Reading STILL Matters
By Beckett Millhouse
Who uses the library?
I remember when I was informed about the Patrick Henry College library during my first week orientation as a freshman at Patrick Henry College. I honestly think I paid more attention to the jokes my Patrick Henry College classmates made about how little we would go there than I did to the librarian who explained the different resources the library had to offer.
I, like most people my age, simply didn’t see the point of a library. I remember reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and inwardly scoffing as he described how valuable books are. Since the creation of the internet, all the information we need is accessible from a classroom, coffee shop, or dorm room with just a few clicks—there’s no need for books or libraries to keep them… right? My time at Patrick Henry College has since convinced me otherwise.
Why is the Library Important?
An honest case for the importance of libraries could be made on the basis of the practical benefits they provide to communities. Patrick Henry College could not function without its library. As freshmen at Patrick Henry College, students face a significant learning curve in study habits that they must master before test and paper season sets in. While most succeed, few do so without help.
The Patrick Henry College Study Center (a complimentary tutoring service created and managed by the library) is a tremendous aid for students to get up to speed and manage to pull out a respectable GPA for their first year. The library also has access to vital resources that would be otherwise unavailable to students, making it a useful ally well beyond freshman year.
The Library and Gaining Study Skills
Whether it’s journal article reviews or historical research papers, there are plenty of assignments that simply cannot be completed with internet research alone. One Patrick Henry College sophomore shared with me the story of a particularly stressful paper she wasn’t sure how to write.
I was lacking sources and even just basic facts for my music appreciation research paper at Patrick Henry College. It was a really big part of my grade so I was really worried I’d get a bad grade and make all my other hard work for nothing. I needed books and studies on music theory, and who knows where to find books like that? But the library staff got me everything I needed – recommendations on titles of books to look at and even orders for some books our library at Patrick Henry College didn’t have but could order from surrounding ones.
Its stories like these that prove that with an experienced and dedicated staff working nearly around the clock, Patrick Henry College students are alone in the struggle only as much as they choose to be. Librarians offer everything from hands-on citation review to help in finding books and studies containing relevant research that students may otherwise never find.
The Preservation of Books
But these advantages miss the larger significance of libraries. Libraries are one of the few institutions that are dedicated to preserving the important medium that books are. As our culture continues to grow accustomed to instant gratification and short attention spans made necessary by a fire-hose of information, books force us back to reality.
There are few things in life as mentally stimulating as sitting down with a book. When you sit down with a book, you force yourself to be present—you shut out all but one of the thousand different things vying for your attention. In an age where most of our time learning information is spent on smartphones or computers that allow us to quickly switch back and forth between sources of information, our capacity to learn is largely driven by a lack of interest in any single thing.
Books Slow Us Down—Forcing Us to be Present
When I sit down to perform a task on my computer, I’m in a constant limbo of checking social media every 15 minutes, changing the playlist I have going in the background, handling important emails as they come in, putting on a brief section of a TV episode I wanted to finish the night before, or watching a short news clip about something important that is happening. None of these are inherently poor uses of time if we would only choose one and stick to it.
In our practice of constant switching between a myriad of things means that we never develop the skill of sustained and focused study. Things that break our concentration hurt our ability to study well. One can almost hear the words of Ray Bradbury,
Speed up the film… Click? Pic? Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! …Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters, that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought! … Life is immediate… Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts? …Life becomes one big pratfall, Montag; everything bang, boff, and wow!
Books are one of the few things that force us to take a deep breath and slow down. Instead of the fire-hose we have become used to or a high-speed stream of information that allows us to avoid thinking, books are a slow, meaningful trickle. They give an ability to think and process in a way that our modern technology simply can’t.
In a way, Patrick Henry College aims at the same goal. In a runaway culture focused on what is current and what feels good, Patrick Henry College brings its students back to basics—teaching us how to think and to be thoughtful. It refuses to allow students to accept modern mediocrity and pushes them to be more than passive observers—to instead be active participants in God’s world. This is why the Patrick Henry College library, and the others like it, are so important. It is a final bastion of the higher end we were made for. Books give us the literary ammunition with which to hold our ground. A book is home for those who refuse to allow themselves to be mindlessly shaped along the lines carved by temporal trivialities.