California Dreamin'
February 12, 2012 3:08 AM   Subscribe

California rejects top rate tax increase, removes all state funding for CA libraries. Funding cut for "literacy programs, InterLibrary Loans, and miscellaneous expenses such as librarian training programs and books." Library Journal goes into more of the technicalities.
posted by jaduncan (266 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Editorial I didn't put in: a) seriously? and b) Silicon Valley firms, it's $12.5 million for the kind of PR boost you cannot otherwise buy.
posted by jaduncan at 3:10 AM on February 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


They were only getting around 12 million? For the entire state? (I know they have other sources, but 12 million for a state the size of California? That's almost as shocking as the complete cut.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:16 AM on February 12, 2012 [39 favorites]


I don't know the ins and outs of California's budget, but from what I understand it's not in very good shape. It seems like a remarkably foolish idea to reject a tax-increase like this, regardless of whatever happens to the libraries.

And jaduncan, that's a fantastic idea about Silicon Valley: 12.5 million dollars is peanuts to them, even the old funding of 56.8 million isn't all that much. The only thing that concerns me is that something like that sends the signal that libraries (and other things like it) shouldn't get public funding, which they obviously should.
posted by gkhan at 3:18 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


If only there were some kind of mechanism for collecting a share of revenue from companies who benefit from the educational output of the state of California that could somehow pay for the education of the next generation of workers.

Not to mention the millions of California voters who seem to want to watch their state collapse in on itself.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:21 AM on February 12, 2012 [22 favorites]


Now libraries in the Bay Area, as in the rest of the state, will lose funding for literacy programs, InterLibrary Loans, and miscellaneous expenses such as librarian training programs and books.

So it's about specific programs and not entire budgets being slashed (i.e. libraries being closed, people getting fired)?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:23 AM on February 12, 2012


It's all supposed to be available through Amazon or Google or Netflix or whatever.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:27 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Public libraries are usually paid for at the local level. Many of these programs are things that link libraries, and need to go between municipalities, so, I suppose, state funding. The problem for the staff and operating budgets comes when the municipalities have their state support cut and need to "reduce non-essential services," usually, shockingly, for populations that don't have much of a voice.

This can sometimes get pushback at the local level, since many people usually like their libraries or at least the thought of them, but if the people with voices are getting threatened with multiple service cuts, they may well like libraries hang to save the schools until their children graduate.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:29 AM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's not like shutting down libraries will actually keep kids away from books, they are easy to find. Probably will mean authors get less money though.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:50 AM on February 12, 2012


Will this adversely affect free public pornography for hobos? My vacation plans may be in jeopardy...
posted by codswallop at 3:52 AM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Will this adversely affect free public pornography for hobos?
If you aren't lucky enough to live in San Francisco and thus would need to request any of the many volumes of queer erotica owned by the San Francisco Public Library via inter-library loan, then yes.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:58 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's not like shutting down libraries will actually keep kids away from books, they are easy to find.

No offense, but those are fairly shitty books.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:01 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Libraries are more than just collections of books, furiousxgeorge. Libraries can be centers for community, learning, interaction on many levels. Libraries themselves are abject lessons in sharing and altruism (except, I guess, when they're not.)
posted by newdaddy at 4:04 AM on February 12, 2012 [27 favorites]


No offense, but those are fairly shitty books.

How To Draw Comics by Stan Lee is like Shakespeare to Metafilter.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:10 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


How To Draw Comics by Stan Lee is like Shakespeare to Metafilter.

That would mean a lot more if the library had any Shakespeare.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:17 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Libraries dying off is pretty much a death knell for democracy
posted by Renoroc at 4:20 AM on February 12, 2012 [25 favorites]


Charles Bukowski got his literary education from California's public libraries. Even though everybody seems to want to try and write like Bukowski these days, it would have been a god-damned shame if the original never gave us Ham On Rye, easily the best piece of prose the "Beat generation" ever produced.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:21 AM on February 12, 2012


Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky on hundreds of THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK pages torn from books on the shelves of California's public libraries. Imagine if we never had that iconic scene of Rocky running around the streets of New Jersey or whatever, doing long-distance endurance training for the short-and-sweet burst of energy that is face-boxing, like some kind of savant, admittedly a savant with amazing glutinous maximals.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:24 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Libraries dying off is pretty much a death knell for democracy

No, I don't think so. I agree that democracy depends on an informed populace, but I don't think traditional libraries are the best way to do that anymore.

Look at the Carnegie formula, which determined much library construction:
  • demonstrate the need for a public library;
  • provide the building site;
  • annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library's construction to support its operation;and,
  • provide free service to all.
    All that is much cheaper now. If we just digitize everything we can cut building site and operation costs to almost nothing. The only difficulty is establishing the first point, that there is a genuine need for a public library. I would argue that commercial services shouldn't control our available information.

    Also, Stallone does have amazing glutinous maximals.

  • posted by twoleftfeet at 4:33 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Imagine if we never had that iconic scene of Rocky running around the streets of New Jersey or whatever

    Dude. It's Philadelphia. I hereby command you to watch that movie again. Clearly, it's been to long.
    posted by gkhan at 4:34 AM on February 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


    Eh, I don't know. The periods of history where the state actively supported broad education for all its citizens have always been appallingly brief, sort of like the moment when a pendulum is no longer swinging in one direction, but has not yet begun swinging in the other.

    When I see things like this, it makes me sad, both for society and for myself - on one hand, it seems to indicate that "the 'good old days' have passed, and kids will never know what it's like to ..." etc, etc.

    On the other hand, it's humbling to realize that I've reached the age where I think such thoughts without irony.
    posted by Mooski at 4:36 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    It's not like shutting down libraries will actually keep kids away from books, they are easy to find.

    Huh?

    In theory and in practice, it absolutely will keep kids away from books.

    Take your link. To get one of those files you need:

    1) A computer with high speed internet access
    2) Torrent software installed
    3) The general knowledge of how to do it and that it even exists.
    4) The understanding that Torrent files are notoriously flaky, filled with viruses and often of marginal quality.
    5) The understanding that Torrent files often qualify as pirated material.
    6) The understanding that the need for books of a larger size may never be a downloadable file simply due to size restrictions and that people aren't going to take the time to scan a 500 page book.
    7) The understanding that by downloading the file, even if it exists, it is a most likely a crime, depending on the situation and that the person downloading and whoever owns the computer can be held responsible for that action.
    8) The understanding that unless it is a file in the public domain, you have contributed to cheating someone out of part of their living by not purchasing or not using a copy of the intellectual property that was properly acquired.
    9) And this assumes you are doing this on your own computer. Good luck downloading torrent files on a library's public station. More than likely it won't have Torrent software and you won't be allowed to install it.

    I can go on, but you hopefully get the point.

