“It’s hard for me to even remember the last time I was in a library.
[I]t’s impossible to see a world where we keep libraries open simply to pretend they still serve a purpose for which they no longer serve.”
The End Of The Library | TechCrunch
Well, white dude with I’m guessing considerable stock in Google, is the library just there for your needs or purposes?
Maybe you enjoyed your exercise in wordplay and making points already made. But what was your point again? Books make libraries so without books libraries aren’t libraries? Books look different so libraries can’t be libraries? Libraries look different so libraries can’t be libraries? You don’t need libraries for books so we don’t need libraries? I’m sorry, what?
Oh but wait, we’re pretending? Pretending what? Pretending there’s an access divide? Pretending there’s a digital divide? Pretending information illiteracy? Pretending folks lack job skills? Pretending college students need help with citation (BAHA HAHAHAHAHHA)? Did I get a Masters in Pretending? I MEAN I DO HAVE A GREAT IMAGINATION SO I PROBS GOT STRAIGHT A’S. OR P’S FOR PRETENDING. I’m sorry, what?
Also read this from BeerBrarian - The End of “The End of Libraries”
On Sunday, October 14th, yet another “End of Libraries” piece appeared. Per usual, it was written by a white male with no use for libraries, because every single time this trope appears, that’s part of the author’s demographic background. Beyond that, it’s a crucial part of the author’s background. It is overwhelmingly affluent white men who argue that because they do not use something, it has no value for anyone. Libraries. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. Affordable health care. It’s the same argument.
"The internet has replaced the importance of libraries as a repository for knowledge." Ah, yes, because you can trust everything you read on the internet.
Republicans play this game all the time. “I don’t need it, therefore it’s not important and we should get rid of it.” I can vividly remember the last time I was in a library. It was three weeks ago. I needed to do research and the material I needed was not online. Not every book is completely indexed in Google Books. And yes, an ebook is cheaper and faster than buying a physical copy of a book - but it’s harder to skim through an ebook quickly, and the physical copy at the library costs you nothing (up front; tax dollars etc etc).
Like I said, I was at the library three weeks ago. It was around 4 pm on a Tuesday. And you know what? It was CROWDED. There was a packed sign-up sheet for the computers. Kids and parents abounded in the children’s section. Older people and teenagers read at the tables in the main area. I had to wait in line to check out my book.
Before that, I had spent a lot of quality time on my library’s website. I like to read both physical books and ebooks. My library does Kindle loans. OK, their website is a crappy government website, and it can be a little difficult to navigate, but it’s doable. I read books I probably couldn’t or wouldn’t pay full price for, AKA a big part of the purpose of a library.
Libraries are not useless in the digital age, and even more importantly, they aren’t all empty. Just because YOU, PERSONALLY do not need or use something doesn’t make it a charming but impractical relic of a long-forgotten age.
I work in a library. Here are some of the reasons people come to the library:
They want directions.
They want to collect food/garden/dog waste bags, all handed out free at libraries.
They want to print/photocopy/scan.
They want to access the internet, either on our computers or on their own, via the free wi-fi.
Often this is because they have to apply for benefits, housing or jobs through the official system which is only available online. If they haven’t internet at home, the library offers free internet access. Where else does that? Sometimes they aren’t computer literate, so they appreciate an environment where they can ask for help.
Maybe they’ll attend one of our free IT classes, ranging from the absolute basics to subjects such as Facebook, Office software, job hunting and how to use the Council’s Homesearch website. If they want something specific, such as how to use their own laptop or how to shop online, we can set up a one-to-one appointment, also for free.
Our study spaces are very popular. Often they are all taken by ten past nine, after we open at nine. The number of people who have asked me how much it costs and looked surprised when I explained that using the library space is free and doesn’t require you to be a member surprises me.
They want to read the newspapers or magazines the library buys (recently expanded with the launch of an emagazine service—I get to read SFX for free now, which is cool).
They’re researching their family tree and want to take advantage of the library’s subscription to Ancestry.
They want to consult the planning documents for a local development or the register of local voters.
They want to participate in a council consultation.
They may have come to seek advice from an agency that operates a drop-in session at the library, such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or the police.
They may be attending an event, either run by the library (an author talk, a book group, baby Rhymetime) or by an outside company who have rented the meeting rooms (theatre productions, ESOL classes, yoga). The library itself has regular events for babies, children, teenagers, adults, adults with mental health difficulties, adults learning English…
We have regular class visits from the local schools. We read them a story and they all choose a book. Sometimes we go to them. It was actually really lovely to see how many children came into the library, talking excitedly about the Summer Reading Challenge we came and told them in Assembly.
