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JCC Is It Time To Close The Libraries?

Discussion in 'Community' started by Narutakikun, Feb 6, 2013.

  1. Narutakikun

    Narutakikun Jedi Knight star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2012
    A long thought, but insomnia leaves me with little else to do tonight.

    Let me make one thing clear: I love libraries. When I was a kid, my local library became a refuge for me - a place of peace (unlike my broken family) and learning (unlike my school, which was mostly a place of bullying and bad lunch). But as technology progresses, and also as municipal budgets shrink and every dollar starts to count, I really wonder if public libraries are generally necessary anymore, and certainly whether a hard-nosed cost/benefit analysis would reveal them to be worth the money spent on them.

    Public libraries came out of a certain era in which certain realities prevailed; but they do not prevail now, and never will again in all but the most gloomy and apocalyptic of future scenarios (those of Jim Kunstler, for example). They were based on a scarcity model for books - indeed for any information - that really no longer exists. Electronic books mean that any book is infinitely copyable, with the only limitation being that imposed by copyright laws. The idea of "borrowing" something becomes rather ridiculous when the scarcity model doesn't apply to it anymore. And as fewer and fewer people read (a problem that's been around for decades), and more and more of the people who do read do so on e-readers or tablets, the whole idea of libraries begins to look ridiculous.

    Even the argument of the barriers to the poor doesn't hold as much water as it did only a few years ago. When they first appeared on the market, Kindles were luxury items that cost $400 each, but five years later, an entry-level Kindle costs $70 brand new, a price well within the reach of all but the absolutely penniless, of whom there are relatively few in America (a country where the average "poor" person owns a car and multiple televisions). And even if we did want to make sure there was an absolutely free way to read available to the poor, why could the "public library" not be transformed into a window at your local municipal building where people could check out a Kindle for a week? They could be outfitted with some specialized software that would allow them to download and display copyrighted books via their 3G connections by special arrangement with publishing companies - how would this be different than libraries lending paper books now? Yes, there's the risk that some of the e-readers would disappear or get ruined, but we already take that risk with hardbound books that cost $30-40 new now - taking a chance with a $70 Kindle is not that much greater of a risk to take.

    But there's another scarcity model that no longer applies here, too - scarcity of information. It used to be hard to find things out. Now, not so. You used to have to go to a library - to dig through a card catalog, to find sections of books in Dewey decimal order, to pore through them until you found what you wanted. Now, a cheap device that's in everybody's pocket (especially the poor - smartphones have caught on among the poor in a way that PCs never quite did) and that works everywhere there's a cellular signal (meaning approximately everyplace except the Greenland Ice Cap and the bottom of the Marianas Trench) will give you the same information in seconds. Yes, there's the issue of being cagey enough to sort the wheat from the chaff as far as information found online goes, but that's a cognitive issue, not a scarcity issue. With one of the biggest public benefits of libraries superseded by cheap, universally-available technology, the case for spending any significant of public money on them becomes increasingly hard to make.

    Which brings us to the next point. As "The Great Recession" becomes "The New Normal", public budgets are under increasing pressure, and the likelihood is that this will get worse, not better - perhaps, in fact, a lot worse. Every dollar spent on an increasingly-obsolete institution like public libraries is a dollar that can't be spent on other priorities like schools, Meals on Wheels programs for shut-ins, heating assistance for the poor, homeless shelters, or drug treatment programs. At what point does spending money on something founded on no-longer-operative 19th century realities cross the line into the counterproductive, or even the inhumane? I ask this because a lot of people, especially those of an intellectual bent, have a strong emotional attachment to the idea of public libraries, but perhaps the time for that hard-nosed cost/benefit analysis of them that I mentioned really is here.

    I should also make clear that I'm not suggesting that all libraries should be closed - there will still be a need for big research libraries like the big New York Public Library on 42nd Street, and for libraries in universities, for a long time to come. But I am saying that it's getting to be time that public libraries as a mass-market kind of thing - something that there's one or two of in every town and urban neighborhood - be reassessed. At a time when libraries are resorting to giving pole dancing lessons as a way to attract people in the door, that's not an unreasonable thing to ask anymore.

    It may be time to admit that technology is a double-edged sword that can obsolete things we like just as well as it obsoletes things we don't.
     
  2. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Oct 13, 2003
    Not everyone has Internet access in their home, or even a computer, or even electricity. Closing down libraries would screw those who need them the most, the reason they exist.

    Libraries are already adapting. Most have large computer areas. Many pay for subscription status to journals, scholarly search engines, and offer deals on e-books.

    Libraries aren't about the physical books, they're about providing access to information. As well as offering us guidance on how to recognize "good information" from "bad information," and just helping us navigate the huge amount of information we now possess.
     
    benknobi1, Eryndil and Blithe like this.
  3. Healer_Leona

    Healer_Leona Squirrely Community Mod star 9 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jul 7, 2000
    I quite routinely use the library. Granted, I request books online and pick them up at the drive-thru, but still could be very sad to see them closed. Plus, someday I may have grandchildren and look forward to spending a day with them at the library.
     
