Turning a Page on Libraries Amid the Coronavirus

Turning a Page on Libraries Amid the Coronavirus

Books have always been a source of escapism for me. As a child I would reread all my favourites with their familiar characters, poring over the illustrations as they came to life. Trips to the library would be treasured outings, and continued to be so over the years. When boredom eventually set in with other pastimes, books held my attention and transported me to the lives of others.

My library strategy was always to borrow several books at a time, as there was never a guarantee that all your choices would be available on a return visit, in the knowledge that I couldn't possibly read all of them in the alloted three weeks. Moreover, any serious reader will tell you that they need their next fix waiting in the wings. The trouble was, when it came to renewal it was not always possible to do so, and you'd end up taking them back unread regardless.

My choices were largely based upon an eye-catching cover, a good review, and an acceptable condition. Although a well-thumbed edition may indicate a popular novel, a worn cover with yellowing, dog-eared interior, and unpleasant stains, pushed it fast into the no-go area. And as for folded corners where readers have not been bothered or respectful enough to use a bookmark, my irritation was palpable.

For this reason, the 'new' section at the front of the library was always my first port of call. Books here were displayed face on, as opposed to spine only, and were generally in better condition, considering they were new deliveries. Of course they were not always new by publication date, but merely to the library itself. Either way, to pass my borrowing criteria they had to be pretty pristine.

You notice I speak in the past tense because I have recently undergone a complete volte-face. I used to be, I suppose, what some may call a technophobe. For that reason alone, the mere idea of reading books on a glaring screen was abhorrent to me. How could one appreciate the feel and quality of the paper, the satisfaction of turning the page, the weight of the book? The excitement of bringing a stash of newly-borrowed books home could not be replaced. Even the sense of purpose when choosing a bookmark.

However, the coronavirus arrived and things had to change, like it or not. Libraries rapidly shut and my essential reading matter was no longer attainable in this form. Unprecedented times called for drastic measures. I would have to dip my feet in the unfamiliar world of e-books, just temporarily, until things got back to normal. Or the 'new' normal, for that matter.

Surprisingly, the experience proved to be enlightening and liberating. Upon reflection, my previous thoughts were dogmatic, narrow-minded, and perhaps even a little old-fashioned. I had dismissed a perfectly valid alternative based upon entrenched habits, an easy life, and a reluctance to learn new tricks.

My voyage of discovery revealed I could read just about anything I wanted, at just a few touches on my iPad. My first impression was how clear and crisp it was to read, which isn't always the case with a physical book due to small print. Secondly, it was very clean, and I could even sanitise the screen - very apt for the current climate. The iPad took up little space on the bedside table too. No towering tomes to dust around, no aching wrists when a book was over 500 pages. I could even change the font and 'paper' colour, see the time in the top left-hand corner, and be reminded of how far through the book I was. No longer having the necessity to greedily grab the books before they disappear off shelves, I can download one at a time and feel no pressure to rush.

Why was I so slow and reluctant to try e-books? I had an iPad and the ability to download an app. Was I sceptical and out of my comfort zone? One suspects so. However, with libraries not opening any day soon and strict limitations sure to be imposed when they do, I can't honestly see myself going back to my old ways. The choice of titles is endless; an Aladdin's cave. Even audiobooks if you prefer being read to. I can renew and reserve new releases from the library's app while tucked up in bed. I'm no longer governed by restrictive opening hours and work commitments.  The accessibility and enjoyment remains, but the shelves are simply virtual now.