And then it was the day the library closed. Not just for the evening, or the day, or even for a holiday or staff training, but forever, but nobody noticed. Nobody noticed for the same reason it closed. They simply stopped coming.
It hadn’t happened all at once. It had taken a decade or so for the people to forget how to read, why to read. Of course they knew, they weren’t illiterate they’d say, but choosing not to read was the same as not being able to read when push came to shove, so there you go.
The library had adapted itself over the years, rolling with the changes. Librarians are smart cookies. They notice change. They notice when people check out less and less books. They notice because librarians like data. They like statistics. So they saw the train coming and tried to get out of the way before they were squashed, before they were swept away like so much debris after a car wreck.
The libraries first got the post office to let them handle the tax forms. Libraries are open into the night, unlike post office. Libraries have computers too, so people can file right then. Libraries have librarians too, and while not being IRS agents were nonetheless usually able to make a pretty good guess when it came to unusual questions about tax forms.
Then they got the voter registration forms. Then they had early voting. Then driver’s license renewal kiosks.
They started teaching classes, for free, open to the community about anything and everything, desperate to show they were still relevant, still needed. Anything to get their numbers up. They started offering free tax help, ESL classes, help signing up for healthcare, section 8 housing, and naturalization. None of these things had to do with what libraries had always been about.
But still the people didn’t come in to read. Maybe they read on their tablets. Maybe they read only magazines. Maybe they only listened to talk radio. Whatever they did, they didn’t check out books. Some said “Oh I don’t use the library anymore now that my children are grown”, as if reading is something only toddlers do, instead of being something people do.
Somehow they forgot (or never knew) that reading is what makes us human, makes us civilized. Somehow they forgot that reading is how humans get new information into their heads. Somehow they forgot that if you don’t use it, you lose it.
If an invading force had closed the Libraries the community would be up in arms. But we closed them, through lack of use. We are to blame for our closed libraries and closed minds.
So the library relaxed its rules. People could be loud. People could eat food. Some libraries even had cafés, like coffee shops. They became rebranded as “third spaces”, where people were encouraged to visit between work and home. The library had to do this. But in letting loud people in, they chased away the people who needed quiet. So while gaining new patrons, they lost other ones.
And the books. The book started going away. Those that didn’t check out in two years got sent downtown in a cardboard box. The workers hoped they would be sent to another library, but in reality they were sold for a few dollars. A $26 book sold for nearly nothing to some online wholesaler. And every year they scrambled for a budget but the books went away.
So there were fewer and fewer books, so there were fewer and fewer checkouts, so there were fewer statistics. And so it goes, on and on, until the library painted itself into a corner and there was nothing left.
So the library closed because of lack of interest. There was no need for them anymore. America has proven through its actions that it no longer needed quiet or information.
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