Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Am I the only person who can only vaguely remember life before Google? How did people write books before this amazing tool? I'm surprised the writing community hasn't increased its output tenfold. And maybe they have. I don't read industry stats. However, if I wanted to, I'm sure Google could take me there in 1.3297 seconds.

When I first started writing, children, approximately twenty years ago, we used to go to these large quiet buildings called libraries. Inside a library one would find rows and rows of very tall shelves literally bursting at the seams with books. Kind of like the Amazon warehouse probably looks, only with just one copy of each title.

Finding the book you needed was a huge challenge. First stop would be the card catalogue. Which is nothing at all like the one that comes regularly from Land's End or LL Bean. No, this "catalogue" was a large wooden cabinet with teeny tiny drawers. Inside the elfin drawers were cards onto which some elderly lady had painstakingly typed information about each book in the building.

Included in that info was a mysterious number, an assignment from the Dewey Decimal System, that was supposed to enable you to locate the book. I don't know who Dewey is. I suspect he's not the nephew of Donald Duck.

So armed with this magical number, you then proceeded to the high shelves on which the books were allegedly arranged in numerical order. According to Mr. Dewey. Probably a sound idea in theory, but in practice...well, as soon as a library outgrew its inventory, you could kiss that number system goodbye.

The backup plan was to ask the librarian to point you toward the section you needed. They were always quite willing to put down the afghans they were knitting and do so. Finally, after all this, you came to the exact shelf where your book should be sitting, only to discover someone had checked it out approximately three minutes before you realized you needed it.

Barnes & Noble had a much better idea. They hang large signs from the ceiling proclaiming, "Business" or "Travel." Makes it much easier. You just look up toward the sky until you see a category that sounds like it might fit.

Please forgive me if I poke too much fun at the expense of libraries. I truly do love them. They are important to a thinking society and a comfort to people who love words. I am, however, infinitely glad they've changed. And being a person who likes to write in my research books, I have pretty much forsaken them (because they frown on that in the library system) for purchasing my own. If I don't find what I need with my good friend Google.

But I do take them large boxes full of paperbacks from time to time because the sales in their little store benefit the library system. Which makes the second-hand book thing more palatable to a writer depending on book sales for an income. If I can't have the royalty, let's give it to some worthy public venue instead.

Visit your local library. They probably miss you.

Have a great day!


Mark Wolfgang said...

Good idea. I've decided to take a box of digital bits of your e-books to the library. --Mark

(Just kidding! I haven't even started "Diamonds" yet)

Susan Cody said...

Mark! You kidder! You'll like "Diamonds." It's the best one. Don't miss the dedication.