Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Musing on Time

I checked out a book from my local library last weekend using a self-check machine that scans my card (with a barcode) then scans the book (with another barcode) and signals it's done with a loud and unsatisfying 'beep'.

I wondered who else might've checked out this book and then was sad I wouldn't know. Not only that, but I wouldn't ever know the last time the book had been read. There's nothing quite so sad as an unread, unloved book, is there? In the old days, there was a machine that (I assumed) took a microfiche picture of the book's title card and my library card that had a very satisfying CHUNK sound followed quickly by a buzz. Then would come the heavy thump of the date stamp from the librarian (later replaced by a seemingly magical print function in the checkout machine). I remember looking at the cards inside the front cover of the book and seeing names and dates and thinking "Wow it's been six months since someone last read this". That's an interesting thing about time, those kinds of snapshots.

Nowadays at my local library technology has saved the librarians time, organized and more effectively tracked books that may never be recovered if lost and assigned a fee to the last person to check it out. It's certainly efficient and I don't begrudge them saving time and a little money. It just seems to me that we no longer know if a book is loved or how long it's been loved by just looking inside the front (or back) covers. It's a history that's just not there any more.

Except maybe on microfiche.