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The Importance of Endings

Things that never end are boring. It’s not that you have to know when, specifically, something will end, but knowing that it will or can at some point changes our engagement with whatever-it-is.

I’ve always thought I wished my favorite books would never end, but that’s not actually true. The prospect of an ending catches me in between the desire to swallow a good book in one sitting and the desire to ration my reading to stave off the inevitability of reaching that last period. I’ve also slogged through my share of books that felt like they’d never end. I’d keep a running tally in my head of chapters and pages left between me and the sweet release of that back cover. That back cover became the dominant experience of the book for me. Even the cycle of having books come in and out of print makes owning copies of precious books that much more special. And imagine how life would have been if The Never Ending Story actually never had ended? It hardly bears contemplating!

A few weeks ago, I thought I had nearly recovered from the mysterious health issues that have been my constant companions for well over a year and a half now. With an end finally in sight, I suddenly found myself willing to talk about this stuff for the first time with people outside my closest circle of friends. Maybe having an end point waiting in the wings made me less afraid of either boring people or of sounding whiny or pathetic. I don’t know. All I know is that the ability to stick mostly to the past tense unlocked the topic, made it palatable. (Now, though, I think I’ll relegate it back to “most boring topic I’m obsessed with” status and hope that an end point creeps back into view sometime soon.)

All this makes me wonder about times when ends or lacks of ends may have influenced the kinds of discussions we’ve had in librarianship, and the levels of enthusiasm we were able to feel for those discussions. I wonder if implying the end of the mostly un-named Library 1.0 reinvigorated interest and discussion in libraries in general no matter which side of the Library 2.0 debate you fell on. And I wonder if the liberating concept of “perpetual beta” has, after all, sapped some of the life out of discussions of new services and tools these days. I read a line in a zine* this week that implied that it’s hard to write a story when you don’t feel you know its ending, and if everything from interfaces to service points are constantly and rapidly evolving, it can be hard to think of stories to tell that feel more cohesive than a brief status update.

*Joe Biel. “In Sickness and in Health.” The Perfect Mix Tape Segue. Number 5.