    So there is that. Now the alternate method goes like this:

    1) Go to library
    2) Get a library card
    3) Check out books legally and with the full knowledge the authors, publishers and everyone else is satisfied the publishing world.
    4) Read and learn
    5) Return the book and get another.

    So yeah, it is a big deal when libraries place limitations on their service due to budget cuts. And yeah, it does limit people's access to books who don't have the technical skills to find another avenue and/or the desire to ignore the law and hope it all works out in the end.
    posted by lampshade at 4:42 AM on February 12, 2012 [108 favorites]


    One small step for the California budget negotiations,
    One giant leap BACKWARDS for California culture.
    posted by Flood at 4:50 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    ampshade, I've upgraded your process description to the latest version. It now looks like this:
    1. Go to torrent site or search engine.
    2. Search for literature.
    3. Select book.
    4. Click download link.
    Approx. time: 5-10 minutes.

    (Alternatively, the (school) library might have an e-library which functions pretty much the same way.)

    This generation of kids truly are digital natives because they know this shit so well that it's second nature to them.

    Not that I approve of libraries getting their budgets cut.
    posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:51 AM on February 12, 2012


    really with a little effort you could supplant all these 'libraries' with an ipad app

    i mean, you wouldn't want to be wasteful or inefficient, would you
    posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:51 AM on February 12, 2012


    This generation of kids truly are digital natives because they know this shit so well that it's second nature to them.
    euuuurghh
    posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:52 AM on February 12, 2012 [57 favorites]


    Dude. It's Philadelphia. I hereby command you to watch that movie again. Clearly, it's been to long.

    Pretty close to New Jersey, though, yeah? Geographically? And in spirit?
    posted by tumid dahlia at 4:59 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    This generation of kids truly are digital natives because they know this shit so well that it's second nature to them.

    If they have access to a computer, though ...
    posted by carter at 5:03 AM on February 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Libraries dying off is pretty much a death knell for democracy

    Good thing that the blending of the power of the State being used to benefit Corporations isn't Democracy then.
    posted by rough ashlar at 5:04 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    ampshade, I've upgraded your process description to the latest version. It now looks like this:
    1. Go to torrent site or search engine.
    2. Search for literature.
    3. Select book.
    4. Click download link.
    Approx. time: 5-10 minutes.


    Should there be a step: Delude self into believing everyone has internet access?
    posted by biffa at 5:06 AM on February 12, 2012 [69 favorites]


    Pretty close to New Jersey, though, yeah? Geographically? And in spirit?

    Fair enough :) Though I bet you just insulted both New Jersey and Philadelphia.
    posted by gkhan at 5:09 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I don't know the ins and outs of California's budget, but from what I understand it's not in very good shape. It seems like a remarkably foolish idea to reject a tax-increase like this, regardless of whatever happens to the libraries.

    The fact that neither the voters nor the legislature will ever approve a tax increase is why California's budget is in such terrible shape.
    posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:09 AM on February 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Now the alternate method goes like this:

    1) Go to library
    2) Get a library card
    3) Check out books legally and with the full knowledge the authors, publishers and everyone else is satisfied the publishing world.
    4) Read and learn
    5) Return the book and get another.



    You've forgotten the last step:

    6) Profit!

    A metafilter joke, except in this instance it's true. It's no secret that libraries = education = $$$. The harder we make it for poor people to acquire education, the more likely they'll remain poor.

    And as for torrents, you have to have access to a computer to access torrents. Hard as it may be for some people to believe, there are lots of people who still don't own computers. Some access the internet solely via smartphones, some only at the library. This is becoming more common as more people are unemployed long-term, but even in a thriving economy, there will always be people who can't afford computers due to social circumstances keeping them poor, whether that be illness, family situation, etc. Hell, my dad was in the US Air Force for 20 years, and we couldn't have afforded to buy the 10 or more books each of us checked out from the library every two weeks.
    posted by MexicanYenta at 5:11 AM on February 12, 2012 [22 favorites]


    process description to the latest version. It now looks like this:

    Of course, this assumes that every person has internet access, a computer and all the other things that are digital natives find so...native.
    And it assumes their school district has not already cut funding to eliminate the in-school library program.
    And again, it assumes that a person is willing to download files that may be pirated scans of books or other intellectual property.

    I am not disputing the technology and how it works. It is the availability to the very people who would even have a need for something like a library in the first place. For those of us fortunate enough to have all this wonderful technology at our fingertips, these cuts may not seem like a big deal. To the underprivileged, you may as well tell then not bother learning to read in the first place as you won't have access to anything anyway.

    Well, hell, why should I worry? Newt, Mitt, Rick and the job creators have this all figured out by making sure the kids are cleaning the bathrooms in their schools anyway. They won't have time to do all that pesky reading anyway.

    I am so glad this has been cleared up.
    posted by lampshade at 5:12 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    If I was a poor Californian kid, I would become an expert at Google Scholar.
    posted by running order squabble fest at 5:13 AM on February 12, 2012 [28 favorites]


    The privilege here is gonna break the website.
    posted by Burhanistan at 5:15 AM on February 12, 2012 [56 favorites]


    And the national Death by Beancounting continues apace.
    posted by Thorzdad at 5:15 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Should there be a step: Delude self into believing everyone has internet access?

    Not everyone but ~80% of the US population has Internet access and that's good enough to at least seriously considering going digital. Also, nothing prevents libraries/community centers/ from lending out cheap e-devices that patrons fill with literature.

    The possibilities are endless once you abandon the preconceived notions about libraries and how a society should approach knowledge sharing in general.
    posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:17 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Libraries themselves are abject lessons in sharing and altruism (except, I guess, when they're not.)

    "Ayn Rand makes the case that altruism is evil." (YouTube link)
    posted by iviken at 5:18 AM on February 12, 2012


    Idiocracy was not just a movie. It was prophesy.
    posted by photoslob at 5:21 AM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


    I'm fine with states reducing spending if they're reducing spending on bureaucratic crap, prison-industrial complex, unnecessary law enforcement toys, unnecessary incarcerations, etc. Yet, we rarely cut such bullshit expenses because well connected people benefit enormously from it.

    There is a chart on page 6 of the introduction to the Proposed Budget Summary indicates the biggest reductions will be CalWORKs, MediCal, Education, and some "other" financial things around loans and unemployment, with each reduction clocking in around $1B.

    Yet, they propose "$8.9 billion for all state operations and local assistance programs included under" the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
    posted by jeffburdges at 5:22 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    "Idiocracy was not just a movie. It was prophesy."

    For fuck's sake, it was a documentary.
    posted by bardic at 5:22 AM on February 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


    ...nothing prevents libraries/community centers/ from lending out cheap e-devices that patrons fill with literature.

