"No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library." ~Samuel Johnson
March 31, 2011 6:12 AM   Subscribe

Is a library without books still a library? Newport Beach library is considering closing its original library and replacing it with a community center that would offer all the same features — except for the books.
posted by Fizz (81 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is slightly anecdotal, but the fact that this comes out of Newport fucking Beach is extremely surprising as Southern Californian native. Newport Beach is very rich, and very conservative, and one would expect them to have the best-staffed libraries, or at least have very well-protected (and endowed) libraries.

However, upon further reading, the article seems suspiciously devoid of fact, with multiple anecdotes of prior precedent being listed, and very little actual legislation or fact shown. Aside from a small reference to a proposal:

"So Newport Beach is weighing a Netflix-like system in which readers could order books and then pick them up from lockers at an "electronic library,"...

There seems to be very little actual activity or concrete information to distinguish a simple proposal from actual legislation. I tried googling, but all the other articles just reference this article. (seriously, all the articles just say some version of "...according to the LA Times. I think that's pretty lazy, but ymmv)
posted by kurosawa's pal at 6:24 AM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Finally, a place to smell overpowering B.O. without the distraction of a good book!
posted by DU at 6:25 AM on March 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is a library without books still a library?

No. Next question.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:27 AM on March 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


Newport Beach is very rich, and very conservative, and one would expect them to have the best-staffed libraries, or at least have very well-protected (and endowed) libraries.

On the contrary - with the ongoing redefinition of "conservative", this is exactly what I expect.

But yeah, it's impossible to tell from the article if this is a serious proposal.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:28 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Finally, a place to smell overpowering B.O. without the distraction of a good book!

ha!

The entire front corridor and lobby of the Harold Washington Library Center always smells like someone applied a whole lot of Speed Stick just a little too late. (Has anyone else noticed this?) The library proper doesn't have any weird smells, though.
posted by phunniemee at 6:29 AM on March 31, 2011


But yeah, it's impossible to tell from the article if this is a serious proposal.

Here you go:

"The plan is not yet carved in stone, said Cynthia Cowell, library services director for the Newport Beach Public Library, and it is part of an overall strategy under consideration to move the branch out of its old digs and into spanking new 2,200-square foot quarters in the proposed Marina Park project. “It’s a project that’s still very much on the drawing board,” Cowell said." - MSNBC
posted by Fizz at 6:31 AM on March 31, 2011


> "You don't want to be like the railroads and go out of business."

Well, a for-profit library is called a bookstore...but what the hell, let's do it. Public libraries are moving towards a community centre model anyway, so let's go the full monty. Get rid of everything except the wireless signal, some chairs and a few computers for the losers who are too poor to afford laptops. Maybe throw a Starbucks kiosk in there so that when it gets fully privatized they can just replace the sign out front and be good to go.

/ HAMBURGER
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:32 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This happened on my campus about ten years ago: the "undergraduate library" still stands, but now has no books, just three floors of computer clusters and fast food. It's revolting, and it literally stinks (of french fry grease). University librarians, WTF???
posted by philokalia at 6:33 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Instead of a reference librarian, patrons would be greeted by a kiosk equipped with video-calling software that would allow them to speak with employees elsewhere. And books — when ordered — would be dropped off at a locker for pickup.

[...]

In Newport Beach, which has four city libraries, officials analyzed how patrons use them. Most visit the branches to study, to plug their laptops into work spaces or to use computers with Internet connections.

Few, however, actually pulled books from the shelves.
Sounds less bad when you view the situation from this perspective.

As someone who reads constantly and a lot I don't think literature should be about dedicated physical spaces - libraries - and specific implementations - printed books - but rather about information, knowledge and emotions that literature transfer to the reader. Soon there will be generations who have never visited a library or read a printed book and they won't be worse of because of that any more than the lack of usage of parchments or papyrus in our societies.

As far as I'm concerned, my generation and previous ones are clinging on to nostalgia and also harming literature by stifling innovation in this space. As soon as there is a fully functional system of e-books, reading devices and rights management, it's goodbye printed books as far as I am concerned.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:39 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


"A lot of people still want to touch a book, hold a book, smell it," said Cynthia Cowell, library services director for the Newport Beach Public Library.

Finally, a place to smell overpowering B.O. without the distraction of a good book!


It is a constant amazement and irritation to me that I have never seen a single discussion of the future of libraries and the printed book that doesn't focus on the issue of smell.

There's no doubt in my mind that over time, the primary method by which information is exchanged will transition away from medium of print on paper. The advantages to electronic transmission and storage are too great for that not to happen. That time is not yet--the production of printed books is greater than ever before.

When it does happen, this will not (or at least need not, except in the minds of delusional budget cutters) mean the death of libraries, nor will it diminish the importance of librarians as experts in information-finding. To me, the most disturbing part of the plan is to substitute video conferencing for an onsite librarian. That strikes me as a pretty subpar way to provide reference services.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:40 AM on March 31, 2011


goodbye printed books as far as I am concerned

I'm sorry, this is a good thing, how? I want to hear how limiting usage of language can be winning.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:42 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


To me, the most disturbing part of the plan is to substitute video conferencing for an onsite librarian. That strikes me as a pretty subpar way to provide reference services.

