Back to the Library

03 Jul 2023

I've always loved to read.

When I was a child, reading was one of the most accessible and least harmful ways to distract yourself from the gray reality of growing up in a small, poor provincial town. Even our little library, which occupied the second floor of an old, shabby building, offered enough books to keep me reading for years. My favorites were detectives. I started with the Black Cat (Черный котенок) series for kids, then switched to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. In these books, intelligent characters unraveled sophisticated crimes and exposed conspiracies. In real life, tired, underpaid policemen dealt with sad, angry, drunk people stabbing each other to death for nothing.

When I was a teenager, I got my first computer and access to the internet. It was a slow and laggy 64-kbit DSL connection. Nevertheless, I could chat with people and play games, and it was great! Little by little, the internet was getting faster; soon I could download music and videos, then even stream them. I read sometimes still, but it was mostly newspaper articles or blog posts and rarely books. And a lot of social media, of course, though I doubt it could be regarded as reading. I stopped visiting the library completely because I could do everything on my computer now.

And so it was until last year, when I started to feel increasingly tired of the constant buzz of news, opinions, Twitter threads, and such. It felt like being in the Groundhog Day movie. News had sensational titles but lacked substance; social media revisited the same old discussions in an overreacting manner and inevitably ended in a brawl. I was also disappointed in streaming services. Every one of them now produces its own content and doesn't share it with the others, so if you want to legally watch everything you want, you have to pay for each service you subscribe to. And even if you do, there are still a lot of movies that are not available anywhere. Music streaming is a bit better, thanks to the big publishers feeding on license fees from existing services and not building their own ones yet.

It was then that I rediscovered libraries. Here in Berlin, they differ significantly from the ones in my rural hometown. All of them are equipped with fast and free internet, and some even have a cafeteria, so you can comfortably work on your laptop or read a newspaper. They lend not only books but also CDs, Blu-rays, board games, computer games, and even vinyl! The libraries are free to use and require no registration unless you borrow something. It sounds like a great deal to me.

I've been using them for almost a year and am really glad. I read many books I wanted to read for a long time, and I watched many movies I couldn't find on streaming services. Instead of monitoring the news daily, I switched to skimming through a newspaper once a week, and I can't say that I've missed anything important so far. And even though I'm still subscribed to streaming services and occasionally use social media, I try to slow down my information flow and build it around what I find in libraries. I believe it is a more coherent and peaceful way of approaching our fast-paced world.