“Time Enough at Last” – Libraries Are An Essential Service During The Lockdown

Burgess Meredith The Twilight Zone

Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself… without anyone.

The best laid plans of mice and men… and Henry Bemis… the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis… in the Twilight Zone.

“Time Enough at Last” • The Twilight Zone • Season 1 • Episode 8 • Teleplay by Rod Serling

We now live trapped in the classic Twilight Zone episode, “Time Enough At Last”, in which a beleaguered banker has the good fortune to survive a nuclear holocaust that finally leaves him with all the time in the world to explore the treasures of a vast Library only to suffer the tragic reversal of having his eyeglasses broken making it impossible to access the written treasures at his feet.

Only instead of atomic annihilation, we face a global pandemic that has placed our libraries off limits leaving millions of citizens cooped up at home with all the time in the world to read; while countless books lay untouched under lock and key.

Thus we are all Henry Bemis, blinded not by our own nearsightedness, but by the shortsightedness of well meaning politicians who think it is essential to be able to get a candy bar at CVS that could change your wasteline, but not to be able to able to get a book at the library that could change your life.

Surely, we can safely let library patrons search the “virtual stacks”, put “local holds” on materials most important to them, and then let them stop by their local libraries to pick up the volumes or arrange a no contact delivery of the reading material.

From that point on, the readers could hang onto the materials at home along with all the other unreturned materials already in circulation.

The cost of such a program would no doubt be more than offset by the self-education and mental health benefits of having something to read during the lockdown.

Even if only one life might be saved by indirectly preventing a desperation driven act of suicide or domestic violence, can we really afford to say that Libraries Aren’t Essential?

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