Accessing Science Fiction!
posted by Fizz at 6:43 AM on March 31, 2011


As soon as they make an e-reader that is anywhere close to being as ergonomic and multi-purpose as a book, I'll be happy to try one.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:45 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


that which have been called libraries have evolved over time so that old guys like me recall when they had only books and magazines and papers. Then they added films, and next they added DVDs, and then pictures art) you could borrow....they explained this to me by saying that they cater to what the public wants since they pay the taxes for the "library."

It was also a useful hangout for the homeless since it was public and they could not kick a homeless person out if he was not causing a fuss. So it is still useful...bring cell phones, though, so you can annoy others.
posted by Postroad at 6:45 AM on March 31, 2011


You don't want to be like the railroads and go out of business.

Nobody tell Warren Buffet, ok?
posted by The Hamms Bear at 6:45 AM on March 31, 2011


Oh yeah, railroads! Those are a great idea also ruined by a invention & industry hellbent on convincing people they shouldn't share!
posted by activitystory at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


that which have been called libraries have evolved over time so that old guys like me recall when they had only books and magazines and papers. Then they added films, and next they added DVDs, and then pictures art) you could borrow....they explained this to me by saying that they cater to what the public wants since they pay the taxes for the "library."

this was the end. public libraries died long ago when the model shifted from edification to consumer satisfaction... not to romanticize the paternalism of the past too much.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:48 AM on March 31, 2011


Anyone who can read can read a book.

You need a certain default level of computer literacy to be able to read on an electronic device. You need reliable electricity, too, and the ability to load the device with the book.

This sort of "paperless" library is so sad to me. It cuts people who don't interact well with keyboards out of the loop. And there are plenty of people who don't have the skills required to manage e devices.
posted by Jilder at 6:49 AM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


As soon as there is a fully functional system of e-books, reading devices and rights management, it's goodbye printed books as far as I am concerned.

That's a lot of obstacles. I have nothing against e-books per se, but I am a huge fan of libraries. Coming up with a way to lend both readers and e-books that is cost effective for the libraries and makes the publishers happy is a long, long way off.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:52 AM on March 31, 2011


You don't want to be like the railroads and go out of business.

Wait, the railroads are out of business?

Well, who the fuck keeps whizzing through town on those two metal rails a dozen times a day, blowing their fucking horn at all hours?
posted by hippybear at 6:56 AM on March 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Instead of a reference librarian, patrons would be greeted by a kiosk equipped with video-calling software that would allow them to speak with employees elsewhere.

Yes, because instead of dealing directly with a person, it's so much more satisfying and cost-effective to buy "video calling software" to speak to someone elsewhere. Nothing provides that authentic fast-food experience quite like hearing "drive around and pick up your books kindle" through a broken speaker phone.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:58 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the great joys of visiting the NPB library on a Sunday afternoon is to be able to browse the stacks and serendipitously find new books or authors I might not have otherwise paid any attention to. Now I'll just have to go to Borders...oh wait, it closed. Hmmm.
posted by stonedcoldsober at 7:00 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


until they start making a huge electronic display wall where you can browse titles and serendipitously find a book...
posted by ejaned8 at 7:04 AM on March 31, 2011


The article's actually a pretty decent summary of what's going on, not just at Newport Beach, but elsewhere. It's not "devoid of fact": the fact is, the University of Texas opened "an engineering and technology library in September with no paper annals, but access to 425,000 e-books and 18,000 e-journal subscriptions"; the fact is, Stanford University opened a "new Engineering Library ... in August with about a quarter of the 80,000 books it had before"; the fact is, California's budgetary situation (and that in other states) will probably necessitate changes like this in many communities unless there's some sort of unforetold pushback.

I hope books never go completely away. Maybe that's quixotic, but that's just me. I would agree with what Foci for Analysis says otherwise.

kurosawa's pal: Newport Beach is very rich, and very conservative, and one would expect them to have the best-staffed libraries, or at least have very well-protected (and endowed) libraries.

The richest and most conservative communities are the communities that want least to shell out higher local taxes to pay for public libraries' upkeep. The richest and most conservative communities are full of letters to the editor about what an anachronism and what a drain and what a magnet for the homeless and other undesirables public libraries are. So, no, not surprising at all.
posted by blucevalo at 7:07 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Finally, a place to smell overpowering B.O. without the distraction of a good book!

ha!


Finally, LOL-Homeless-People-Smell-Bad-Amirite comments!
posted by aught at 7:09 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


As a former resident of Orange County and frequent visitor to the Newport Beach libraries, this really bums me out. When I didn't have internet at my house I would often ride my bike and use their wifi. But I also checked out books there quite frequently. But hey, Orange County is terrible, so I'm not surprised.