    Nothing but money. Oh, and publishers.
    posted by Songdog at 5:23 AM on February 12, 2012 [21 favorites]


    Am I missing something, or is the main argument in this thread for why closing libraries isn't a disaster... that people can download pirated copies of books instead?

    There are flaws with this argument besides the one about lack of access to technology, I would suggest.
    posted by oliverburkeman at 5:27 AM on February 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


    Not everyone but ~80% of the US population has Internet access

    There's a curve here, though - a digital divide. Some parts will have more, and some will have less (e.g. in Philadelphia, it's about 40% without computer access, and much higher in the poorer parts of the city). So poorer towns/areas will have less access, and also poorer library services to begin with (and in poorer areas, libraries are where people often to go to use computers).

    The people with most resources and best access to the Internet, are the ones least likely to depend on libraries, and vice versa.
    posted by carter at 5:27 AM on February 12, 2012 [20 favorites]


    Libraries dying off is pretty much a death knell for democracy

    You could look at it the other way around, although depressingly it's "democracy" that is giving us this massive divestment of public funding in public goods.

    Democracy as we were told it should be in school hardly exists even as an ideal in the United States of 2012.

    I fucking give up. I got mine. Okay, not really, but sometimes I think Americans -- the majority of whom don't vote -- deserve what we get as a result. If 60 percent of the eligible population would just vote every 2 years, we'd have a much more vibrant and healthy economy and society.
    posted by spitbull at 5:30 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Are they closing libraries, or not funding interlibrary loan programs? The article seems to imply the former...
    posted by jenkinsEar at 5:30 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Not everyone but ~80% of the US population has Internet access and that's good enough to at least seriously considering going digital.

    It's the 20% that don't have access that libraries are important for. And a lot of kids in bad economic situations don't just need the books, they need a safe quiet place to read them. In bad neighborhoods libraries are oasises of calm and support in chaotic kid's lives. A fucking ipad isn't going to help them.
    posted by octothorpe at 5:30 AM on February 12, 2012 [62 favorites]


    Aside from the obvious ignorance of assuming that everyone has access to computers (or e-readers through their schools, which is hilarious), libraries aren't just about lending out books. They also provide services that can only be administered in person. At the most basic level, libraries provide a space: a calm space to do homework when your home is chaotic or distracting; an air-conditioned space for elderly or disabled people to hang out when it's 102 in the shade and their own homes are dangerously hot; a meeting space for civic groups and community organizations and the teen knitting club. They provide educational services to people who need to learn to read or use computers. My library has a English conversation group for immigrants who are trying to improve their spoken English. They have twice-weekly writing tutors who volunteer to go over people's cover letters and resumes (or anything else they bring in) to make sure they're clear and grammatically correct. Today they've got volunteer income tax advisers who will help you fill out your tax forms. Tomorrow they've got "tech help day" where you can bring in your cell phone and they'll show you how to use it, or they'll help you figure out how to set up an email account or a Facebook page.

    Now, none of this stuff is essential for privileged people, which is probably most people here. But for many of my neighbors, there aren't good substitutes. It's not like "if I can't get help filling out my taxes at the library, then I'll just hire an accountant," because that's not feasible for members of the working poor.
    Also, nothing prevents libraries/community centers/ from lending out cheap e-devices that patrons fill with literature.
    Well, except budget cuts that take away the money to buy e-readers and e-books. It's really difficult for me to wrap my head around exactly what kind of fantasy land you live in, to be honest.
    posted by craichead at 5:35 AM on February 12, 2012 [106 favorites]


    Maybe it's pointless for me to talk about what California libraries should do and not do when my thoughts are heavily colored by living in Sweden and by me being a techie. Would love to be proven wrong (honestly. I'm wrong so often that it's becoming a nice habit) but so far I've mostly seen a lot of knee-jerking and the usual prophecies of doom.

    I know there are lots of smart and caring librarians here, what's your take on this? What ideas are floating aroundin your industry when tax raises and tech seemingly are out of the question?
    posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:36 AM on February 12, 2012


    California rejects top rate tax increase...

    After being confused by a massive misinformation campaign, I assume. Why else would a non-rich person vote against a top rate increase? It's all bonus money and actually hurts (as opposed to removes a tiny amount of money from an extremely rich person) nobody.
    posted by DU at 5:37 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The possibilities are endless once you abandon the preconceived notions about libraries and how a society should approach knowledge sharing in general.

    I remember reading an account from Jeanette Winterson about her horrific evangelical Christian mother and how she wouldn't let Jeannette read her own choice of books (anything apart from the Bible it would seem). Her solution was to get them from the library and hide them under her mattress. In this new digital reality, children like Winterson would be fucked.

    It's important to keep open access to libraries to cover the many people who cannot get into the digital system for whatever reason, either money or something else.

    Also consider that any system based on access to technology is easily controlled by someone or other - either commercial interests or something more sinister. You could argue that libraries are controlled as well, but if they're controlled by democratically accountable bodies at least there's some transparency.
    posted by Summer at 5:38 AM on February 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


    Are they closing libraries, or not funding interlibrary loan programs? The article seems to imply the former...
    They're cutting all state funds. In big cities, state funds are used for things like interlibrary loan and adult literacy programs but not for operating budgets. They may have to cut some programs, but it won't be the end of the world. The libraries that will really suffer are the rural ones. They don't have as much of a tax base, so they rely on state funding for basic operating expenses. And ILL is a much more important thing at small libraries that can't afford to buy a lot of books. So basically I think it's a hassle for urban libraries and a really big problem for rural ones. At least, that's the impression I got from the first article.
    Maybe it's pointless for me to talk about what California libraries should do and not do when my thoughts are heavily colored by living in Sweden and by me being a techie.
    No offense, but I think your thoughts are heavily colored by not having the tiniest clue what you're talking about. But I'm relieved to hear that you live in Sweden, because at least you've got an excuse for not knowing what you're talking about!
    posted by craichead at 5:48 AM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


    In a class of 30 undergraduates the question of, "who knows what bit torrent or torrenting means?", got me 4 positives; 4 out of 30. This question was 2 nights ago. So about that digital native thing? I am not so sure about.
    posted by jadepearl at 5:50 AM on February 12, 2012 [33 favorites]


    Maybe it's pointless for me to talk . . . heavily colored by living in Sweden

    Indeed. You live in a country that is both rich and generally sane. California is neither.
    posted by erniepan at 5:52 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Not everyone but ~80% of the US population has Internet access

    And what is the quality of that access?What if that internet access is from the library itself and funding shuts down the library? What about those on dialup where downloading a 10mb file takes all night? Again, what about the legal issues surrounding intellectual property?

    I would love a country where all the information is available online, everyone has broadband and this discussion is moot. But that is no where close to how it is right now.

