The more I miss the Public Library, the more I think it could have remained open as an essential service during the pandemic. (Barry Coulter timer photo)

Is a shuttered library a sign of an impending apocalypse?

More and more, I find myself missing the Public Library. I know I’m not alone in this.

It has been said, you can tell the level of a civilization by the amount of libraries it has. Somehow, to me, even more so than a shuttered school, a shuttered public library seems to be a sign of impending apocalypse.

(If this is the apocalypse, it seems like the slow gradual kind, rather than the sudden end of the world, like Armageddon, or nuclear war. Still a nightmare, though — a slow fade-out of/fade-in to a society where institutions like libraries are permanently closed).

But enough of my apocalypse nightmares. I am confident this pandemic will pass, the libraries will re-open, and we will emerge into a new world where we’ve learned to be kinder, and gentler, and where all those concerts to which I bought tickets in January and February will still be held.

When you think of it, the Public Library would be a great place to remain open during lockdown. Libraries should be declared an essential service. The diversion and mind expansion that libraries offer are central to our well-being and cohesion as a society.

Take the Cranbrook Public Library for an example. I can think of no better place in town where social distancing is so easy. You can fit many people in the Cranbrook Public Library, and still not see anyone else for days. The aisles seem to be your own. Those relaxing in the comfortable chairs placed throughout always seem many metres apart from each other. The stillness and thoughtful, reflective atmosphere seem conducive to revitalization and good health.

Browsing through the books, one needn’t handle them, unless a title catches your eye, or you know what you’re looking for. Then, to the check-out. And you can wipe down your selections when you get home. It’s easier wiping down the physical media like books than it is wiping down your groceries, say, when you get them home. And of course, it would be easy for library staff to sanitize the books upon their return.

I do believe a library could remain open and safe during the pandemic, as much as any big store.

Oh, Library, do not fret. We miss you and think of you often, and look forward to being in you again.

* * *

Speaking of stores — more and more, I find myself missing our downtown shops. I know I’m not alone in this.

It occurred to me only recently that what was missing in my life was that particular pleasure of wandering in and out of the downtown shops on my free time, usually Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, just browsing through the thrift and second-hand shops and the shops that have new brand new merchandise as well. “Browsing” — such a great word. So much better than “consumerism.” Putting yourself in the same place as all the great products our society has on offer to enrich one’s life, and seeing what jumps out at you, calling to be part of your life. Such a rewarding, luxurious activity, even if nothing does catch your eye. One gets lots of thinking done at the same time.

And that charge you get, small as it may be, when you come across that certain something on a shelf and say “I’m going to buy this!” I miss that, I’ll say it again.

Now, online shopping has its own charge too, for sure. But it’s a different kind of buzz. The whole world is available via credit card, but that personal, analogue connection is missing.

I do hope that when the pandemic passes, the small business custom comes roaring back stronger than ever, and that our shopping habits haven’t been permanently affected.

It’s important to make the effort to keep in mind that small businesses are waiting for us, just as we are waiting for them.

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