What is the future of libraries? Or, to phrase it another way, what will future libraries be? These questions are far too broad in scope and possibility than can be condensed into one brief article. But these were the questions that drove me to write my short story “Cable Town Delivery”. I have a long history with libraries. It began conventionally enough, the way most relationships with libraries do -- while applying for a library card. I was very young, but I remember the delight that would soar through me as I stepped over the crackly, creaky rubber pad of the security gate and into a limitless paradise of ideas. I have always loved words and stories and books; a library is a wonderful place dedicated to what I loved most.
In my very early grade school years, there was a miniature library in the classroom that you could check out books from, but I remember being appalled at the horribly small amount of books that you could check out at once. I couldn’t be limited to a mere two books! So I briefly turned to a life of crime, stuffing illicit books in my backpack, reading them at home, then becoming too embarrassed about the theft to return them. I tried to hide the books among the ones that I already owned, but my greed knew no limits when it came to books, and as the shelves filled up almost overnight my parents got wise to my wicked ways. I had to return a lot of books the next day, but I also remember the teacher raising the classroom book limit a bit, which was nice.
In middle school, I began to volunteer at a local library. Eventually, they offered me a paid job. I shelved books and helped people find books and even seriously considered a career in the library sciences for a good, long while until the siren song of higher education lured me to my pitiful demise upon the rocks of student loan debt. I write this now from the higher plane of those purgatorial souls waiting to breathe debt-free air again, should I ever find an exit. In college, I took a class taught by Imagineers, and my team’s final project was to design a library — something I’d already spent a good portion of my life deeply thinking about — and our presentation was highly praised. I loved the idea of designing a library.
Which brings me back to the opening question of this article, and my solarpunk short story, “Cable Town Delivery.” My story is one possible answer to the question: what would libraries look like in a post-apocalyptic setting? When environmental conditions are extreme, and our previous centers of knowledge become decentralized, what might arise?
My take on this is influenced in large part by the concept of bookmobiles or mobile libraries. People living in remote communities would likely find any source of news, entertainment, or practical (DIY-type) knowledge highly desirable. Books, music, and visual media are extremely valuable; I would argue that they can be priceless when hardships arise.
And yet a library is also an important cultural hub that can, and should be used by members of the community to grow stronger; so I wanted Cable Town’s protagonist to become inspired by the spirit of a mobile library. At the end of the story, she gets to ask herself what I think is the most exciting question of all: how do you make a library without any books (or other media) to begin with?
How would you make a library in a scrappy outpost town without any media? What would you create or collect first? I have some thoughts, but there are so many ways to go with this! I’d love to hear yours in the comments.