I'm wondering though, how they think this technology would work. I used to see a lot of older people at the library. And given the choice between the electronic check out and checking out at the desk with the librarian, a lot of them would check out with the librarian. I just wonder how they anticipate rolling out this new system when a lot of their users are perhaps not as quick to adapt to new technologies as younger folks.
posted by too bad you're not me at 7:10 AM on March 31, 2011


late 14c., from Anglo-Fr. librarie, from O.Fr. librairie "collection of books," noun use of adj. librarius "concerning books," from L. librarium "chest for books," from liber (gen. libri) "book, paper, parchment," originally "the inner bark of trees," probably a derivative of PIE base *leub(h)- "to strip, to peel"

So, no.
posted by Decani at 7:11 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm cool with, say, Thomas' Calculus being an ebook, but not so much with that hand-pulled etched-plate memoir of African Adventures, bound in hairy elephant hide, that I found shelved in a University library, right along with all the other books.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:17 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The advantages to electronic transmission and storage are too great for that not to happen.

Advantages of paper transmission and storage:

--You can leaf through a book, extremely rapidly, attempting to find a spot you vaguely remember. I find this to be a more effective way of searching for a dimly remembered passage than search terms could ever be. Leafing back to a previous page to clarify a point is also much easier with a physical book; I would not want to read a textbook on an e-reader.

--Books come in many shapes and sizes, which in some cases can complement the content of the book well. Art books would not, for example, be very effective on a Kindle.

--I have in many cases found a book that I ended up loving by browsing through stacks at the library, taking books down and glancing at them. There's really not an analogue of this with e-books.

--You can (legally) share paper books. You can just hand them to people! You might even get them back some day!

--You don't need electricity, or an expensive breakable device, to read them. Anyone can read them; the only potential barrier is the ability to read, not the owning of an iPad or the ability to use electronic devices in the first place.

--When someone comes over to your house, they can, at a glance, get an idea of what kind of paper books you read. Possibly a bad thing; certainly, all my vampire erotica is in e-book form.

--Paper books can be safely read in the bathtub, at the pool, in a rainstorm, and in fact anywhere there is a source of light.

--When you own a paper book, it can only be taken from you by theft. This has not always proved to be the case with e-books (1984 on the Kindle, for example).

--Yes, paper books smell fucking good. They do.

For all these reasons, while I might own an e-reader at some point, it will never, ever be the primary way I read books.
posted by IjonTichy at 7:18 AM on March 31, 2011 [23 favorites]


Finally, LOL-Homeless-People-Smell-Bad-Amirite comments!

Good luck finding homeless people in NPB. That smell you smell is more likely eau de cougar.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:24 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have in many cases found a book that I ended up loving by browsing through stacks at the library, taking books down and glancing at them. There's really not an analogue of this with e-books.

This. The problem with electronic sources -- including Google's search -- is that you have to know what you're looking for before you can access it. You cannot go to Google Books and just 'run across' a book, you have to tell it what you're looking for first. I've read many books simply by walking the aisles looking for a title that jumps out at me. As research goes, I love Google Books, but if I'm looking for something new to read I have to go to the library and wander.

Plus, the library is cheaper. Daughter inadvertently broke the screen on her Sony Touch within a few weeks of owning it. It's cheaper to buy a new one than to fix it, but when it comes to spending $160 to read books, that doesn't show up very high on our budget. Library's free, thank you very much socialism!
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:26 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have in many cases found a book that I ended up loving by browsing through stacks at the library, taking books down and glancing at them. There's really not an analogue of this with e-books.

Silly person! Marketing departments will make recommendations to you based on an algorithm of your previous selections (regardless of whether you downloaded a book and discarded it after two pages as unreadable or you absolutely treasure a book) and what publishing houses are paying them to flog.

I have been told more than once on MetaFilter that my love of bookstores and libraries with actual books is foolish because e-books are so shiny!!!Look how pretty and expensive it is!! And also homeless people smell bad and bookstore clerks are stupid.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:38 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


It doesn't stand up to scrutiny even on its face. The kiosks will costs, their maintenance will cost, the book subscription system will cost, the pickup lockers will cost, and ferrying the books around to libraries will cost (gas, vehicles, drivers).

Those video conference systems are just a contractor payoff scheme. Find out who's going to build and maintain them and then find out how much they contributed to City Manager Dave Kiff's election campaign, the Mayoral Campaign, or if (more likley) there's some other neppotisim between the two.

Those facts should then be part of every public statement made by the librarians, and the subject of a full page Ad in the LA Times and The Daily Pilot, funded by donations solicited of all Orange County librarians.

Get cracking, librarians.
posted by clarknova at 7:38 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyone who can read can read a book.

You need a certain default level of computer literacy to be able to read on an electronic device. You need reliable electricity, too, and the ability to load the device with the book.


This. It is silly to assume that everyone in the whole world who currently reads printed material would have the access to e-readers or the internet that people in the US do.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:41 AM on March 31, 2011


I think there's a lot going on here, some good and some bad.

1. Physically having books is a different experience from having potential books (online, downloadable). Being able to stroll among books, looking at them and easily laying out a bunch of them on the table (for example) makes certain types of scholarship, inspiration and comparison easier. Physically browsing the stacks allows more randomness more easily than searching an archive--ie, I can easily look at a very, very wide range of books on history without having to know much about what is out there. I can browse all the fiction without having to narrow it down by author or genre. This has been very productive for me in the past.

