Of Libraries

My first library experience was of dark wood and books lining shelves two or three times as tall as I was. There was a real card catalog with small drawers full of yellowed pieces of neatly typed index card. It was rarely helpful for finding anything I wanted to find, but it had that library ambiance.

When I had gathered my stack of books, stretching my arms and holding the top under my chin to keep it from toppling over, I would take it to the desk. This particular library desk was as large and formidable as a judge’s bench, with dark wood and molding, but the librarians were not nearly as scary as you  might expect.

At the desk they would take my library card, made of light blue cardboard, with a metal tab near the bottom right corner with raised numerals representing my account. They would take this card and put it in the kachunking machine.

I have no idea what this machine was actually called, and it never occured to me to call it anything at the time, but it’s most noticeable feature in memory is the ‘kachunk’ sound it made as it stamped the date onto the index card for each book. Since I always had a stack of books, the kachunking machine had to kachunk several times  as I checked out. To me, it was the sound of the library.

The day my library upgraded to computers, the familiar kachunk of checkout was replaced with soft beeping sounds, which did not sound all like a library in my opinion. No more card catalogue. No more kachunking machine. No more worn cardboard library card. Just the glow of computers, soft beeping and this thin piece of plastic that never scanned quite right.

I understood that it was more efficient. I understood that it worked better. With the new computer card catalog I could actually find books that I wanted. But… it all felt wrong. The ambiance of my library had completely changed, and I didn’t really like it.

I got a chance to revisit my old hometown library last year. It had been completely remodeled and doubled in size. I wandered around and got to tell Colton where things used to be, but in the end I had to admire it as a strange new place that I had no connection to. You can’t go back to your old library.

Of course, I’ve completely adjusted to the use of computers in libraries now, and would be somewhat taken aback I encountered a library without them. (Though I’d love to hear a kachunking machine in a library again…) Libraries now are all bright lights and computers and still stacks and stacks of books that want to come home with you. So, I wasn’t expecting even an echo of that ‘can’t go back to your old library’ feeling when I finally got to visit the remodeled Main Street branch of the Peoria library.

I wasn’t expecting to notice that the (perfectly adequate and even possibly charming) children’s section looked bleak and strange compared to the weird quirks of the original. Who would have thought I could have missed the hard-to-exit fishbowl where I browsed young adult fantasy and sci-fi and ‘babysat’ the kids while Theresa picked out books in the non-fiction section across the hallway. Who would have thought the spacious aisles in general fiction would break that cozy feel while browsing book titles. Not that I minded much… it was like visiting a whole new library, which undoubtedly, being a library, must be lovable in its own way. It was just that whisper in the back of my head, realizing I could never go back to the ‘old’ library if I wanted to.

However, changes or not, I was nearly gleeful over the check out procedure. Self checkout in a library! Scan your card, set your whole stack of books on little raised platform and the computer scans everything, displays your titles on the monitor for confirmation, and then you’re done! It was cool. And fun. It made me want to checkout again! (Okay, I’m kind of geek…) For everyday use, it may even, just possibly, be superior to a kachunking machine.


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