    I understand the problems with budgets and all that. I know that cuts are part of the country's current financial landscape. I just wish people would not dismiss out of hand, segments of society because while they are fortunate to have something at their fingertips, at the same moment others may not be able to afford it and need an alternative to gain access to knowledge. It is like telling a broke hungry person to stop whining about their stomach pangs and get themselves to a grocery store because all the fine foie gras is available 24-7.

    Oh yeah...I hope you have money Mr. Hungry Person....forgot to add that little point.

    I've said my piece...I'm out.
    posted by lampshade at 5:56 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I was going to say that Howl was written in the Berkeley Public Library, but Wiki disagrees with me. (Anyone else heard this story?)

    Some years back, I was in the Berkeley Public Library and someone asked whether the new self-checkout machines were going to put the library staff out of jobs. The guy manning the counter said, "No, they're letting us do our jobs." Because there was no money to pay people to man the circulation desk and organise all the other stuff libraries do, nor stay open more than eight hours a day. (Having lived in Minneapolis for nearly 4 years, I still get confused that the library here is open for 10 hours two days a week and doesn't simply shift their opening hours twice a week.) Now they run the risk of not having the money to do the stuff that maybe five years ago they didn't have the money to have time to do.

    (And, while we're quibbling about internet access at libraries: Berkeley didn't have that many computers and the second floor was full of people waiting for their turn. Minneapolis has loads and loads of computers (50+) and they're generally nearly all in use whenever the library is open.)
    posted by hoyland at 5:59 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Should there be a step: Delude self into believing everyone has internet access?

    Yeah, he omitted the "get a computer" stage, too.

    This idea that libraries are nothing more than repositories for books is pretty is about as well-informed as the idea that librarians don't do anything more than push around carts full of books to shelve them. It's flat-out wrong, and people arguing from that position, pro or con, are revealing themselves as people who don't actually use libraries.
    posted by mhoye at 6:06 AM on February 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


    It doesn't matter if 100% of California has high speed Internet and iPads and all the computing power in the world. Libraries are about more than just the book on its own. They're about space where you can go and share in knowledge and entertainment, they're about advice and help even with stuff as basic as how to use Word, they're about a space where you can study and get tutoring, they're about saying that we as a society believe that not only is knowledge important, but we're going to show you how to get to it.

    Forgive me for thinking that a torrent file isn't going to do quite the same things, even if every useful book in the world were freely available on Pirate Bay.
    posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:12 AM on February 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Libraries are the original bootstraps. I've said it before and I'll say it again.
    posted by gauche at 6:16 AM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


    OK, the idea that kids these days are "digital natives" is a nice, self-serving fairy tale. It makes tech-lovers feel good, because they feel like they are at the front of a curve. It makes educators feel good,mbecause then they don't have to teach a complicated and multi-level sets of skills and knowledges that they don't have a strong grasp on themselves. It makes government types feel good because they don't need to devote resources to it. It makes the kids feel special, and kids need that. The problem is, of course, that it's pretty much false -- saying kids are "digital natives" because they can text, send email, and use facebook (all services provided by profit-driven companies, who love this false paradigm as well), is like claiming that kids these days are all automotive engineers because they have driver's licenses.

    I teach freshmen. Most of them have the barest idea of how to use the Internet except for simple, pre-packaged tasks. They have little concept of wider issues, like selecting a tool outside of their very limited set of daily resources, dealing with privacy (which they care very much about, but don't have the understanding to guess how to deal with it), or asking questions about the purpose of the technology. And these are the reasonably well-off kids who have had access to the web for most of their lives. Students from less advantaged backgrounds have greater hurdles.

    So, yeah, forget this idea of "digital natives." Now, a library could help them get closer to that ideal, but we are busy closing the libraries becaue the "digital natives" don't need them. And who, I wonder, benefits from a large mass of people who can't do anything except what the tools they are sold let them?
    posted by GenjiandProust at 6:16 AM on February 12, 2012 [154 favorites]


    You know, it's really a pretty small percentage of people who regularly use libraries. A much bigger percentage of people regularly spend time with their phones. If knowledge and entertainment and community are worth transmitting, shouldn't that effort be aimed where people are really spending their time?
    posted by twoleftfeet at 6:22 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Every time I hear some Tea Party moron screaming loudly about how he/she shouldn't be paying taxes, I think of California. What's the GDP of the state? It's huge, right? Like 8th or 9th largest in the world, if you think of California as its own county. This is a place that should by rights be a paradise in which to live: good jobs, lots of income, nice weather, beautiful parks... But somewhere along the line, some misguided dolts decided that Californians shouldn't pay taxes, they made it insanely difficult for the state government to actually levy taxes, and boom - the whole place has been slowly crumbling ever since. It's a microcosm model of what the Tea Party wants to do to the entire country: keep the rich in charge, protect their income streams, and watch in silent acceptance as the way of life made possible by responsible public spending disappears. Watch as they are deluded into actively voting against any measure that might improve their lot, that might make it easier for their children to escape the downward spiral. Saddest thing is that the people making these decisions in the ballot box have zero idea that they are voting away thir futures. They think only of the short term, a few more bucks in my pocket at the end of the day - yeah, that's totally worth ransoming my children's children's chance at the American dream. Shortsighted doesn't begin to describe it.
    posted by caution live frogs at 6:32 AM on February 12, 2012 [74 favorites]


    What is this, the 2012 Contrarian Festival?
    posted by benito.strauss at 6:32 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    no it's not
    posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:35 AM on February 12, 2012 [30 favorites]


    I can't believe people are advocating BitTorrent as an alternative to libraries. Have you guys actually tried that? Ignoring the class/regional barriers to having adequate internet access, even if you dig deeper into the murky world of pirate ebooks, it's still often difficult to find This One Specific Thing. Most libraries do interlibrary loans, so even if they don't have a copy of TOST, you can place a request for it and have it in a week. With online sharing, you're going to do more browsing than anything, and most of what's out there will be pulp genre novels and public domain stuff.

    Cutting off library funding more or less says, "Public access to knowledge, art and culture are not really high priorities for us right now," which is heartbreaking.
    posted by byanyothername at 6:37 AM on February 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


    Thank you, Summer and GenjiandProust for providing some perspectives on the matter. I guess there are lots of scenarios that I haven't consider.

    But how sad that most people can't move beyond feeling upset and engage in meaningful conversation backed with at least some sources or evidence. If you can't even convince someone amenable like me - reads a lot, frequent library patron, lefty - then what chances do you have to convince politicians and your fellow citizens? Because right now I'm reading this Wikipedia page and it tells a very different story than the one I'm hearing hear. It's a shame that we don't take advantage of these opportunities to enlighten each other.