2. But libraries of course can't hold every book ever, so the physical browsing is necessarily limited.

3. Libraries have been trending away from scholarship and browsing for at least the past ten years. In the libraries where I grew up, the shelves were full. Some time in the past decade, it has become library standard procedure that full shelves are off-putting and that older or less popular books should be culled or put in the stacks so that each shelf can be kept about 2/3 full. Because I am a compulsive and speedy reader, I have no idea how casual readers feel about full versus half-full shelves. This could in fact be the best approach.

4. Libraries don't really have especially classy origins, IIRC. Circulating libraries lent out three volume novels and so on in their early days. It's not that DVDs and games are really a total break with library tradition. The lamentable part is that there aren't really the union, church and various workers' group libraries that used to lend out more serious material.

5. It's probably more essential to the community that low-income people have cheap/free internet access than that they have paper books, given the way our society is shaping up.

I mean, I wish things were different. I wish there were large libraries full of paper books, with DVDs, games and downloads seen as supplementary. I wish that we as a society made the ability to read, understand and enjoy extended, complex material a central focus of literacy. (And my own experience of reading online material and downloads suggests that although you certainly can read extended and complex material online, the medium skews toward multiple shorter, simpler things.) But it's not unreasonable to change the way libraries work.
posted by Frowner at 7:42 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's a library in Orange County likely to stock, anyway? The complete works of Orly Taitz and a couple of seasons of Real Housewives? If that library really wants to serve its patrons they should make fake tans and breast implants available for loan.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:46 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This. It is silly to assume that everyone in the whole world who currently reads printed material would have the access to e-readers or the internet that people in the US do.

Indeed, it's also worth remembering that not everyone in the US has the same access to the internet that we do. (I haven't read it all yet, but Jessamyn did a talk on this a few weeks ago: 22% of Americans don't have any internet at home).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:47 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have in many cases found a book that I ended up loving by browsing through stacks at the library, taking books down and glancing at them. There's really not an analogue of this with e-books.

Actually, every single e-book I've checked out so far has been an impulse checkout, something I found while scrolling through the online catalog. It's satisfying in a different way from just wandering through the stacks, but I am not finding it less satisfying.

But I like electronic books as an adjunct to traditional media, not as a replacement--in the same way that I have a few thousand records, but I'm grateful for digital music on a daily-use basis.
posted by padraigin at 7:47 AM on March 31, 2011


Actually, every single e-book I've checked out so far has been an impulse checkout, something I found while scrolling through the online catalog. It's satisfying in a different way from just wandering through the stacks, but I am not finding it less satisfying.

I do this all the time. And also most of those books have free chapters for download before you decide to purchase.
posted by Fizz at 7:53 AM on March 31, 2011


My idea of a perfect library:

- A place I can go to study / read in a Starbucks like atmosphere without having to actually purchase something or be in a commercial store (this seems to meet the criteria).

- Allowing me to checkout a wide variety of books and textbooks. No, I'm not looking for a 6 year old copy of C++ for dummies. I might want to check out "Dynamic Hedging" or one of Donald Knuth's books. I don't mind picking it up in a locker, but I want the resources of a well stocked university library. I don't even mind not taking it out of the library, I just want to stop spending $100 on textbooks via Amazon.com, and then have it just sit on my bookshelf when I'm done with it. Seems like this is what libraries are for.

- Hey looks like my TimeWarner iPad app can tell whether or not I'm using a router near a set top box (I assume they do this via IP filtering). Couldn't the same be done for libraries? I don't even need the physical book, just let me browse in a limitless manner, whenever I'm in a library.

Okay I know this isn't within the realm of what libraries seem to do now, which is help old people learn how to double click and serve as a repository for homeless people to look at porn. I have much respect for libraries and what they try to do, and I realize it is hella classist to say that libraries should cater to me and my $500 devices, but there's no reason they can do this too alongside with what they do now, with the added bonus of being seeing a benefit to the middle class who is so quick to cut funding when they see it as an antiquated version of Amazon.com.

If a private company, Google, can scan and deliver all written work for free (or at least they'd like to), couldn't the government fund something for 1/100 the cost it took to bomb Libya?
posted by geoff. at 7:56 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


My worry is that electronic books cause shocks if your hands are sweaty or wet...you could get electrocuted, perhaps. Why won't they talk about that problem?
posted by Postroad at 7:58 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


If a private company, Google, can scan and deliver all written work for free (or at least they'd like to), couldn't the government fund something for 1/100 the cost it took to bomb Libya?

Why doesn't Google start libraries, then?

I'm halfway serious.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:58 AM on March 31, 2011


For those lamenting the lack of serendipity in browsing ebooks, there's always Library Thing, which many libraries are starting to integrate into their catalog.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2011


I'm sorry, this is a good thing, how? I want to hear how limiting usage of language can be winning.

Actually, it's physical books that limit access to "language", ie. written works. Why E-readers Are Good for Books: People Read More
posted by beagle at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2011


The problem seems to be that it's not entirely clear, or at least not entirely agreed upon, what the mission of a public library is.

It's not like we're talking about the water department, where you can pretty easily pin down what their job is and whether or not they're doing it correctly. (Water doesn't come out? Bad. Water comes out brown? Bad. Water makes your teeth and hair fall out? Probably also bad.)

