The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

DAYS OF WHINES AND NOSES: Well, I must admit that I am a sort of loss for things to do at the moment. Our Internet connection is not working properly as I write this and I am sitting down between marathon bouts of explaining to patrons who cannot access their email, porn, and chat rooms why they can’t access their email, porn, and chat rooms and why I can’t help them access their email, porn, and chat rooms. There is, after all, nothing wrong with the computers; only with the connection, which I can do nothing about. I’ve called the provider every filthy name I can think of and then left a very nice message on his or her voicemail asking them to please call before I have a mutiny on my hands here.

It was not always thus, you know. Libraries were the temples of the goddess Wisdom and the librarians her devoted priestesses. The priests, as usual, went into administration, which is where you find the money, such as it is, in library work. Of course, Donald Trump would call top library money the chumpest of chump change, but it kept a roof over our heads and the men could always thank their lucky stars they weren’t getting paid the pitiful wages the women got.

People were quiet in the library too, as befits an august institution, and if we could not find an answer for you in the heavy tomes that lined the walls of our reference rooms then we would take your name and your number and get back to you just as soon as we could. We would write letters to other, more august libraries, asking for their help, and if we could not find out how many Italians lived in Dutchess County, New York in 1930 (3,491) we would turn to some other even more august library asking them to find out. In the end we would find the answer, even if the information came too late for you to do a damn thing with it. The rhythm of the library was slow but remorseless, and in the soft whispers of patrons and the sound of turning pages the librarian could hear the inevitable triumph of knowledge over ignorance, of wisdom over folly, of the slow but indefatigable rise of humanity from the darkness of barbarism to the warm light of civilization. Those were the days, my friends, and we thought they’d never end…

You don’t see this sort of thing very much anymore. Libraries are, on the whole, only a little bit less noisy than the Daytona 500 and if we stopped buying books altogether my guess is no one in our service area would notice for another five to ten years. Yes, we can answer questions faster than we used to, but now there are more of them. Just as Robert Moses’ building all those bridges and highways only encouraged more people to use the bridges and highways, making it necessary to build more bridges and highways to handle the traffic generated by the first set of bridges and highways, so to does the ability to answer questions much more quickly cause people to ask more questions. People are irritating that way.


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