I never thought it would happen, but the day has come that I walked into the public library and could not find the book I was looking for.
My midterm project for school is to read a book from my personal collection and analyze it. I chose Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Since it was written in the mid 1800s, there are a few words that have different meanings now, therefore I wanted to look them up in the dictionary. In a class last week, it was revealed that the Oxford English Dictionary is the mother of all dictionaries. This is mainly due to the fact that it records word origins from some of their earliest usages. This was the dictionary I was needing to use.
This evening after work, I visited the public library just down the street. I went up to the counter and asked the librarian/assistant (I’m unsure what their positions were), where I could find the Reference section. One of them turned to look at me and began to say “We don’t a reference section,” before another worker spoke up and asked, “what exactly are you looking for?” I answered, “a dictionary.” After an odd look, the first worker referred me to the aisle at the far end of the library.
Upon arriving to that section, I try to locate any book that says “dictionary” on it. The selection was sparse. Not only was the entire section of non-technical reference books only about 4-feet long, but general reference materials were in sad supply. So sad, that there were only 2 dictionaries on the entire shelf. One was a dictionary/thesaurus, of which was thinner than most of the Bibles I own. The second (of which they actually had two copies), was also lacking in volume. Not too long ago, there used to be shelves upon shelves of reference materials. Shellllllllvvvvves.
After looking up the word I was searching for in one of the two copies, and not discovering at all what I hoped to discover, I returned to the desk and asked if they happened to have any other dictionaries in the library, namely the Oxford English Dictionary. The library worker offered to look it up in the system and online. After determining the OED’s website is subscription-based, of which I had already mentioned, and they did not have a subscription to, she went to look in their database. As it turns out, there is not a single copy of the OED in their circulation, at any of the locations.
Thanking them as politely as I could, I walked out feeling rather dejected and disappointed, and more than a little bit ticked.
Mind you, I could visit the university’s library (and may very well have to now), as I know they have a copy, but that isn’t the point. The point is, a PUBLIC library, consisting of roughly ten to twelve locations does not have one of the most renowned dictionaries in the English language in its collection. Yes, a majority of society will look up word definitions on Google and be satisfied with the results. I would be doing the same thing, for a quick result. But when looking for the root meaning of a word, its etymology and origins, it isn’t quite that simple.
First take away the dictionaries, then what? I understand that we live in the digital age. I understand that kids these days (i.e. anyone less than 22 years old) have been raised on more screen time and less printed book time. That’s not the point.
My point is, don’t lose all respect or fail to recognize the value of an actual printed book. There is still something that physical books can offer, that open source Internet-based software cannot.