    Darth Somnambulous likes this.
  4. Narutakikun

    Narutakikun Jedi Knight star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2012
    Again, cost/benefit analysis. At what point does the group of people who both want to read a lot for free and who have so little access to technology that they couldn't even operate a borrowed Kindle become so small that the public expenditure on keeping traditional libraries open just for their sake - thus using up money that could be used to help more people with more concrete needs in other ways - simply can't be justified anymore?

    For example, maybe the money could be used to run electric lines out to those peoples' houses.

    These could be moved to other facilities such as community centers.

    But that would more something useful at research or university libraries, which I already marked as an exception.

    You don't need a traditional brick-and-mortar library to do that.

    The internet provides access to more information than every library on Earth combined.

    Curation can be done online. Classes in how to be media-savvy in the internet age should be given in high school and college, and if they aren't, that's a separate issue that needs to be corrected, but it doesn't require traditional brick-and-mortar libraries be open in order to handle it.
     
  5. Eeth-my-Koth

    Eeth-my-Koth Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    May 25, 2001
    For the love of tom no!
     
  6. Narutakikun

    Narutakikun Jedi Knight star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2012
    Look, I agree with you on an emotional level, but on a strictly rational level I'm having a hard time finding ways to justify brick-and-mortar libraries as a wide-market thing anymore.
     
  7. The Loyal Imperial

    The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Nov 19, 2007
    With a more widespread use of computers and properly-organized digital libraries? I'd be fine with losing them.
     
  8. Aytee-Aytee

    Aytee-Aytee Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 20, 2008
    One library in Scotland has taken a different approach to lagging library attendance: Pole dancing lessons.
     
  9. mrsvos

    mrsvos Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Publishers want a place to 'showcase' their books. And a few of them are not bending a bit on digital rights management. There are many cases in which the ebook costs more than the physical book.
     
  10. Piltdown

    Piltdown Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 3, 2002
    This guy obviously wasn't interested in what you had to say in your massive wall of letters. I don't think he loves reading enough to miss libraries.

    Smooth.
     
  11. Narutakikun

    Narutakikun Jedi Knight star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2012
    These are issues related to the fact that publishing is holding onto an outdated business model for all they're worth. This will solve itself as it runs into the quintessential word for our times: "unsustainable". Like the music industry, publishing will change because it must. In fact, the only reason it hasn't had to revolutionize its business model already is because the market for books is narrower and more conservative in its buying habits than the market for music. The music industry was forced to adjust its prices and its business model because otherwise piracy would have bankrupted it. Publishing is somewhat more immune to those forces, at least for a while, but they'll catch up with it eventually.
     
  12. Eeth-my-Koth

    Eeth-my-Koth Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    May 25, 2001
    My local library is always packed. Here are some free things they offer.

    New bluray movie rentals.
    Extensive collection of DVD movies.
    New music cd's which are great for ripping and returning.
    Free book rentals for your kindle.
    Tons of classes(some have a minor fee)
    Guest lecturers.
    Defensive driving classes.
    Free wifi, this saved me during the post sandy blackout.
    A quiet public place which is hard to find these days.
    And this is all in the adult building only. I know the children's building nextdoor has a ton of crap.

    My community even voted to pay more taxes to better the library.
     
  13. Darth Guy

    Darth Guy Chosen One star 10

    Registered:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Yeah, my local library is really popular. In the past few years the main branch has undergone extensive expansion and renovation, added a coffee shop, added a used book store (to supplement income from the big quarterly book sales they have), and added a bunch of solar panels over the parking lot. I'm glad that closing it isn't something often brought up even in this conservative area.
     
  14. EHT

    EHT Manager Emeritus star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Sep 13, 2007
    No, libraries are great! They are a valuable community asset.

    Also, paging anakinfansince1983 ;)
     
    Juliet316 likes this.
  15. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 5, 1998
    This is very much like the libraries in my local borough. Also, they offer job seeker courses and allow people to put up notices about potential work (such as tutoring). There is also the huge reference library (including archives with a lot of sources for local history) which always seems to be packed with people.

    These libraries are much more than just the books, in fact they are part of the community centres as they are located inside or near the town halls.
     
    Eryndil and Eeth-my-Koth like this.
  16. Jabbadabbado

    Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Mar 19, 1999
    I read to my youngest every night and very much like not having to buy every single book we read. Children's book lending is wonderful. Kids outgrow everything. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to buy the young one new clothes or too many new books.

