A Library Card: The Best Wireless Device

Public libraries are the 'great equalizers of knowledge.'
Public libraries are the ‘great equalizers of knowledge.’


I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to hate my smart phone. And my tablet computer. Come to think of it, I don’t like this laptop I’m using right now too much, either.

What’s my problem? Well, for one, I think I’m addicted to the Internet—not just to social media, but to the virtual rabbit hole that is the World Wide Web. I used to spend hours at a time at a computer back when I was a newspaper reporter and later a technical writer. On my time off all those years ago, I’d even work on that novel that was going to win a Pulitzer Prize (in my dreams) and stare at a computer screen a few hours longer just to make sure I was near-sighted.

“Those glasses make you look smart,” Timberley said as I modeled the various styles of eyewear in the showroom mirrors—thick safety rims, thin wire rims, no rims, horned rims. “Well, kind of.”

“Really?” I asked, then turned to the white-coated optician. “I’ll take this pair.” I need all the help I can get when it comes to appearing intelligent.

But as it turns out, I’ve been getting too much help from the Internet with looking and feeling stupid. It was an evil plot. Now I get very little writing done because it’s too easy for my truncated attention span to be hijacked by cyberspace or waylaid by the Web. Damn you, Al Gore.

The Morganton-Burke Public Library in my hometown
Morganton-Burke Public Library in my hometown

That’s why I started going to the library again. As Stephen King says on a meme I found today on the Internet: “When all else fails, give up and go to the library.” That’s sage advice from one of my favorite authors of popular fiction. So I’m taking it.

Until the Internet came into its own, libraries were sacred spaces to me. When I was a child, my family lived directly across the street from our town’s public library. Inside, on the second floor, a plate-glass window overlooked what we called The Lagoon, a pond used for ice skating in winter. Mounted on a pedestal in front of that big window was a full-sized wooden ship’s wheel that even a five-year-old like me could stand behind and turn. That library captured my imagination before I could even read.

When I was an elementary and even high school student, libraries were places that gave me access to books and magazines that I could have never afforded on the meager lawn-mowing money I earned in season. The public library, in particular, put important books in my hands that I might not have otherwise read, like former New York Yankee Jim Bouton’s controversial baseball memoir Ball Four, which I still say has had a more positive impact on me than any other book I’ve ever read. Also, I always read Rolling Stone magazine at the public library, because my strict parents wouldn’t have let me subscribe to it.

In college and then later as a young fiction writer, I used libraries less for pleasure reading and more for research. When Timberley and I researched our novel Night Lights, or, Golf, the Blues and the Brown Mountain Light prior to its 2004 publication, we visited, in particular, the Appalachian Collection at Appalachian State University’s new Belk Library & Information Commons; the Carolina Room at the Morganton-Burke County Library; and the old North Carolina Room at the New Hanover Country Library in Wilmington; as well as magazine and microfilm collections at those libraries and others on both ends of the state. As I recall, we also found important books and documents at Lees-McRae College’s former Carson Library in Banner Elk and the Avery County Public Library in Newland.

Libraries are portals to the past, windows on the present, and doorways to the future. Social media, especially now, can suck your soul dry, if you let it. Just say no.

Reading the current New Yorker in Morganton's public library
Reading the current New Yorker in Morganton’s public library

A few weeks ago I dug my library card out of an old wallet in which I store seldom-used cards, and we took a late-morning walk downtown to the library. On such a warm winter day, the walk itself did me good. At the library, I found a comfortable seat and then read that day’s The New York Times, as well as the previous day’s paper and The New York Times Book Review, and that week’s The New Yorker magazine. I would have read Rolling Stone, too, if it were still the newsprint tabloid that I fell in love with in my late teens, but we’ve drifted apart.

Since then, I’ve also visited the Valdese Public Library and the Watauga County Public Library in Boone, part of the Appalachian Regional Library system. I’ve read current editions of The Charlotte Observer and The Hickory Daily Record (which, by the way, puts our dear old hometown paper, The News Herald of Morganton, to shame, even though both papers are owned by the same company).

Do you know what I’ve discovered that I like most about reading actual newspapers and magazines—I mean, publications that I can hold in my ink-stained fingers and ruffle as I turn from page to page?

What I like most is that there aren’t countless reader comments after each article that I read. I personally don’t care what any other reader thinks about something I myself have just read, so long as I understand the article. All I really care about is what the author thinks and what I think. If I need further elucidation, I’ll ask someone I trust for it, or, in this age of googling everything, pick my smart phone back up and search for answers on the library’s free public WiFi.

Tuesday's Charlotte Observer opinion page
Tuesday’s Charlotte Observer letters to the editor

The opinion page of Tuesday’s Charlotte Observer featured an editorial opposing President Trump’s immigration-related executive order, as well as seven thoughtful letters to the editor about various issues including Trump’s immigration ban. I would much rather read a cross-section of thoughtful, edited comments than hastily-made, unedited diatribes that never seem to end.

As I said, my Rolling Stone period is over. Now, with everything that’s going on in our crazy world, I’ve become more of a New York Times and The New Yorker kind of guy. I even like the damn Yankees. So until I can afford to subscribe to the unadulterated, ink-on-paper edition of our nation’s newspaper of record, which publishes “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” I’ll keep making regular treks to the nearest public library.

According to the American Library Association, “Libraries have historically served as our nation’s great equalizers of knowledge.”

So support your local public library. I have a feeling that before too long it’s going to be more important than ever for all of us.

2 thoughts on “A Library Card: The Best Wireless Device”

    1. Thanks, Rodney. I forgot to mention that a library card is also the CHEAPEST wireless device. That’s benefiting us right now, too.

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