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Not Always for the Better

Everywhere I look, there’s another wild prediction of what’s going to happen next in the world of books. E-books versus hardbacks, online news versus good old newsprint—it’s a blog eat blog world out there.

Just imagine. Only seventy-five years ago, when the depression was in full downswing and my grandmother had already given birth to three of her children, packhorse librarians hired by the Works Program Administration as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal were scrambling along rocky cliffs, through freezing rivers and moonshiner-infested woods, their saddlebags loaded with the only reading material some of their isolated customers ever saw.

Those who couldn’t read snatched up the catalogues and pored over the pictures. No one complained that the conflict wasn’t well-developed or the heroine was one-dimensional. They read what they got, and relished those few hours of escape from the sheer drudgery of their everyday lives.

Tonight I sit at my computer, fifty miles from the nearest town, and with a wave of mouse and credit card I can have any of hundreds of thousands of books within minutes. At worst, a few days, or until the UPS driver works up the gumption to give my mud and snow packed driveway a whirl.

There is only one absolute in the world of literature: it will change.

Oddly, it can be the little changes that are finally the last straw. My great aunt Winks was a voracious reader. Like her sister Lila (my grandmother) she liked a good classic and the latest antics of Amelia Peabody, but neither of them was afraid of Judith Krantz or Jacqueline Susann, or whatever writer happened to be steaming up the pages at the time.

Winks was in her late seventies when they computerized the card catalogue at her small town library. She didn’t like it, but she learned to cope.

Then came the day she pulled a book from the shelf and per her routine, flipped to back page and checked to see who else had checked it out. All of the names had been blacked out with a Magic Marker. Winks slapped the book shut and marched it up to the front desk.

“Sometime has defaced this book,” she declared, pointing to the offensive black marks.

“Oh, no,” the librarian said. “We did that. The new privacy practices rules.”

Winks was stunned. “But if I can’t see the names, I don’t know whether to check it out.”

Now the librarian was mystified. Perhaps the old lady had some kind of system, only read books that had been checked out by people she knew? Or more likely, knowing Winks, refused to read a book that had been handled by certain folks she wasn’t so fond of.

“Are you looking for the names of your friends?” the librarian asked.

“Heck, no!” Winks said. “I’m looking for mine. I don’t have that many years left, I don’t want to waste them reading the same damn book over and over.”


If I ever decide to write a historical romance, my heroine is going to be a packhorse librarian. Read all about them in Down Cut Shin Creek. And per FTC guidelines, I am sad to report that the authors have not seen fit to send me or any other contributor to this blog a free copy. I shall have to resort to the old standby: check it out of the library.


9 Responses

  1. Winks reminds me of my husband…only it’s movies instead of books. “Have I seen this?” permeates our conversation when trying to pick a movie to rent.

    I will confess to buy the same book THREE TIMES because I couldn’t remember reading it. The third time I started reading and kept thinking..Boy, this sounds familiar. I made it about 1/3 of the way through before knocking my head against the wall.

    When we were packing to move (about 13 years ago), I’m embarrassed to admit I found multiple copies of a few books. At least I can take comfort in the knowledge I’m paying the electric bills for some authors!

    One of the good (and bad) aspects of ebooks is the ability to buy immediately. I find I do a lot more impulse buys with ebooks. I need to get an eReader (other than my computer) I just can’t decide which one but I read yesterday that the company that makes the make internal part has improved it, taken out some aspects that aren’t needed for eReaders that should drop the price of them to below $200. Good news for me…if I could only decide Nook? Sony? Kindle?

  2. This was LOL funny. Loved it. Winks needs her own book. Gosh, I’d totally read that.

    I do love that I can press a button on my Kindle and get what I want RIGHT NOW. No trips to the bookstore, no waiting at the mailbox. And they usually cost less than the actual book.

    But then again, I can’t share it. I like to share my books. They say you can do that with the Nook.

  3. I like sharing books too Liz but sometimes getting them back is a real problem. And I hate to hound someone about “Where’s my book?”, etc I sound like a real hag…but gosh “loan” don’t not = “gave”

  4. Cyndi: Hee. My husband proudly states that his lousy memory is a good thing. Every time he watches Lonesome Dove or re-reads Last of the Breed it’s a whole new experience.

  5. I hope you find time to write that historical about the packhorse librarian someday. I’d read it in a heartbeat. 🙂

  6. I love my Kindle. Hubs got it for me for xmas a couple of years ago (2 mo later kindle 2 came out). I have tons of books on it and most of them are either free short stories or books that amazon is giving away free for the kindle.

    I rarely buy books for it, especially from Amazon. I buy them from EC and Samhaim more than anything. I still love my paper books though.

    I have to admit I am very anal when it comes to my books. I have a spreadsheet of new releases (by month) books I own/have read and 1 for books I would love to eventually read.

  7. Love it!! I can only imagine the look on the librarian’s face. And I must admit, the more I hear about it the Kindle is sounding better and better. Maybe by Christmas I’ll be totally convinced. 🙂

  8. Here’s the thing about Kindles and every other e-reader I’ve looked at – they die a nasty death if allowed out in temps below around thirty five degrees. Those of you who’ve read many of my posts will probably understand why this makes them a no go for me.

  9. I saw a kindle for the first time this past weekend. The editor I met was showing off hers. It’s amazing how many books you can fit into that thing.

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