But what's the mission of a public library? Education? Entertainment? Providing a space for the local AA chapter's meetings? Good luck trying to get agreement on that. And for lack of a clear mission it seems like a lot of libraries fall into the "whatever people want us to be" trap, which tends towards a Starbucks with less pressure to buy coffee, and possibly also free daycare.

I understand the impulse to serve the community (and for an organization, any organization, to perpetuate itself and to try and prevent its own annihilation) but at some point wouldn't it be better to say "look, this isn't what a library is. What you want isn't actually a library" and let people build a community center or a taxpayer-funded coffee shop or a daycare or whatever it is that they actually want, and let them decide whether they really want to be a community without a library ... rather than a community with a "library" that's actually something else.

It seems like this is one of those situations where giving people what they want might actually be worse in the long run than just refusing, since by compromising you let people feel like they still have a library when in reality they have a gutted shell.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:12 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can leaf through a book, extremely rapidly, attempting to find a spot you vaguely remember.

Yup. I got a Kindle 3 this week, and it's been bugging me like a loose tooth that there's no way to simulate a riffle through the pages. I hadn't realized just how useful that ability is until, in the course of reading Nicholas Nickleby, I wanted to refer to a previous appearance by a character and discovered that the simplest way* to do that took upwards of thirty seconds. Doing the same with paper likely would have taken less than five.

*"MENU"; "SEARCH"; LABORIOUSLY TYPE CHARACTER'S NAME; SELECT GENERAL VICINITY OF DESIRED INCIDENT; ADVANCE, PAGE UNIT BY PAGE UNIT, UNTIL ARRIVAL AT DESIRED INCIDENT
posted by Iridic at 8:21 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love the idea of libraries providing more electronic services. I don't understand how taking out the books helps them. There are going to be fixed costs in maintaining a community space. Keeping it suitable for study is going to involve partitioning and provisions for distance and isolation, which is going to mean vertical separators and space. Even if paper books didn't have any particular merit over electronic texts (though they do), you may as well keep a well-curated collection of books in there somewhere.
posted by weston at 8:22 AM on March 31, 2011


no, with reservations.
posted by clavdivs at 8:45 AM on March 31, 2011


The libraries are providing greater electronic services in a public and pseudonymous setting, while the internet is becoming increasingly populated with pirated books.

Hmm...
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:47 AM on March 31, 2011


--I have in many cases found a book that I ended up loving by browsing through stacks at the library, taking books down and glancing at them. There's really not an analogue of this with e-books.
This.

Our local library is spending a lot of money to expand the physical structure, while reducing the collection size. They're also putting in a "game room" that will have console games, you know, so teens will think the library is cool! And when one complains, they wave hands and say, oh, we can get books from other libraries for you. Not the point. I want to walk through the stacks and explore, not have Amazon-like "people who read this also read that" suggestions.

This whole trend makes me feel like I'm 85 f'ing years old, the world has unanimously voted to suck from now on, and that I should just die already so it can get on sucking without me whining about it.
posted by richyoung at 8:51 AM on March 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


At least from a public library perspective, this is not surprising to me. I am however surprised by the academic library examples. Its been pretty clear to me that the public library as a concept is changing or at least seeking to serve their communities differently. I can see many users finding the library wifi signal more interesting than the books within, which is very sad.

The local public library is only about a mile down the road for me, as such it works well as a convenient location. However, their actual shelf space is not that significant as it is a fairly small building, so I primarily use it to order books through the library system.

I could see them working towards a system that cut down their staff significantly, currently they must have 5 or so employees with a librarian as the manager.

I liked the book vending machine idea posted sometime ago, just not as a replacement to library staff when available. As pointed out, browsing and library staff are much better at recommendations than than any search system.

I do have a Kindle 3 which I absolutely love, a fact that distresses me. Beyond the base functionality, which is very good, my only issue is the tactile and sensory issues involved. Its a hard plastic shell, it gets dusty, beyond the screen it doesn't feel like reading a book. While this tactile issue may not be important to some, I think there is a huge issue here for anyone who has spent significantly more of their life reading paperbacks than reading with a Kindle or other e-reader.
posted by graxe at 9:01 AM on March 31, 2011


Find a way to convincingly argue for something that has no economic or 'empirical' foundation, and you can all have your library back. Until then, welcome to the reductionist nihilism of our contemporary times. You can't just claim a library is Good anymore. They'll just lecture you about how Good doesn't pay for their budgets, or that Good doesn't add up to much on the reports, or that Good doesn't matter because "Government is a Business."

A longer reply may be approximated by rereading the paragraph above and replacing the word 'library' with each of the following items: NASA, Civil Rights, General Research, Public Education. . . .
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The richest and most conservative communities are the communities that want least to shell out higher local taxes to pay for public libraries' upkeep. The richest and most conservative communities are full of letters to the editor about what an anachronism and what a drain and what a magnet for the homeless and other undesirables public libraries are. So, no, not surprising at all.

I live in Oakland, which like many other cities has been forced to reduce library services. Within Oakland is an extremely wealthy enclave that refused to be incorporated years ago. The median income in the City of Piedmont is 134,270, while Oakland's is 46,766. A few days ago, Piedmont declared that it will no longer pay for library services from Oakland, even though Piedmont has no libraries of their own. Their reasoning is that any California resident can get an Oakland library card, so why should they pay? Oakland taxpayers pay about 130 dollars per household for the library.

