Christopher Hitchens: 'God is not great' - but bookmobiles are
Author and staunch atheist Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, Vanity Fair reported. How did the man who could write on everything begin his life of learning? The bookmobile – a vital entity now in danger of becoming obsolete. Hitchens' mind was a testament to their ongoing necessity.
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But new technologies can often complement rather than replace existing ones, as I’ve been reminded in my community of Baton Rouge, where bookmobiles serve as roving classrooms to teach computer skills. In addition, the book vans provide reading material to patrons who might not be ready or able to browse for materials online, like older readers in retirement communities and younger ones in preschool centers. Such services are especially critical in poorer states where many residents continue to lack Internet access.Skip to next paragraph
And while e-books can be wonderful things, there’s still a lot to be said for the tangible pleasure that comes in connecting with traditional, printed volumes.
For those who live beyond the reach of a bricks-and-mortar library, bookmobiles have been a lifeline for generations.
As author Nancy Smiler Levinson has pointed out, Hitchens' fellow Englishman, Thomas Bray expressed the ideal of mobile libraries as far back as 1679, when he suggested that “standing libraries will signify little in the country where persons must ride some miles to look into a book; but lending libraries which come home to them without charge, may tolerably well supply the vacancies in their own studies...”
Long before the Internet, Bray concluded that when readers cannot easily go to literature, then literature must, in some way, go to them.
One shudders to think what we might have missed if a bookmobile had never turned into Christopher Hitchens’ neighborhood.
Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”
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