    More than a decade ago, I formulated Ken's corollary to Gresham's Law:

    The internet is great if you want to stay up-to-date on the latest Bigfoot research or anything about Christianity, but in the long run, truly useful information seeks to hide behind pay walls. This is what makes something like a library fairly essential. It doesn't necessarily have to be a physical place, but turning libraries into multi-function community centers is not necessarily a bad thing either. We run a German Group and have German classes for children at the library once a week. The children's library is a perfect venue. They have a meeting room for us. And after class, we can return our books or rented videos from the previous week and get new books/videos.
     
    RC-1991, ma_petite and Eeth-my-Koth like this.
  17. AaylaSecurOWNED

    AaylaSecurOWNED Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    May 19, 2005
    lol at
    1)your definition of poor, and
    2)the idea that we should cut off free access to books because people can always pay $70 (PLUS the cost of whatever books they want) instead! We can also shut down soup kitchens! A Happy Meal is only $4!* Flawless logic. Truly stunning.
    I think you might be confused about the nature of a Kindle, because you keep citing them as a good replacement. A kindle is not a handheld device that contains every single book ever written. It's a device that allows you to acquire some of the books that have been written and transport them easily. But most e-books cost almost as much as the paper copies, despite the fact that they cost the publishing companies practically nothing to reproduce and distribute. Having a kindle is in no way a replacement for a library.



    *no idea how much a Happy Meal costs
     
    Bacon164, JackG, Arawn_Fenn and 8 others like this.
  18. mrsvos

    mrsvos Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Hey, can you sign my kindle lol...
     
  19. timmoishere

    timmoishere Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 2, 2007
    IMO, Kindles will never replace physical books in the long run. There's something about actually having a book in your hand that makes the reading experience more enjoyable.
     
  20. Blithe

    Blithe Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 24, 2003
    Here's a problem with your cost-benefit analysis, Narutakikun. You mentioned the cost and risk that libraries take with $30 or $40 books, but the prices of the books have come down dramatically via online retailers. There are several retailers that offer your typical $30 hardcover 30% or 40% off. And it's often very easy to get free shipping. You're not really looking at a $40 cost, but closer to $15-$18. Just take a look at the cost of nearly any e-book on the same retailers. They're usually around $10-$14 a piece. When coupled with the cost of an e-reader, the cost-benefit analysis basically falls apart. The only real exception to this are the classics, which can quite regularly be found for a couple bucks a piece, sometimes even free of charge. Now I have virtually no idea how a public library goes about selecting new stock for items that aren't donated. Presumably they can shop around like everyone else, although this is likely something that can vary from library to library (or at least I would imagine it could). anakinfansince1983 is the librarian, right? Maybe she could elaborate on this process a little further.
     
    Rogue_Ten likes this.
  21. EHT

    EHT Manager Emeritus star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Sep 13, 2007
    Yes, she's a librarian (at a school, I think, but still)... I paged her already. :)
     
  22. Narutakikun

    Narutakikun Jedi Knight star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2012
    What's wrong with it? What I said is true - "poor" in this country isn't at all like "poor" in, say, Haiti. Most poor people - being defined as those below the government's official poverty line - in this country really do own a car and multiple televisions.

    First, pardon me, but I'm trying to have a serious, balanced, rational discussion here. What's with the attitude?

    Second, $70 really isn't all that much money, even to the "poor" in this country. Again, this isn't the Philippines, where being "poor" means that you live in a tarpaper shack and pick through trash heaps for a living.

    Third, I already suggested that the library as it is could be replaced by an office that lets people check out Kindles. What's wrong with that? More on it below...

    Fourth, and let's just say it, reading in our place and time has a class element to it. Poor people tend not to read a lot. That's just the truth. I wish it weren't so, but it is. I'm not saying that we shouldn't provide ways for the poor to read if they want to; but I am saying that we shouldn't overestimate this audience or pretend that closing traditional libraries and replacing them with something else is going to deprive great hordes of poor people who were planning on beating down the doors of the library to get their hands on copies of War and Peace or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This bit of realism is important to our cost/benefit analysis.

    Project Gutenberg has thousands upon thousands of books - including basically all the great classics of literature from The Odyssey to Ulysses - available for free, in Kindle format. What's wrong with reading those? Or are we going to say that Milton, Shakespeare, Dickens, Joyce, Twain, Melville, Bronte, Austen, Poe, Cicero, Aristotle, and James aren't worth reading because they're like, y'know, old?

    Besides, I've already suggested that some arrangement be made with loaner Kindles to allow them to access to a wide variety electronic books through a library system via their built-in 3G connections. What's wrong with that idea?
     
  23. Narutakikun

    Narutakikun Jedi Knight star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2012
    My dad said similar things about vinyl records in 1983 or so.
     
    Rogue_Ten likes this.
  24. Blithe

    Blithe Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 24, 2003



    Depending on the costs involved, I think this could be a pretty good way to supplement library access for those who live too far away to drive to their library.
     
  25. Eeth-my-Koth

    Eeth-my-Koth Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    May 25, 2001
    Narutakikun, we thank you for starting this thread. Now kindly leave. :)