Libraries offer more than books – it’s a personal experience

<p>Ester Moberg</p>

I admit it, I love window-shopping. When walking down the street of a new town, I love catching glimpses of goods in the front windows, browsing inside the stores and looking for a hidden treasure to take home as a souvenir.

I find this pastime relaxing; it always makes me feel as if I am on vacation and browsing for the joy of it. I liken this type of window-shopping to the way a lot of people use the library.

Browsing the library can be a search for hidden treasure. I have discovered some of my favorite authors while browsing. I found Patricia Wentworth’s mysteries (an Agatha Christie-style writer) while browsing at the very end of the mystery section many years ago in the Astoria Public Library and have tracked down all her titles since then. I also discovered Patrick Rothfuss’s fantasy books while browsing the stacks in the Creswell Library. I never would have found these two authors without browsing.

Someone told me the other day that they no longer use the library because they now have an e-reader. I was surprised by this perception of what the library contains or what a small part of the library they actually used.

Sadly many people view the library this way; they believe owning an e-reader fully replaces the library experience. To me, this means a person uses the library for only one purpose: to walk up to a shelf, retrieve a book they already knew they wanted and leave.

This may be typical of maybe 10 to 25 percent of people who use a library, but for the other 75 percent, their experience is far different. In fact, some people who use the library weekly never open a book!

Browsing, according to the Merriam-Webster online free dictionary, is an action or verb. It is: “Surveying goods for sale in a leisurely and casual way or scanning through a text, website, or collection of data to gain an impression of the contents.”

The items for loan from a library are for temporary use with your library card. With this card, you gain entrance to thousands of books that you can physically touch.

Instead of seeing the cover a popular online bookseller has pre-selected for you based on your past shopping history with them, you have the freedom to walk into the library and wander through the stacks of books.

If you desire, you may pull one out, look at more than one to three pages (this is what you get online in a preview, an attempt to imitate library browsing in a very limited way) and then either put it back or select another title.

You also have interaction with living, breathing people who are willing to help you in the library. They not only remember your name, pull books for you based on what you like or dislike, help you with everything from directions to setting up your reader, they can even give you personal recommendations of books they have just read.

Now this is just the book-based experience in a library. People who come in the library also do job searching, check their email, read a magazine (or check one out), read the local newspapers, play games, attend story time, participate in teen crafts and check out movies and audiobooks.

Does an e-reader give you all that? Really, comparing an e-reader to the full library experience is like saying that because you have a CD player and a collection of CDs, you have all the music you will ever want or need.

My question is why limit yourself? E-readers are wonderful things; I use Kindle books on my phone and enjoy the portability and ease of use. But to me, the library experience is so much more than that. It’s community. It’s a place for book lovers and readers of books.

It is also a warm and welcoming place for everyone with programs and services far beyond the scope of a book lying on a shelf. Libraries no longer are simply a storage place for books; they are the first stop to seeking information and programs that help you to enjoy and understand life.

The reality is, e-readers are not affordable for everyone. For everyone who lives in Seaside’s city limits, a library card is already theirs, they just need to sign up for it.

Can an e-reader truly replace an entire library? No. But more than that, libraries aren’t competing with e-readers; we seek to celebrate them. In fact, the Seaside library is in the process of starting to lend out e-readers for use. Use your e-reader with free e-books from the library, but don’t forget to also stop by the library for the whole library experience.

Esther Moberg is director of the Seaside Public Library.