Emeryville also uses OPL, and offered to pay more when they renewed their contract. It is the home of Pixar, but it's median income is still only 45,359.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:06 AM on March 31, 2011


This has been happening to many of the subject-specific libraries at my university - whole libraries are being moved to the annex, and you need to order them to be delivered to one of the surviving ones. I certainly understand the financial pressures, but it's a real shame that we're losing our ability to browse, both from a reading-for-pleasure and (perhaps more importantly) a research standpoint.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:15 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The music industry changed at a tortoise's pace compared to what is happening now with the publishing industry. Regarding libraries: even five years ago I would have to say "excuse me" every few minutes when browsing the stacks. Doesn't happen anymore. Seems like I'm the only guy looking at books in the downtown library. It's almost creepy, if you ask me. There are pod people everywhere. Yeah, I have a cell phone in my pocket (and a magazine in my coat pocket), but nothing stuck in my ears. I feel like the world is slowly being replaced by pod people. Yes, I get the advantages of ebooks. And I definitely don't miss the process of tracking down information in, say, the University of North Carolina's Journal of Neuropsychiatry way back in the stacks when the article in question can be brought up on the screen thanks to the university's scholarly subscription service.

But browsing the stacks is still a great research method, whether you're writing a paper or just learning about something for fun.

Oh, and one more thing about real books: you don't have to treat a book like the Hope Diamond. You can throw it in your backpack, drop it on the floor, and no one is going to steal it if you leave it on a desk for a few minutes while you go the bathroom.
posted by kozad at 9:17 AM on March 31, 2011


I'm slowly getting used to using a ebook reader (although reading rpg pdfs on my nook color is painful at best). The lack of speedy browsing through previously read documents in order to find a choice passage is definitely slower. I guess I should be marking said passages with annotations that I can find in the future but it's often hard to determine what specific passages you'll need to quickly find in the future.

At some point in time though I suspect that it will definitely make my life easier by allowing me to keep a ton of freaking articles and books in one location that I can easily annotate for research papers and such.
posted by vuron at 9:19 AM on March 31, 2011


They should replace libraries with bombs. oh wait....
posted by Philipschall at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2011


Well, that First World thing was nice while it lasted.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:49 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


On the flip side- book vending machines. They were going to get the librarians to go on the trains to restock/unload 'em, but that... fell off the rails.
posted by LD Feral at 9:54 AM on March 31, 2011


I'm not sure that a Redbox style book check-out system isn't a somewhat decent solution for some communities. I just don't see how you can implement it in a manner that doesn't cost a fortune to implement and take up a ridiculous amount of space. Even if you are only talking about bestsellers the space each copy takes up is far in excess of what a DVD requires.

Now lending ebooks for a limited period would reduce the demand for libraries to purchase a huge number of copies of bestsellers but it seems like publishers want to limit that sort of system to a finite number of ebook lends per library. So even though it would be a good solution to the issue of buying books that you will later need to sell it seems that Libraries are being prevented from actively embracing ebooks as a solution.
posted by vuron at 10:23 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


bluecevalo and ryanshepherd have it, of course. Rich people buy a book when they want to read it. The very purpose of libraries in this country when they were something of a movement was to extend literacy and culture to the then relatively uncultured and uneducated lower classes who couldn't afford to buy many books for themselves.

This is precisely what rich people don't want. They are a civic good, and rich conservatives don't believe in civic goods. A library brings those lower classes into their communities, and represents a transfer of wealth from rich people's taxes to the benefits of people other than themselves.
posted by Naberius at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


Paper is by far the most robust and accessible way to access information. I don't think anyone should have to purchase a product from a electronics manufacturer to be able to read a book.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:47 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Even if it's the most robust and accessible manner of accessing information does maintaining hardcopy books have an economic cost that wouldn't be present if information dispersal was primarily done through e-books?

If such then it does become a good question as to whether it makes sense to maintain the old school paper lending method or wholesale adopt a ebook lending platform or maybe a blended model.

With limits on resources it becomes important for public administrators (like librarians) to justify the efficacy and efficiency of their policy decisions. It's quite possible that a shift to ebooks and computer terminals was the "optimal" solution given the specific needs of the community as a whole. Yes that invariably means that the needs of some constituents are not going to be met but that's the eternal struggle for public administrators: how to do the most good for the most number of people.
posted by vuron at 11:00 AM on March 31, 2011


Holding a library card for that very branch i can say that the computers were always better used than people browsing. In addition any books looked for generally had to come down from the main library anyway. The main use appears to be as a childrens community classroom that was well attended and housing the nautical collection that was empty of people everytime i went in.
The wifi and computers were/are the most used part. Having the books available in a day or so would not be an issue as most users live within easy walking or biking distance. The peninsula is its own little world.
In addition i see a move to the, always in the future, marina park is planned. This is more an excuse to sell land that will put some short term money in the city. The library plus parking lot and in good time probably moving the fire station is an enormous plot of land on the peninsula. Four to Eights houses worth probably with the tax revenue as well. If no one was bothered when they bulldozed the 1930's market on the peninsula they wont be bothered by this.
posted by stuartmm at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2011


. I don't think anyone should have to purchase a product from a electronics manufacturer to be able to read a book.

