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Modernity is a worldwide problem

January 7, 2013

It seems there was a rumor the library had flooded New Year’s Eve. One staff member heard this and rushed over, untold visions of horror coursing through her head. But the library was quiet and the world was calm, albeit changed—all the chairs were sitting on the tables.

The library’s New Year’s Eve tradition, other than being closed, is to get the carpets cleaned. It’s really the only good time, since we’re closed two days in a row; 44.4% of the library’s holidays happen Christmas-New Year’s week.

It’s always the case while the carpets are being cleaned that people will walk into the library past the splatter of closed signs, even ducking under the bright orange surveyor’s tape I’ve sometimes used, stepping over the carpet cleaner’s hoses, only to be surprised inside that we are closed.

I like this. Nobody expects us to be closed. We are written into the regular lives of many people, and nothing will stand in the way of a library visit. The library is closed nine days out of the year;
otherwise, it’s open seven days and seventy hours per week.

There’s even a 24/7 aspect to the library—one can order books online across a large network of libraries, or download ebooks or e-audiobooks, take language courses online, in fact take many kinds of courses online, and much more.

We’ll discuss this again soon, because in a few weeks, the new thing will be “e-magazines” one can download to any network device—computer,
tablet, phone. But we’ll get to that.

One enjoyable thing for me about the library’s place in people’s lives happens to be this column. I hear from someone about every one, some interesting tidbit or insight related to a column.

Christmas Eve’s column was about handwriting and the teaching of cursive, and that afternoon a friend who read it came over with a box, from which he produced a cloth packet opened to reveal a line of beautiful fountain pens—all Esterbrook pens from the 1950s in different colors of lovely Celluloid plastic.

He’s a collector—who knew? He gave L and me each a pen. Also in the box was a collection of inks, and we each filled our pen dipping the
nib end in the bottle and working the little lever to fill the bladder.

We looked at a couple of his notebooks. The small one was full of three-line entries recording the ink, pen, and nib, and the large one was full of paragraphs of trial script in the same combinations. They were beautiful, colorful pages.

I ordered ink online, and I’m now committed to learning fountain pen—the cost of the ink would probably have bought 400 BiC Crystals at
Wal-mart. I like BiC Crystals, but I’d forgotten how wonderful a fountain pen feels.

Writing with a fountain pen is decidedly different from a ballpoint pen, which invites a certain kind of tension against which one’s hand pushes and pulls.

The fountain pen requires a lighter, freer touch, such as invited by Marion Richardson’s method of writing in contrast with, say, the Palmer or Spencer methods. But you can read more about that in “The Missing Ink” by Philip Hensher.

Other friends left me articles about the importance of handwriting. Aside from culture, there are neurological benefits not redundantly
provided by other activities in modern childhood.

And among many challenges facing China, one is a handwriting “crisis” in which young people can’t write, or “draw,” basic Chinese characters. They’ve grown up clicking a mouse. They don’t even see an adult making the strokes on a board, since lessons are often displayed by projector.

Modernity is a worldwide problem. Or is it a problem? Hmm.

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