The Vanishing Libraries

I can’t help but notice that libraries are slowly disappearing. I’m not referring to this change of generation. Blaming youngsters for not having respect for books or reading them would be confusing cause and effect.
The fact that people read less and less is not the reason why books and libraries are not appreciated but vice versa. It is because books are not appreciated people don’t go to bookshops and libraries anymore.
 In the past, public libraries were a sort of a meeting point not only for college students but for other people with affinities toward more intellectual activities. I’m not only referring to book clubs that are still kicking even if they suffered some damage caused by the internet. A good portion of those who would be attendees of a book clubs migrated to the internet and now discuss about various topics on internet forums. So, this does not sound that bad but when you think about it, it actually is.
The 
digitization of books is pushing towards making paperback copies obsolete. In case paperback copies become obsolete one day (I hope it won’t come to that), there will be a need for private libraries. That won’t necessarily imply that where won’t be anybody left to read but that reading will become a less and less popular activity. When it comes to popularity, books have been struggling against every modern medium of information. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The ranks of the book readers experienced a major growth during the 20th century when the medial rate of illiteracy fell for an average of about 20% (varies in dependence of the country). Industrialization of the printing process lead to a greater availability of books.

 

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Not even a world war can stop books from being printed!

Books were cheap and available at every corner. Those were the days when reading a book was one of the favorite pastimes. Alas, that period didn’t last long. Technological advancements made sure that books were pushed back from the “entertaining “industry so to speak. Unlike the appearance of the radio, the silver screen started catching the gaze of book readers. When the movie industry started to rise it took with it a good portion of bibliophiles with it. Because the motion picture and the television were something new, they attracted a good portion of newer generations. When the youngsters grew up the seventh and the eighth art were predominant.

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From The Ninth Gate (1999). From the time when the sixth art was in decline.

Just recently a new player appeared. I am talking about the video game industry. Now, in its beginnings it was not as influential and widespread as it is today. Just during the golden age of arcade video games this medium gained momentum. The consoles were bulky but now, eight generations of consoles after, the video game industry has the largest budget of them all. Now, one would think that this is some kind of a natural step for the entertaining industry, but I beg to differ.

During the so called “video game crush of 1983” the video game industry started to lose ground. Yet somehow the tide has turned. At the time (but also nowadays) movies were very influential in society. When you take a look back during the ’80 movies with video games as a recurring topic started to appear. Movies like Tron (1982), The Wizard (1989), Nightmares (1983), The Last Starfighter (1984) etc. appeared and were served to, at the time, a young audience.

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From TRON (1982). It’s very easy to catch the eye of a young audience with such rad and shiny visuals. Nonetheless the movie is a must-see for all science fiction fans.

The movies were centered on video games and the, at the time, young audience embraced them. With this new kind of publicity, the video game industry started to rise again to the point where it has surpassed the movie industry in its budget.
Keeping this in mind, can you name the movies you have seen that are encouraging you to take up a book or have books as the main topic? How  many of them did you watch that were centered on the activity of collecting or reading at all? Sure you can name titles like The Ninth Gate (1999), The Best Offer (2013), The Never-ending Story (1984)etc.

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From The Best Offer / La Migliore Offerta (2013).  A beautiful collection of paintings. I don’t want to say any further not to spoil the movie for you. 

But fact has it that there are not much of them out there. I can name a few reasons why such movies didn’t make enough impact.
The first is that they were intended for adult audience. It is easier to make a family or children’s movie about an epic adventure then to talk about how reading or collecting stamps is cool.
Secondly, movie adaptations of books are stealing from the publishing industry. As a movie enthusiast myself I can say that the movie adaptation of The Name of the Rose (1986) was absolutely great but nonetheless, movies are “stealing” the contents of books.

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From The Name of the Rose, 1986. Adso’s fairly uneducated remarks were way more credible and in character in the book than in the movie. Apart from that the movie is a great adaptation.

Agreed, it’s less time consuming to watch a movie than to read a book.
And the third and the most important reason is that you don’t see libraries in movies. When you think of it, you see libraries less and less in movies the closer they are to the present day. When you look at the movies from ‘70s or ‘80s you can see study rooms in houses that have libraries incorporated in them.

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From the movie High Society, 1956. Just look at that wonderful study.

Now back to the issue. Movies and television in a way dictate what is modern, accepted and “in” so to speak. So was the case until the internet showed up, but let’s take it decade by decade. In the previous decades, you could see less and less libraries in movies and on TV. Since the home library was less and less present in the media it soon got forgotten by the generations that came afterwards.
The causes of that can be multiple, from social engineering to conflict of interest between the entertaining industries but the fact is that there are less and less libraries captured by camera lens. The multimedia managed to alienate new generations from books. In terms relative to the antiques world, what does that mean? First of all, as the Romans would say Historia est Magistra Vitae. How does that apply? Well, each antique is a piece of history and the more we know about history the wiser we are. Maybe not literally but the fact is that knowing more in the subject is preferable to not knowing. With knowing more comes understanding and with that comes a piece of mind and self-enrichment.
Well, books are now something that’s somewhere between exotic and uncommon to the newer generations. Keep that in mind and the fact that you can’t love what you don’t know et voila’ books (especially old books) are going out of style. I wrote also an article about disappearing prints that I can relate to but that’s another topic. While books go out of style so does everything else that’s not on TV.
As I mentioned previously, the internet can be a game changer but lacks enthusiasm. I strongly believe that it is the duty of us book lovers to make new book lovers. Since the internet is the best way to share information, you have your work cut up for you. It is true that the internet is 90% junk but I believe that if we make an effort we can be heard. For now, we are doing our best to reach out to those who find bibliophile tendencies somewhat worthy of respect and try to get them to start reading actual books.

Марко Миловановић
Marko Milovanović

Scan of the book from actual listing from Ebay store Sigedon Books and Antiques.
Movie screenshots from the Internet Movie Database.

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One thought on “The Vanishing Libraries

  1. Hi Sigedon books and antiques!
    First of all, keep up the good work with the blog- you have a good thing going here.
    As far as this particular article is concerned, I beg to differ regarding a couple of points. First thing that caught my eye is the statement that nowadays the youth doesn’t read- is that really so? I believe the vast majority of young people do pick up a book regularly. Maybe those books are not always suitable for their age, nor do they posses any literary quality, but the culture of reading still exists. A lot of teenage movies do promote reading, so the young people who relate to the misunderstood protagonists seek comfort in reading a book now and then. And we all know that all teenagers see themselves as misunderstood in some way.
    Next thing I wanted to mention is the problem of home libraries- as the technology advances, so do the books. Nowadays we have the economic option of having more than a roomful of books in our pockets, thanks to smartphones and internet accessibility. Those books are also a lot cheaper than their printed versions, if not free. That by itself is enough to leave the expensive, room-consuming printed copies in the past and move forward to their descendants- thousands of hundreds of them on a single microchip, and all for free!
    That might also be the reason for the lack of libraries on the silver screen, although I would disagree on that one too- almost every rich person in the movies has a big study/work room full of books. The books are somewhat a sign of luxury and class when it comes to the film industry. Also, the epic adventures do not exclude books, quite the opposite- a lot of child films have a ton of magic and spell books in them, as well as the ancient dusty books that protagonists use to solve riddles and find solutions to the problems they experience along the way.
    Finally, kudos to you for being a book enthusiast and starting this wonderful blog which promotes culture and shares interesting pieces of information about history, but isn’t the phrase ”books are better than movies” something a hipster would say? :)))
    Just kidding, keep up the good work!

    Like

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