The holidays came and fled so quickly I forgot to make any New Year’s resolutions, which is just as well because by the end of January I forget about them anyway.
Anyway, instead of resolutions, I’ve been thinking about two of my longtime favorite American institutions, the public library and the U.S. Postal Service. I know other countries have these things, I just think they’ve always been special in America.
I won’t blame you for considering me too easily impressed, but I’ve long found it remarkable that you can put something in a mailbox and a few days later it shows up on the other side of the continent or even across the pond, as they say.
And this time of year your mailbox gets filled with things other than bills and junk (mail), like cards from people who think you’re worth sending happy wishes to. A recent editorial in the Providence (R.I.) Journal urges Congress to pass a reform bill that will give the Postal Service room to maneuver as it tries to adapt to rapidly changing times.
I’m of a generation that can remember life before the Internet, and recognize that there are many around today who can’t remember, or care, what AOL and CompuServe was or is, and while I know there are special ways of communicating today (texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) there’s a lingering charm to getting a letter or a holiday card the old-fashioned way.
And while I have a Nook, and have owned a Kindle, and operate a smartphone (somewhat gingerly) I haven’t found anything that can sit in for an experience I had not too long ago.
Which was picking up a book, it was Dante’s “Inferno,” and finding within its pages a receipt from a bookstore near Columbus Circle in Manhattan which told me my father had picked it up for a couple of bucks in 1964 or thereabouts and for a moment, in a way, I was in that bookstore with my father, which was a very special feeling.
Libraries have that quality as well, a kind of tactile connection to the world of people and books, but now you don’t even have to go to a library to use its services.
An editorial in the Record-Journal the other day rightly observed that libraries are among the institutions that must adapt or risk falling behind.
Libraries in Wallingford, Cheshire and Southington have been making use of the digital media service Hoopla. You need not bother with roaming the stalls and navigating the Dewey Decimal System, which I always kind of liked. Now you simply use your library card number to log in (from home or anywhere, I guess) and access more than 200,000 audiobooks, movies, television shows and music.
Instead of paying upfront costs, libraries are charged only for what is downloaded. And services like Hoopla also help relieve libraries of a longstanding anxiety, which is anticipating and investing in what patrons might desire.
My guess is by the end of 2015 there will be more tech wonders we hadn’t anticipated.