Cindy Orr asks us to take a step back and see how eBooks are making a difference in her monthly column:
I grew up in northwestern Kansas near a town of about 200 inhabitants. When I was a kid there was no Internet, of course, but this was also long before cable television. We had three TV channels available by the time I was in high school. The nearest city of any size was four hours away…Denver if you drove west, or Wichita, if you drove east. I know how long it would have taken because I just looked it up on Google Maps. All I knew then is that we never went to either place.
In those days, songs were available only on the radio, or on vinyl. So you could listen to the radio (only a couple of channels available) and hope they played songs you liked, or you could buy an album. But there was no record store in our town. No other kinds of stores either, except for a grocery store, a tractor store, a hardware store, gas stations, and a couple of restaurants. No movie theater closer than 20 miles…and it showed one movie at a time. No city newspaper. No public library, except a tiny one room affair run by volunteers and stocked with castoffs, (though that was where I first discovered Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames), and a few shelves in the grade school and the high school.
My point is that this was an isolated existence for a kid who wasn’t interested in becoming a farmer or a farmer’s wife, or who wanted to see the world or get a college degree. It was difficult to find the books that every college bound student should read, or to even know about those books that could offer insight into that bigger world.
It’s very different now for kids who live in that town. Yes, of course, they have the Internet, cable TV, and the ability to purchase songs and books online and have them delivered. But they also now have access to a better library that is affiliated with the state. This library has a collection of only 4,600 books, but receives a supplemental rotating collection through the state network. It’s open only nine hours a week, but now has a summer reading program and story hours and an online catalog. I’m not sure if it is still run by volunteers.
I find myself pondering something that Don DeLillo wrote in the early 1980s: “In the lonely pockets of towns and cities a thousand minds tick.” This is surely true, though in this case, it’s now 300 minds ticking away. But now those ticking minds have the ability to download eBooks, including those that maybe no one else in town wants to read. This is life changing for someone with not much money living in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.
But what can it mean for someone in an even more isolated place in the world…maybe a child somewhere in Africa with an XO laptop, or someone living in the Australian Outback. If they are lucky, they will have a library that subscribes to the OverDrive system. If not, they have access to Project Gutenberg. And just one generation from now, who knows? Maybe their village library will progress as much as mine did.
And what will that mean to their future? Henry David Thoreau said in Walden, “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations.”
It’s good to remind ourselves every now and then that we are making a difference.
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