    [I think I've reached my post limit so that's it for me. But please MefiMail me if you feel like it.]
    posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:43 AM on February 12, 2012


    Are people still batting that "digital natives" crap around? I work in university tech support; many of my friends teach. Today's kids aren't tech savvy, they're Facebook and Xbox savvy. I've lost count of the undergrads who've learned copy and paste because they called me, or who I've had to explain the concept of searching for things to. There's a stereotype of the average person from the older generations being technically incompetent and uncurious; I'm here to tell you that that shit is all ages.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 6:44 AM on February 12, 2012 [43 favorites]


    If knowledge and entertainment and community are worth transmitting, shouldn't that effort be aimed where people are really spending their time?

    Well yeah, librarians would love to make more material available digitally. E-book lending has been a reality for a few years, and is widespread now. But there are some major problems with that, and they're not coming from the libraries: we've got publishers who flat-out won't work with libraries (see Jessamyn's post from a day or two ago); we've got publishers who want to limit e-book usage to 26 loans - after that, they want the library to buy the book again. That's even before we consider that publishers won't let libraries loan the same e-book to more than one person at once - so if you want something popular, be prepared to be 220th in the queue.

    Those are some very good reasons why print collections are still valuable.
    posted by Infinite Jest at 6:45 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I see the Useful Idiots are out in force today.
    posted by unSane at 6:45 AM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Because right now I'm reading this Wikipedia page and it tells a very different story than the one I'm hearing hear.

    No offense, Foci, but the irony of a Wikipedia page on 'Decline of library usage' is palpable.
    posted by ZeusHumms at 6:46 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    FfA - that wikipedia article does have a lot of useful info, but it is mainly about university and academic libraries, and not public libraries.
    posted by carter at 6:47 AM on February 12, 2012


    Putting aside all the other services a library provides, the bit-torrent idea is not a great one. Assuming everyone has a computer and an internet connection, not everyone has a e-reader. Reading a book on a computer is not the same as having a physical book in your hands (or e-reader) that you can take with you to school, to the park, on the subway, in the car, to lie in bed and read... Not to mention, what if a family has multiple children and adults who want to read something? Or does the digital proposal above include a free e-reader for everyone in the state? I guess the Silicon Valley companies that make e-readers might put some money behind that.
    posted by batou_ at 6:51 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Sure, library use might be declining, but so is our society. America won't be a superpower in the future because Americans won't be smart enough.
    posted by fuq at 6:51 AM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


    (And, while we're quibbling about internet access at libraries: Berkeley didn't have that many computers and the second floor was full of people waiting for their turn. Minneapolis has loads and loads of computers (50+) and they're generally nearly all in use whenever the library is open.)

    What seems to happen, if libraries can afford it, is stocking up with computers for internet access. Minneapolis probably did so when they rebuilt their central library several years ago. One of their suburbs (Rosevile) definitely did so when they rebuilt their library, and installed 120 computer terminals.
    posted by ZeusHumms at 6:53 AM on February 12, 2012


    Also, a lot of technocrats in this thread are forgetting that libraries are social things. A torrent wont recommend a better book or tell you why what you thought you wanted isn't reputable more and you should get the latest research.
    posted by fuq at 6:54 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    This thread is beyond depressing. I'm genuinely surprised that on MetaFilter the response to a major library system taking a hit is "well, iPad!"
    posted by werkzeuger at 6:58 AM on February 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


    I know California is in a budget crisis, can anyone explain how this amendment got set-up and passed? Tried the google-news it, but it's all Whitney Houston right now.....
    posted by Salmonberry at 7:02 AM on February 12, 2012


    twoleftfeet: You know, it's really a pretty small percentage of people who regularly use libraries. A much bigger percentage of people regularly spend time with their phones. If knowledge and entertainment and community are worth transmitting, shouldn't that effort be aimed where people are really spending their time?

    It's absolutely true that only a small percentage of the population use the library. A lot of people use their phones. Of course, you need a pretty fancy phone to do anything like get at knowledge or entertainment. By the same logic, only a small percentage of people use buses, compared to owning a car. Surely our societal resources would be best dedicated to the idea of 'transport for everyone' by shutting off all funding to public transport, and instead subsidising luxury SUVs?
    posted by Dysk at 7:05 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Also, a lot of technocrats in this thread are forgetting that libraries are social things.

    Really this. The notion that a fucking cellphone can replace toddlers storytime, or seniors computer seminar, or free tax help, is just breathtakingly myopic. Not to mention the more abstract value of a community place that provides community information.

    Place matters.
    posted by werkzeuger at 7:05 AM on February 12, 2012 [35 favorites]


    ...nothing prevents libraries/community centers/ from lending out cheap e-devices that patrons fill with literature.

    Nothing but money. Oh, and publishers.
    posted by Songdog at 5:23 AM on February 12


    My California library does this, sorta. The problems are immediately apparent, not just for our temporarily flailing state but for anyone. Your library was not collected in a day and ebooks really don't have the same scope at present.
    posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:07 AM on February 12, 2012


    As a librarian, I do see Foci's point. I think up to the mid-1990s you could make a reasonable claim that people from all classes would need to rely on the public library at some point. Even if you could afford to buy all the books you wanted as brand-new hardcovers, you would still need the kind of information-gathering that we now routinely turn to Google for.

    Now, I think that public libraries are a lot less compelling for middle-class people, unless they're voracious readers. And the compelling arguments that one can make for public libraries are for people who are poor or who aren't technologically literate or who have other barriers to technology access. Social Security is popular with people, even very Republican ones, because it's not a welfare program that's just for poor people. It's something that everyone pays into and everyone benefits from. Libraries used to get that kind of buy-in, and that may be harder and harder in the future; either we have to make libraries compelling for everyone again (and libraries can lend out e-books, but that won't turn back the clock on Google) or we have to advocate for libraries even though most people don't need them, just like most people don't need food stamps.
    posted by Jeanne at 7:07 AM on February 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


    By the same logic, only a small percentage of people use buses, compared to owning a car. Surely our societal resources would be best dedicated to the idea of 'transport for everyone' by shutting off all funding to public transport, and instead subsidising luxury SUVs?
    I think that's an excellent analogy, and the answer is, yes, the people who want to de-fund libraries typically also want to de-fund public transit. And in both instances, it's a vicious cycle, because the less funds those public goods have, the less appealing they are to people who have other choices. And when people with power don't use the library or ride the bus, it's easier for them to assume buses and libraries are irrelevant and further cut their funds.
    posted by craichead at 7:09 AM on February 12, 2012 [20 favorites]


    Maybe I'm younger than a lot of people here, but I've never needed a library for anything, really. And yet, I'm a huge proponent of them. I'd've thought that the need for libraries in spite of them not being relevant to the entire (or even majority) population is self-evident. Notions to the contrary are entirely new to me, and seem self-defeating. Of course libraries are useless for those that already have equivalent resources. When were libraries ever targeted primarily at those with alternatives?
    posted by Dysk at 7:13 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    (and libraries can lend out e-books, but that won't turn back the clock on Google)

    I was looking into it when my siblings got my dad an e-reader, but the setup needed was relatively complex, and the lack of choice (not to mention the roadblocks thrown up by publishers), was very discouraging.
    posted by ZeusHumms at 7:14 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Technologically, warehousing bound tree pulp is not as efficient as digital transmission, so the push should be toward enabling truly universal digital access. Clearly we are not there yet. The social function of libraries as physical places to congregate is important, but we could develop other places to congregate; parks or town squares or coffee shops or whatever.
    posted by twoleftfeet at 7:18 AM on February 12, 2012


    There's also the function of libraries as gateways to and gatekeepers of repositories of information that the general public wouldn't otherwise know about or have ready access to. Sure, there's Wikipedia with the instant quick hit, and Bingle with the hundreds of apparent resources per question.