No reason it has to be that way for a library. And those above talking about what happens elsewhere in the world: everything doesn't have to switch at once. The first places you would see an experiment like this are rich, first-world communities where electricity/etc aren't an issue.

But think of this: a device similar to a Kindle, but without any wireless/cellular stuff. Loaded up at library with books. Battery life is in days, so you could even charge it solely at the library, although in the US virtually everyone has power so it would be a very small subset of people who would need to go back to the library to charge.

Cost of such a device would be very low, you would have access to any book in the system at any time regardless of how many people have checked it out.

The only real barrier to this system is the legal one of copying/distribution rights. That's solvable, but harder than the technical problem which is basically already solved.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2011


(Ah, left out: the idea is you are borrowing, not purchasing, the reader. So there is no cost, same as today)
posted by wildcrdj at 11:12 AM on March 31, 2011


I have trouble reading comix on a compy screen. I cannot afford to buy expensive graphic novels. It would suck massively if my local libraries suddenly did this. Thanks for listening.
posted by not_on_display at 11:17 AM on March 31, 2011


My mother is on the board of the NBPL. She made a few points:

1. Patrons already use the reserve-and-deliver service heavily, so partly this really is response to user demand. I live in Seattle and do the same thing -- with a good website it's much easier to browse online (where you have reviews and everything) and have the book delivered to the branch most convenient to you. I work a block from the huge, very expensive Seattle Central Branch, and rarely go more than 30 feet into the building where the reserved stacks are.

2. The branch that they're considering closing isn't the fairly new main branch, but one of the satellites whose building is basically ready to be condemned.

3. NB has 4 branches, whereas most cities of comparable size have just one.

I'm normally the last person to defend anything that happens in Orange County, but a lot of the attention around this seems to be LOLIgnorantRepublicans. But even OC has its liberals, and the library is one of the few parts of the civic space they own. So any snark is poorly aimed IMO.
posted by bjrubble at 11:22 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Have you tried comical or sequential not_on_display? I find that both work pretty good for .cbr collections especially if you set them up to display multiple pages at once.

I wouldn't read them on a iphone or something like that but ipad or laptop works as long as the lettering quality isn't too bad.
posted by vuron at 11:24 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Ah, left out: the idea is you are borrowing, not purchasing, the reader. So there is no cost, same as today)

Unless you break or lose the reader.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:30 AM on March 31, 2011


Here in DC, we've recently undergone a massive rebuilding of our (fairly-small-compared-to-other-big-cities) library system over the past decade. We got several awesome new modern libraries, and the remaining old ones were meticulously restored and renovated. Once the charges of "elitism" settled down, this appears to have been a fantastic way to have spent our tax dollars, and we've got one of the most modern urban library systems on the planet as a result.

Although each of these buildings does still indeed house books, the buildings were not designed as warehouses for printed matter. The book selection in each of these buildings is smaller, and more carefully curated. Although the inventory across the citywide library system is pretty good, don't expect to find a rare/obscure book at your neighborhood library. However, you should ideally be able to find anything that you would at a bookstore there...

Of course, there's free wireless internet, and plenty of computers at all of the branches, and the reference/periodical sections are either small or nonexistent. Books might not be dead, but printed reference materials are almost certainly on their way out. Seriously, when's the last time you picked up a volume of Britannica?

Additionally, the new libraries were all designed with huge study rooms and community meeting spaces, which DC has tried to carefully to prevent from turning into de-facto homeless shelters, like our (godawful) main branch library downtown. Only time will tell if this works, but the initial results appear to be promising.

And, no. We're not allowed to use the Library of Congress. If you're a DC resident, you get to look, but not touch. Come to think of it, this is pretty similar to the way that we're represented in congress, but I digress...
posted by schmod at 11:48 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I teach within a 5-minute drive of the main branch of this library. My students check out books there all the time, and every time I go there after school it's very busy (for a library). Yes, the people here are conservative, but they're also highly educated and recognize the value of reading.
posted by Huck500 at 12:12 PM on March 31, 2011


Find a way to convincingly argue for something that has no economic or 'empirical' foundation, and you can all have your library back. Until then, welcome to the reductionist nihilism of our contemporary times. You can't just claim a library is Good anymore. They'll just lecture you about how Good doesn't pay for their budgets, or that Good doesn't add up to much on the reports, or that Good doesn't matter because "Government is a Business."

To quote one of my library school professors: "The public good is dead."
posted by twirlip at 12:24 PM on March 31, 2011


Seriously, when's the last time you picked up a volume of Britannica?

About two weeks ago, when the broadband modem broke and I had to do battle with customer service for a few days and then wait while the replacement was shipped.
posted by weston at 12:25 PM on March 31, 2011


When you own a paper book, it can only be taken from you by theft. This has not always proved to be the case with e-books (1984 on the Kindle, for example)

I have 10 Audio Books on cassette. They are going in the trash. Nobody I know has a cassette player anymore. On the other hand, I have books that I bought as a teenager 35 years ago-- hell, I have books my parents bought, and even my grandparents bought. How long are those books that you buy for your e-reader going to be accessible?


