Tuesday, March 31, 2009

a card in the hand?

It's ironic really. The more dependent we become on web-based technology, the more easily accessible books become. Library websites (and WebPACs) are becoming the norm for most libraries. From small schools to large public libraries, patrons can not only access their account, but they can search for any book they might want to read, see how many copies are available (and where), request books, find related books, and even write reviews. Reading has become increasingly interactive, thanks to technology. 

I have one faint memory of shuffling through the small drawers in a card catalog, and I vaguely recall having to use a MicroFiche at the big Minneapolis Public Library downtown. As a child and teen the way I found books at my library was by wandering up and down the aisles, my fingers on the spines, until I found a spine that was more intriguing than its neighbors. It seemed the best way to me at the time. 

As an adult, I am increasingly envious of what today's children have access to. The interaction available through WebPACs, online book clubs, author websites (which usually include chat rooms where you can discuss your favorite character or even write your own fan fiction), and the World Wide Web has transformed reading from a solitary activity into something much bigger. A quick Google-search of a favorite author might lead a reader on a virtual journey of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which might prompt a family vacation to Walnut Grove. Or a school media specialist might see that James and the Giant Peach has been listed in the Top Ten Books in Our Library section of her WebPAC, which might lead to ordering more books by Roald Dahl, which could then lead to the formation of a Roald Dahl Book Club. 

A caution, however: the more dependent we become on our technology, the more lost we become when it fails us. As wonderful as the internet is, it's foundation built of books cannot be taken for granted.