    But who's going to pay for access to databases, like biographical resources or deep back issue collections of newspapers and magazines? Who's going to have access to expertise in searches and knowledge who know where to find relevant information instead of data and dross? Who's going to serve the public interest through the cultivation and collection of knowledge and ideas, and not actually try to make a profit while doing so?
    posted by ZeusHumms at 7:26 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Is state funding for libraries a big thing in California? I just checked my local system (the Toronto Public Library) and as of 2010 they got something like 3.5% of their total funding from the Provincial and Federal levels.
    posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:28 AM on February 12, 2012


    State funding is typically a pretty small portion of a library's budget, but at least where I'm from, library funding has been cut so deep that we have very little room to cut further.
    posted by Jeanne at 7:32 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Technologically, carting consciousness around in bags of meat is not as efficient as hosting it in silicon. Technological efficiency should be in service of a higher goal, not the goal itself.
    posted by benito.strauss at 7:33 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Technologically, warehousing bound tree pulp

    Why do you insist on defining libraries this way? Small community libraries are devoting more space than ever to computers, meeting spaces and audio-visual facilities.

    The social function of libraries as physical places to congregate is important, but we could develop other places to congregate; parks or town squares or coffee shops or whatever.

    Do you really think in a time of budget crisis that vaguely-defined public congregation spots will be designed, approved and built? All trends in land use and development point in an opposite direction. Libraries are one of the last truly public spaces in America where people of all ages and classes can go, in all weather, and participate in a community life. Are you really suggesting shopping malls and coffee shops are replacements?
    posted by werkzeuger at 7:34 AM on February 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


    Why not mass-buy small kindles? I'm sure the State of California could buy kindles at cheaper than the $79/piece retail price, particularly since it would be a great PR thing for Amazon. Make an agreement with Amazon for a collection of e-books readable from any library kindle, stick the kindles by the dozen in the libraries. Lend the kindles out with a deposit or let patrons read without a deposit in the library. Could probably dramatically reduce the need for library real estate, never need to replace books again, etc.
    posted by shivohum at 7:37 AM on February 12, 2012


    Small community libraries are devoting more space than ever to computers, meeting spaces and audio-visual facilities.

    That doesn't really provide universal digital access, it only provides it for towns that have big enough libraries, for people who can physically get to the library, and then only during normal business hours.

    I was just watching the 1957 movie Desk Set, where Katharine Hepburn is the librarian threatened by Spencer Tracy's newfangled computer. I was watching the movie online, because I'm at home and they don't have it at my local library anyway.
    posted by twoleftfeet at 7:43 AM on February 12, 2012


    It seems funny to say libraries should be replaced by tech when it seems like most library spending nowadays is on subsidizing tech for the poor and not on books anyways.
    posted by smackfu at 7:43 AM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


    Why not mass-buy small kindles? I'm sure the State of California could buy kindles at cheaper than the $79/piece retail price, particularly since it would be a great PR thing for Amazon. Make an agreement with Amazon for a collection of e-books readable from any library kindle, stick the kindles by the dozen in the libraries. Lend the kindles out with a deposit or let patrons read without a deposit in the library. Could probably dramatically reduce the need for library real estate, never need to replace books again, etc.

    First, book loaning rights seem to lie with the publisher, not Amazon. The number of books available would seem to be less than that in a physical collection.

    Second, even solid state devices wear out and are prone to breakage. If a patron loses, damages, or steals a book, that's just one book. If any of the above happens to a kindle, that's not losing a book, that's losing a potential patron.

    Third, not all books lend themselves to the e-book treatment. A lot of books are designed for specific audiences, like kid's books with textures or easy to hold pages. Many are formatted for large page sizes, with images that can easily expand past the bounds of an e-reader.
    posted by ZeusHumms at 7:46 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I've spent the past year and a half of my life in library school, and about three years before that working in some capacity in rural, suburban, and urban libraries, and currently I'm currently at a cross-road in terms of whether or not I want to work in public libraries. There's a constant state of fear and malaise among the professors, the guest speakers, and the students – a constant question that we, the students, get asked is “so, uh, do you guys have any ideas?”

    Undoubtedly libraries are a good thing. The access and training that we provide for technology isn't offered by any other public service (largely because public services are rapidly becoming a dirty word in this gilded age of decadence and austerity), and without our services it wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would be a significant dimming.

    If you can take yourself out of your first world techie social media smart-shoes for a second then imagine this: you're 53 years old, you've been in prison from 20 to 26, you didn't finish high school, and you have a grandson who you're now supporting because your daughter is in jail. You're lucky, you have a job at the local Wendy's. You have to fill out a renewal form for government assistance which has just been moved online as a cost saving measure (this isn't hypothetical, more and more municipalities are doing this now). You have a very limited idea of how to use a computer, you don't have Internet access, and your survival (and the survival of your grandson) is contingent upon this form being filled out correctly.

    Do you go to the local social services office? No, you don't. The overworked staff there says that due to budget cuts they can no longer do walk-in advising, and that there's a 2 week waiting list to get assistance with filling out forms. You call them up on the by-the-minute phone you're borrowing from your cousin (wasting 15 of her minutes on hold) and they say that they can't help, but you can go to your public library. OK, so you go to your public library after work (you ask your other cousin to watch your grandson for the day since wasting those minutes has temporarily burned some bridges). Due to budget cuts the library no longer has evening hours, sorry, try again (and you also don't get back the bus-fare or money you spent on a hack to get across town to the nearest branch, since other budget cuts closed the one in your neighborhood). OK, so you come back on the weekend. You ask the overworked librarian at the desk to sign up for a computer. She testily tells you that you're at the wrong desk, and that sign-ups are at circulation. You feel foolish and go over to the circulation desk, who tells you that you need to sign up for a library card to use the computer. After filling out the forms the librarian starts to make your card for you, and informs you that she can't process a card, since you have fines from 2 years ago that total fifty dollars. It's an emergency, you say, you need to use the computer. She sighs heavily, informs you that it's against policy, and then prints a guest pass anyway. You get 30 minutes at a time for a total of 2 hours per day. Computers are on the second floor.

