By Rita Kirk

Director, Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility
Professor, Division of Communications Studies, Meadows School of the Arts

Rita Kirk
Rita Kirk

Occasionally, a new student will walk into my office, scan the shelves of books, both old and new, and ask that awkward question: Have you read all these? The question is mirrored in class discussions when, after a robust exchange, a student will ask, “How do you keep up with all this information?”

Answer: I read.

Truth be told, libraries as most of us have come to know them are changing. Online texts, blogs and information aggregator sites are displacing the browsing activities that drew many of us to the library when we had a little extra time. And maybe that’s it. Time has become the enemy of thinking beyond our narrow set of interests. It has stifled the exploration of ideas merely for the sheer pleasure of it.

During our SMU-in-London program each year, we talk about cultural differences. One of them is the widespread activity of reading on the Tube (the London train system). From commuting executives to children, books are still a part of the visual landscape. Today, as I walk across campus, spotting a single person reading a book for pleasure is rare.

I do not bemoan our changing culture. Rather, I celebrate the leadership of people like Gillian McCombs who envision the library of the future. The vibrant salon or coffeehouse of other eras will soon become alive outside the silent stacks. Perhaps we will even learn again to seek out people with opposing worldviews so that our thinking is challenged. Maybe we will even start carrying a book or two with us when we leave.

In the DeGoyler, a beautiful exhibit drew my attention recently, “Remember the Ladies!” I couldn’t help notice the elegant, practiced handwriting in letters. The quaint collection of cookbooks and news coverage of the visionary leadership by those who pioneered for women’s rights contextualized some of the same struggles that we face today on proper roles and personal goals. I desperately wanted a cup of tea and a place to talk with someone about what we were seeing. I can hardly wait for that space. You’ll find me curled in a comfy chair waiting for you.