Children still look for books when they’re doing their homework, you know. Children who weren’t born at the time of the Millennium and have grown up with the internet.
People actually still read books. Over thirty thousand items were issued in my library last month, and while we certainly have DVDs, Blu-Rays, CDs, Talking Books, Language Courses, all those added together can’t be more than a couple of thousand.
Free books. I’m sorry, I am never over how wondrous that is. Thousands of books, free to borrow and read. (And for those incapable of making the journey to the library, we have a Housebound service.)
For all these reasons, we are really busy. Dozens of people join every day. Hundreds of people walk through the doors every day. Of course, there are people who don’t make use of libraries, who don’t need them. But really, someone who can’t remember the last time they went to the library can have no idea of the role they play.
Libraries are not irrelevant. Libraries are not cultural artefacts. Libraries are living and changing, a resource and a social space, free at the point of access, engaging the community, offering a wide range of services, accessible to all. And what other institution can you say that about? Libraries are important.
Libraries serve everyone, from infants to seniors. They are damn good at utilizing their resources, responding to the needs of the community, and moving with the times.
Don’t you talk shit about libraries.
Even beyond the simple practical need for libraries, I hink there’s another reason why we should keep them around:
Pure hedonistic delight.
Seriously, we culturally evaluate institutions solely based on things like convenience, speed, efficiency, bla bla bla. As a result, over the past few decades we’ve seen more and more questioning of the “value” of public spaces and institutions… and even private material gathering sites like bookstores. Increasingly the answer seems to be that we can let those things fall away as outdated entities.
It seems to me that there’s something very real lost when life becomes nonphysical in orientation, when we convert public gathering spaces to digital spaces. We lose chance, we lose spontaneity, we lose the tactile pleasure of moving through a space that is familiar but also perpetually changing. (And, importantly for the neoliberal and neoconservative agendas, we lose a place to gather democratically!)
What’s so great about these spaces is that they allow us to lose ourselves for a while in a way that I honestly, truly, despite my transhumanist leanings, believe we can online, because they allow us to become lost in the sensations of our bodies, not lost from the sensations of our bodies.
And the amazing thing about libraries is that anyone can get lost that way, because libraries are, at least frequently, open to all.
Of course, some will, as they always do, argue that the market can’t support these kinds of spaces. That’s why Borders caved, right? It was a good idea that couldn’t work.
My answer to that should be obvious.
If Capitalism cannot support spaces that exist for democratically accessible pleasure, then the problem is not with those spaces.
The problem is with Capitalism.
"We lose chance, we lose spontaneity"
This is my favorite thing about libraries. I do a fair bit of stumbling and wandering online. I love the random button and clicking link after link on wikis or following strange strange internet paths until I have 30 new tabs open. But none of this is the same as stumbling into the “one act play” section of your library while looking for the books on music history. Or randomly opening a book because the title catches your eye as you walk between shelves. Library organization, for all the Dewey and Congressional systems do sorting things, are far less predictive or restrictive than the algorithums that suggest things online, via Amazon or google books or Wikipedia’s “also see.” Even if every book near the one you are looking for is going to be tangentially related, there is still so much more chance than there is even browsing on the libraries website where you search by keyword or topic. I know whenever I have ever had to write papers, and went to the library, I always ended up finding a book or two nearby that I didn’t see on the search.
But another thing that wasn’t mentioned, in addition to magazine and news paper subscriptions, some libraries have academic journal subscriptions, either in print or online.
I haven’t been to a public library since high school because of being at a university, but even a university library can very easily tell you how stupid this point is. Most of those kids are using the library as a safe, quiet study space, or for the computers. Some of them are using it for the giant very specific reference books. Historians, specifically art historians, are using it to access original versions of folios or old illustrations, or printings. We had a rare books collection and preservation staff and again, for all my own transhumanist leanings, if you can’t understand the reason there might be some unique information in holding or having access to an original, I do even know what to say.
All of this is meant to be in addition to the points above, such as copying, scanning, etc. and access for those who do not have it.
P.S. I think Libraries provide something book stores don’t in that to a certain extent, they can afford to keep books out that might not be super popular or generally appealing, while book stores have to concern their stock with what will sell - this puts more constraint on the things you can stumble into at (especially main stream new) book stores.