    You go up to the second floor to find a total of 20 computers with a waiting list of 15 people. You do some quick math in your head, and realize you're probably going to be here for a while, so you walk over to the magazine section, and read People while you wait. Finally, it's your turn. You walk over to your terminal, and your time starts ticking. Your breath seizes in your chest, and you realize you have no idea what to do. You have the form that they gave you at the social services office, which has an address, which you sort of know what that does, but you can't quite remember – 17 minutes, by the way. You try typing X City Social Services in a box at the top, a page comes back and says “address not found” with a list of things below it. You're panicking, because there's a line forming (there always is) and the library will probably close before you can make it back on – 10 minutes, by the way. After a little more fumbling and clicking you have no luck, you're kicked off, and immediately someone is standing behind you to use your computer. You relinquish your seat, and head back down stairs. You're about to leave, already trying to think of who you know who has a computer who might let you use it, and might know about filling out these forms, but the only person you can think of is your friend in the county, and taking a bus out there would be awfully expensive.

    Before leaving you decide to try one last thing. You go up to the desk, and explain your situation. The tired, overworked person at the desk nods along, and says, “well, we're not supposed to do this, but...” and tells you to walk around the desk. With a few clicks on the mouse they have the site up that you spent 30 minutes trying to find. They bring up the electronic form, politely turn their head aside as you fill in your social security number, and then ask you a series of questions to satisfy the demands of the form. It comes to your email address, and you have to admit that you don't have one, so the librarian walks you through setting up a free one and gives it to you on a slip of paper. “We have free computer classes,” he says (and you're lucky, because a great deal of public libraries don't), but you look at the times and realize that between your job and taking care of your grandson you'd never be able to attend, and it'd probably be too hard anyway. You thank him, and he smiles, and you leave. Congratulations, you've staved off disaster until the next time you need to use a computer for a life-essential task.

    Now let's start that again, but this time you don't speak English. Just kidding, I don't want to give you too much culture shock in one day.

    So that little melodrama right there is every minute of every day at the public library. Replace essential forms with applying for a job, or filling out hours on a time sheet, or trying to find legal assistance, or any number of the other high skill, high resource activities that you, as a privileged first world person who is constantly surrounded by computers and has used them for a majority of their life, find trivial. The digital divide isn't just access, but also ability, and quality of information, and the common dignity of having equity of participation in our increasingly digital culture.

    Would you like numbers? Alright, for whatever it's worth, here are the numbers,

    Start with the The Public Libraries and the Internet study. It's pretty great. Here's a piece from the conclusions section,

    Analysis of the data from the 2007 survey pointed to an emerging trend that raised serious concerns for public libraries — patron and community needs for Internet access, training, and services were quickly outpacing the ability of libraries to meet those needs (Bertot, et al., 2008a, 2008b; McClure, et al., 2007). This situation was the result of a confluence of major factors such as public libraries being the only source of free public Internet access in three–quarters of communities;
    It's slightly dated, but do you honestly think that in 5 years we've had a sudden amazing turn around in the economic situation of the very poor?

    Pew Internet on Internet access. Your “80%” number is heavily influenced by ethnicity, socio-economic class, educational attainment. Also, there's a damn-sight difference between bringing up the Facebook APP on your Blackberry, and trying to use the same device to write a research paper.

    EQUALITY (meaning, at any level, can they) may be approaching parity (although your eagerness to leave behind 20% of the population is a little sickening), but EQUITY (meaning, what can they do once they get there) isn't anywhere close. A decade of our miraculous crowd-sourced, app-tapping, Internet connected society (as seen on Boing-Boing) and the digital divide is pernicious as ever.

    If you have any concept of a free and equal society, then libraries are still an integral part of that. Forget all of the other stuff, like letting you get books for free, or giving you a place to meet to plan a community garden, or tax help for seniors, or (I could go on and on) anything else that the hard working, intelligent, under paid people at your local library are trying to provide in spite of shrinking budgets.

    With all that being said, here's the problem that I have with public libraries.

    We're dying. I'm currently on the side of “no” that we can pull out of this tail spin. I'm not saying that you'll turn around tomorrow and every public library will be aflame, with neo-conservative Gauls stepping out of the ashes with a copy of “A People's History” between their teeth, and librarian blood on their axe. Instead it will be a slow death by a thousand cuts, as shown in this article. Today, California cuts the funding for interlibrary loan (oh, sorry young, rural, LGBTQ youth who was hoping to get an anonymous loan of a book that might tell you that your life isn't a freakish abomination as so many of your class-mates insist, here, try this copy of The Sweet Valley Twins from 1989 instead). Tomorrow we have to charge for meeting rooms and our fines have been increased by 150%. The day after that we're a contracted out to a company that puts advertising in your books, has low, low rates on Red Box(C) rentals, and who's under absolutely no compulsion to protect your checkout history from police searches (also, you now get advertising in your email based on that history as a Value Added Service!) Look to Britain.

    So, why? Why, when we're such an essential service, and across all party lines are a loved and valued institution? Mostly because we moved too slow to respond to the Internet, and also because instead of fighting back during times of austerity, loudly proclaiming that we're the best investment you can make for lifelong learning, social stability, childhood development, and community cohesion. This is, in part, because outside of the ALA (which is a great organization, a great lobbying body, but perhaps not quite strong enough nor well funded enough) there is no large, overarching public library thing. There isn't a central office that can dictate policy, allocate funds, and launch a massive PR campaign. At different levels, yes, there are state and county and non-profit organizations, but the existential crises that libraries now face is massive, universal, and needs coordinated effort.

    We need to do something which I'll admit is ill defined and perhaps impossible: we need to become the center of civic engagement in our communities. We're one of the few places left in our society where a great cross-section of people regularly interact, and also one of the few places that is free and non-commercial. Even museums, to bow and scrape to the master of Austerity, have begun to put branding on their exhibits, as if they were a sort of cultural NASCAR. We have amazing potential power, but without concerted effort I'm afraid it will be wasted. It will look better to save 10 dollars a year per person in taxes instead of funding community computer workshops, and childhood literacy programs, and community gardens. All the while we play desperate catch-up, trying to get a hold on ebooks, and liscensing out endless sub-quality software for meeting room reservations and computer sign-ups and all this other rentier software capitalism instead of developing free and open source solutions and providing small systems with the expertise to use them. Our amazing power is squandered as we cut our staff, fail to attract skilled and diverse talent, and act as a band aid to the mounting social ills caused by slash and burn governance in the name of low taxes and some nebulous idea of freedom that seems to equate with living in a good society but not paying your share for it.

