The Library Experience

Books have been a big part of my life since childhood. The earliest memory I have of reading a book is when I was around five or six-years-old. It was a small collection of short stories for children; a collection, I suspect, I still have somewhere in the dark reaches of my groaning bookshelves. My grandmother was a teacher and the principal of a school and I remember her taking me to the library there. I think that’s when I fell in love with books and libraries. Later on, my grandfather enrolled me in a local library that also doubled up as a book shop. Every three or four days I would skip along the road holding his hand, my attention only on counting the number of shops we needed to pass before we reached our destination. Once there, I would spend a while looking at titles even though I knew the ones I wanted to borrow.

When I grew up, I started buying books to build a collection rather than borrow from a library. Eventually, I got a Kindle as a birthday present and along with library visits, even real books all but vanished from my life. Until a few months ago.

After more than a year, I held a real book for the first time when I went home to India and took out one of my books to read. I embraced it like a long-lost friend. I found myself devouring page after page, relishing the feel of those crisp sheets in my hands, the joy of making notes with a pencil, and inhaling the somewhat woodsy smell of its pages.

When I returned to Dublin, I returned to my Kindle again but I kept thinking of the books I read and how much I enjoyed them. I didn’t want to buy books due to lack of space. That’s when I realised that I had a Dublin Public Library card and I had barely used it. A worse realisation was that it took me so long to even remember the existence of a library.

The next day I set off, excited like a kid anticipating treats. It would be my first visit to a library in several years. I spent nearly an hour going through the books. In that time, I had only covered less than a third of what the library had to offer. And I had already found five books I wanted to read all at once. I borrowed four and I finished them in two weeks. Since then, I regularly visit the library and borrow at least 3 or 4 books. Note that I am allowed to borrow 12 books at a time (!) and my greediness is restrained only by the fact that I can’t carry all of them home.

Now, I have become spoilt and I find that I am no longer happy with reading an e-book. It feels boring and plasticky. Believe me, I do find the Kindle extremely handy and to be a blessing when I travel. But I have always found that my average reading pace is much slower when I read e-books. I had never given it much thought until this Renaissance in reading happened. So, I was intrigued when I found a study on this. According to the article in The Guardian,

A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

Apparently, the research found that readers absorbed less of the plot and connected less with the book when they read it on a Kindle. This is exactly what had been happening to me. I found myself drifting off distractedly in the middle of even very interesting books (something which never occurred in my pre-Kindle days) and I couldn’t recall as many details as I could previously. I had attributed this to one of my low reading phases but this one, alarmingly, seemed to last too long. Well, now I know why.

So, now I mix them up. I read a lot of books from the library and then an e-book or two on the Kindle. It seems much more refreshing that way. And I won’t give up library visits again for the world. They are an experience in themselves.

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