Back to the Future at the Library

by Bill Peak

Do you remember when there was a history bookstore on Goldsborough Street? I used to like to go in there whenever I had a few minutes to kill, wander down one of its two aisles, browse the shelves. The proprietor was an amiable fellow, a member of that rare breed that knows how to leave a customer alone without ever leaving him feeling ignored. Sometimes a book would catch my eye, remind me of something interesting, and then we would talk. I had some pretty good conversations in that store. Then, one day, the owner told me he was going to have to close up shop, that most of his income came now from online sales and it no longer made economic sense to maintain an actual, physical store.

“Commerce” is an interesting word, isn't it, with its two separate meanings, both “business“ and “communication”? Yet the two meanings are related, for the civility demanded of salesman and customer in a business encounter may well foster an exchange of ideas between two people who, in some other setting, might not have been able to communicate at all. Indeed, most students of pre-history now believe that such exchanges of goods and ideas across tribal lines played a direct role in the advent of civilization.

Thinking about this—while remembering the conversations I used to have in that bookstore—I find myself wondering ... Do we, with our growing dependence upon online shopping, online banking, online everything, forego such face-to-face encounters at our peril?

Such concerns are uppermost just now because I'm anxious about the upcoming relocation of our Easton library to the old Black and Decker plant. I keep worrying about our regulars, all the patrons who've come to think of our 100 West Dover Street address as a second home. Will they be able to follow us—easily—to our new address at 28712 Glebe Road? There's the older gentleman who, making a play on my name and the body of water that stands between us and the rest of America, likes to call me “Chester.” Then there's the young man I've been helping to fill out online job applications, the little girls who like to tell me about the Weather Fairies books, the folks who gather behind the computers to work quietly on the library's jigsaw puzzles, the news hounds that hang out in our periodicals section ... the list just goes on and on.

It's not so much that they need us—though I hope and believe they do—as that I need them. I would miss, for instance, the way the jigsaw people, when they finally place that last piece, like to catch my eye, share their sense of triumph. I don't know if civilization's immense, unwieldy armature really depends upon such insignificant connections, but I have little doubt that much of my personal happiness does.

And so, consider this an appeal, a cri de cœur ...

We're not really sure when we'll be moving (we can't move in to the old Black and Decker plant till the County moves out), but when we do, please don't think we've vanished from the face of the earth. 28712 Glebe Road isn't on the other side of the world, it's on the other side of the bypass. All the free services you've come to love and depend upon at our 100 West Dover Street address will be available at our Glebe Road address as well (moreover, it's our expectation that the County bus will schedule daily stops there). And then, in 18 months or so, it'll be back to the future all over again as we return to our wonderfully renovated digs on Dover Street.

So it's a merry little march we're embarking upon, but so long as we stick together, I'm sure that—like so much in our community—we can make it great.