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“It caught me by surprise.”

October 3, 2011

It caught me by surprise. A friendly gentleman was checking out some books, and I was half-lost in thought about a previous question when he noticed someone playing a game on a computer and asked if many people play games on the library computers.

I said yes, although I don’t know what percentage, but plenty of people do. His visage changed noticeably, and he seemed to become quite upset before willfully forcing out “Have a good day” and leaving.

I didn’t have the presence of mind to stop him and inquire further, so I’m not sure what the issue was.

Certainly people have grumbled about others (both children and adults) playing Internet games when they, the grumblers, have more important business to do. We can only take their word about importance, since we don’t inquire about their business.

As with books, or videos, or whatever, so with computer use. We don’t privilege James Joyce over Danielle Steel, or “Citizen Kane” over “Tremors,” and so we don’t privilege Internet chess over the interactive “FarmVille” game, or Internet stock trading over game playing or Facebook or email.

Some people would be better off if we did prohibit stock trading.

We’re not completely blind, of course. We don’t buy anything and everything for the library. When selecting books, we’re watchful for reviews and particularly careful about self-published works. With movies, we avoid those that fail not only with critics but with viewer ratings at such sites as imdb.com and rottentomatoes.com.

There are limits on computer use. We filter for pornography, although there are many ways around that, unfortunately, and you can’t install software, and you are guaranteed only 30 minutes in a day, although it’s very easy to get more when there is no waiting list.

As a practical matter, you never have to wait long to get a computer, but if it’s a busy time, you might not get much more than 30 minutes in a sitting. And so we hear grumbling about not offering enough computer time even as others regret the very presence of computers at all.

There are always unintended consequences, but I believe our remodeling of the library will take care of some conflicts. Computers will get their own place in the current meeting room beside some additional staff space.

Space for DVDs will increase. We’ll have more book shelving upstairs. We’ll fix some heating, cooling, and lighting issues. The non-public annex will remain in the basement, another source of grumbling. Not much to do about that except get rid of the 22,000 items stored there.

Or else build a bigger library. But that’s expensive, and the library board thinks it’s not a good time for such a project for two reasons: one is the state of the economy and the other is the uncertain need for more space in a digital future. If most of our growth is in digital content, our library size may be fine.

We discussed this last week, but the question arose about how we will pay for this project. I’ve been thinking about this for so long, I never thought to mention it.

We’ve been saving for years toward a project like this. Five years ago, it was pretty clear we would need more space in the form of a bigger building. But, things change. Remodeling will buy us some time to see what happens.

Meanwhile, you can see what happens … when a portrait is painted. Bailey Escapule, whose work is currently showing in the library, will give a demonstration of portrait painting at the library Sunday, Oct. 23, at 3:00 p.m. We’ll remind you again later.

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