They were called branch libraries, were not very large, were within walking distance and, best of all, they were filled with books — all kinds of books.
The day I first stepped into this magical world, I was about 10 years old. It started me on my life-long love of reading.
This later evolved into the joy of owning books that I especially loved.
I caution readers of this column that it can become an expensive hobby, but it can also be rewarding. You can pull down one of your favorites and read it again and again, if that is your desire. You can simply own a rare book that not many people can find. It can be more fun than owning almost anything else.
One of the first joys of my young life was to get my first library card. I was 10 or so, and this was the first time I had to fill out a form all by myself. My parents weren’t aware for some time that I had done something that they didn’t need to help me with. I felt so grown up.
You could borrow a book for two weeks and, if you were late returning it, it would cost you a penny a day. I never had to pay the library a cent.
My reading habits at first tended to be toward adventure stories — "Robinson Crusoe," "Swiss Family Robinson," and the one that captivated me the most, "Robin Hood." I knew Sherwood Forest inside out.
Then came "Tom Sawyer," "Treasure Island" — and, of course, every young boy’s favorites, "The Hardy Boys." Who could ever forget the exploits of Frank and Joe who could track down nefarious criminals as teenagers?
Later, romance crept in as I discovered "Lorna Doone."
As I grew older, my reading skills matured, and I began reading more of the books deemed to be “classics" —Irving, Poe, Stowe, Twain, Lewis and especially Steinbeck. What could be better than holding the printed page encased in a beautiful binding in your own hands?
The days of my youth are gone. The book industry is changing, as is everything pertaining to books. New books are slowly being replaced by electronic media. Yes, this does save material — trees for paper, ink for printing and the art of book binding. Jobs in these industries will also disappear.
Surprisingly, used book stores are also being affected. As a book collector, I am in contact with a few book dealers. I thought they would flourish as new books disappear. I found out that today there are 50 percent less used book stores/dealers than there were 20 years ago.
The day of someone dropping in a used book store and picking up a gem for 50 cents to maybe $5 is gone. People can get them online.
The number of used book stores/dealers will continue to decline, and they will only handle rare and collectible books that might increase in value over time.
Will paper-printed books still be published by the end of this century? At this time, it’s hard to tell, but I think someday they will not.
So, will the joy of holding a hard-bound paper edition of a good story still be held in the hands of a young boy with a brand-new library card 100 years from now? It truly is "A Brave New World."
— By Richard Hoffstedt, Tribune community columnist