of these skanks.

So libraries have been discouraging long-term relationships by encouraging readers to borrow popular materials for shorter periods. Hell, simply segregating books into the regular stacks labels them inferior or ugly and less desirable no matter how much we stress their charming personalities.

And it gets worse with ebooks. And on-demand downloads of music and video. Libraries now offer material that can be downloaded from anywhere at any time. And shared with other devices. And then discarded whenever the user decides the relationship is over. Books get deleted, their existence wiped out, with a single click of the mouse. Talk about the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That book is gone.

And what about Redbox? Some libraries are now contracting with a company called Redbox which rents DVDs (and possibly books) out of a vending machine for $1 a day. One day! For a buck! Libraries are destroying civilization by reducing the length of the relationship between human beings and their desires. We're reinforcing a notion that love is temporary. I mean, who doesn't love Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? And now I can have her whenever I want for the whole day for just one dollar? If only Richard Gere was offered that deal. Now love can be rented like the temporary $2 affairs I have down at the bus station.

So libraries need to begin working on rebuilding civilization. Libraries need to start forcing longer relationships with mandatory borrowing periods of at least one month. Or maybe three.

If you borrow a diet book and you try to return it before you lose ten pounds, then you're keeping it until you drop at least one pant size.

If you check out a book on home repair, don't try to return it if the closet door still squeaks or the roof leaks. And that auto repair book doesn't come back until you fix that passenger-side window that doesn't go all the way back up.

And that self-help book stays with you until you stop being an asshole. Yeah, I know we're never getting that one back. But that's a loss we can all live with.