One risk of going bookless would be in losing such tailored neighborhood branch collections, said Christine Borgman, professor of information studies at UCLA.


My partner and I are heavy users of our library's on-line reserve system; hardly a day goes by without an email telling one of us our book is ready to be picked-up. That is a phenomenal system especially now that they have put reviews and synopsis on the same page as the book listing. However, there has been one little change recently that is making a big impact: books ordered from other branches stay at whatever branch you return them to. This means for our particular branch (which is the least used of the big branches) that the stacks are becoming much less diverse and much less interesting to browse. I can order anything I want, but when I cruise the horror aisle or the carpentry aisle or the natural science aisle at my branch all I see are half-empty shelves. It is eye-opening to take an occasional trip to one of the other big branches and see what fabulous collections they have.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:31 PM on March 31, 2011


I love browsing in libraries, but I'm struggling to see how this is really that different than any other closed stack system. In graduate school, I couldn't browse through the special collections of my university library, either--but it didn't really reduce scholarship.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:09 PM on March 31, 2011


Government department librarians grar me. They're like blacksmiths standing in the foyer of a wheel balancing centre shouting to anybody who'll listen that they're doing it wrong.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:12 PM on March 31, 2011


Is there a word for me? Bookqueer? Just looking at a case full of books fills my heart with gladness. Touching, browsing, wandering the stacks.... Shall I tell you of my affair with Art History? Or my surprise at the maps in The Fellowship of the Ring? My secret place, full of Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games? Should I tell you of the time I was caught, in flagrante, with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?

Mark Twain wrote of the steamboat, and mourned it's passing in favor of the train. Arlo Guthrie mourned the train, as it too passed into myth and memory. Perhaps it is time for me, a Kindle owner, to acknowledge the passing of an era.

But I beg for a little more time.

posted by SPrintF at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2011


f you're a DC resident, you get to look, but not touch.

Get a readers card and you can touch as much as any other civilian -that is, you can use books in any Library of Congress reading room (even some very rare ones) you just can't check them out.

I'm a DC resident and use the LoC fairly regularly - it's a great resource.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:19 AM on April 1, 2011


I am a librarian and I am getting REALLY angry reading everyone's complaints about how their local public library doesn't have anything they actually want, it's smelly, they idealize books and act paternalistic, they have fewer books and are catering to "what people want" just to get people in the door, they are going so high-tech they are leaving those who don't do computers behind, they have Starbucks inside, they aren't as good as Starbucks, and everything is going to be on e-readers anyway so who cares about the stupid last-century library.

Can I just ask everyone who is complaining to ACT LIKE A HUMAN BEING AND NOT A WHINING THREE-YEAR OLD and try to find time in your busy lives to do these things before you complain again:

1. VISIT your local public library. (Yes, you may have done that quite recently, like, ten years ago, or maybe in some other city you lived in awhile back, but do it anyway.) If you don't see a service you'd like to have offered or an item you're looking for, ask about it. If the person behind the desk doesn't seem to know what you're talking about, ask a supervisor. If you want good service, if you want to get the services that would be helpful to you, YOU MUST GO LOOKING FOR THEM (and not just on the Internet), and YOU MUST ASK FOR THEM. (Yes, this means talking to a human being. You may not personally relish this idea, but be assured that there are lots of people who don't mind it, or even enjoy it.)

2. If you feel you are getting bad service, if no one at the local public library wants to listen to you, contact the library administration and tell them so--in writing, if possible. It does no good to rant on other people's MF posts about how damn smelly the place is. It's your public library. Tell them what keeps you away. They really can't read your mind.

3. If you honestly, deep down in your heart, believe that soon everyone will have e-readers and books will be antiques, and that no one who really wants one will have to be without an e-reader, here's what I want you to do. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter, your local mental hospital, your local social services nonprofit, hell, your local PUBLIC LIBRARY. Then, tell me honestly that you believe ALL the people you meet there a) can afford $130 for an e-reader and $1-10 for each book, b) are capable of using an e-reader (or have the time/skills/self-confidence to learn), and c) are okay with the idea of carrying an expensive piece of personal electronics (with little to no social or prestige value) on their person at all times, in a society where owning anything valuable can make you a target for theft and worse--especially in places YOU may not go to, but others often do, such as homeless shelters, schools, hospitals, the less-savory parts of town...

P.S.: Might I finally suggest the possibility that the Newport Beach Public Library has come to this pass precisely because they are situated in a moneyed community where people with the means to do so go to bookstores/the Internet/etc. rather than the library? Use it or lose it, people....!
posted by gillyflower at 2:59 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I said: As soon as they make an e-reader that is anywhere close to being as ergonomic and multi-purpose as a book, I'll be happy to try one.

To amplify, what someone needs to do is take one of these hinged-in-the-middle dual-screen suckers and make it possible to display two monochrome book pages instead of one book page and a tablet screen. Or, when the technology gets there, let you toggle between the two. I'd be all over that action -- as a supplement to real books rather than a substitute, of course.

You still couldn't press flowers in it, but you could stick a bookmark in there or use it as a coaster when it's closed.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:49 AM on April 2, 2011


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