    Every day at my job I helped people just barely survive. Forget trying to form grass roots political activism by creating a society of computer users, forget trying to be the 'people's university' and create a body of well informed citizens. Instead I helped people navigate through the degrading hoops of modern online society, fighting for scraps from the plate, and then kicking back afterwards by pretending to have a farm on Facebook (well, that is if they had any of their 2 hours left when they were done). What were we doing during the nineties? What were we doing during the boom that we've been left so ill served during the bust? No one seems to know. They come in to our classes and ask us if we have any ideas, and I do, but those ideas take money, and political will, and guts, and the closer I get to graduation the less and less I suspect that any of those things exist.
    posted by codacorolla at 7:52 AM on February 12, 2012 [1118 favorites]


    Also, as an aside, the ALA has a proven history of commitment to intellectual freedom. The public service that we've been replaced with has a spotty history of "not being evil". When we're gone, you middle class, you wealthy, you tech-savvy, who will fight for that with no profit motivation? Even if you never step foot in our doors, and all of your media comes to a brightly lit screen, we're still working for you.
    posted by codacorolla at 7:56 AM on February 12, 2012 [86 favorites]


    Third, not all books lend themselves to the e-book treatment.

    Fourth, etc., Kindles can't help you fill out your taxes, provide you with a conversational English class if you are a non-native speaker, host a story for you and your fellow first graders, provide you with a quiet room to study, or help you find resources for the paper you're writing, including free access to many pay-only scholarly journals.

    Larry fucking Ellison has so far poured $55 million of his own money into America's Cup stuff (it will be in SF). He alone could write a check for this and never even notice.
    posted by rtha at 7:56 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    That doesn't really provide universal digital access...
    posted by twoleftfeet at 9:43 AM on February 12 [+] [!]


    I think we just envision the role of libraries differently. You seem to see them as service providers, supplying information that would be better off digitized and delivered through private networks. I see them as not only supplying a lot of material not amenable to that treatment but also supplying and even fostering a whole ecosystem of experiences and relationships vital to a community, especially in a democracy.
    posted by werkzeuger at 7:57 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I weep for California but there is only one path going forward. This is another aftermath of a burst bubble. That one moment in time was the United States military arms race with the Soviet Union military where the research engine which drove the missile and bomb warheads was the University of California. That was the golden egg laying goose that funded the grand buffet of California public education which so briefly was unsurpassed anywhere on the planet. When I went to Cal my tuition was a thousand dollars a year. You could work a part-time job and get an education with no student loans. Those golden eggs are now all spent. Sad.
    posted by bukvich at 7:57 AM on February 12, 2012


    miscellaneous expenses such as librarian training programs and books.

    Maybe someone has addressed this above, but... how exactly do books not rate any higher than "miscellaneous expenses" in a library's budget?
    posted by Saxon Kane at 7:58 AM on February 12, 2012


    Metafilter: supplying and even fostering a whole ecosystem of experiences and relationships vital to a community

    Who doesn't love digital now?
    posted by twoleftfeet at 8:05 AM on February 12, 2012


    I think we just envision the role of libraries differently. You seem to see them as service providers, supplying information that would be better off digitized and delivered through private networks. I see them as not only supplying a lot of material not amenable to that treatment but also supplying and even fostering a whole ecosystem of experiences and relationships vital to a community, especially in a democracy.
    And to expand on 'material not amenable to that treatment', I'd like to point out that first not everything can be filtered through google. It takes skill and focus sometimes to search out appropriate data and information, and a general purpose search engine can only go so far. Many libraries pay for patron access to specialized databases in a number of focused areas like medicine and small business. Add to that back archives in magazines and newspapers. These are things that individuals could certainly pay access fees for, but they would have to discover them first, and then decide if the price was worth it.
    posted by ZeusHumms at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Libraries aren't just physical structures anymore, however the library as a physical structure is still as popular as it ever was because of the things mentioned by others earlier; safe, climate controlled, access to technology, meeting/collaboration space. I am in academics/health science, so I come from a different perspective than a public librarian, but we have many similarities.

    I keep and report gate count stats for an academic library and I'm watching them climb. Proving that people need a safe place to gather where they can access technology and information. Libraries have been working towards creating collaborative,creative spaces for years. Check the library literature for proof, if you have access to a database, provided by your local library, that is.

    Cutting interlibrary loan programs (ILL) is a terrible situation for libraries who cannot afford to purchase and maintain large collections. But, ILL is not only to get physical items from one institution to another, it is also a way to share articles and e-content between libraries for their patrons (when the publishers will allow it). With the advent of electronic content, many libraries have chosen to cut print collections, due to cost and accessibility issues and rely on ILL instead. I know my library has.

    Also related to resource sharing programs are state-wide database consortium providing access to electronic databases and content for all age groups. They work together to negotiate lower prices and get a decent licensing terms of use from the publishers. When you need something you can't get from your library, you generally request it through ILL. All of this can be done from home, or from a mobile device, or within the library.

    So, librarians are thinking outside the box and working to provide content to users in the desired format. They are frequently hampered from doing this by the publishers. Also, in order to meet the need, staying abreast of the latest technology trends, and actually having the skills to teach users how to utilize this technology requires training dollars. Not all of the population know how to use their e-readers to download free content provided by their public library, so the library holds classes as well as individual sessions for walk-ups.

    I work at a state-funded institution in Texas, you know Rick Perry cut 88% of library funding for the same things. Our director went to Austin to explain to our representatives that by cutting the “TexShare” program they were in fact hindering research and in the long run cutting their own throats. The reps had no idea how far reaching these programs were.

    There is a lot more that goes into providing library services than stamping books. If you aren't aware of these services then I suspect you aren't using your library to its fullest extent and not appreciating all of the content available to you. Perhaps this is why the suggestion of “just download a book off the Internet” is being bandied about.
    posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 8:26 AM on February 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


    Part of the problem is that libraries aren't very good at--or lack the resources--publicizing all of the things they do, which ultimately leads to less popular and political support. The public perception is that it's where you go to get free Internet and it's where the eggheads hide all the books.

    But they also:

    --Lend ebooks and audiobooks

    --Have job, computer literacy, money management, and other classes

    --Lend movies, tv shows, music, and videogames

    --Provide a safe, free, public meeting space. From higher level stuff like community and political meetings (the local tea party even uses them) to simple, one-on-one things like classified and craigslist sales.

    --Have live entertainment, usually things like author talks and local bands. Lots of stuff for kids too.

    --Provide access to for-pay databases. Instead of paying $30 a year for the two times a year you need Consumer Reports, get it at home through your local library's site. They also have free subs to things like the latest auto repair books and plumbing, electrical, and carpentry codes--if more people knew about these things, theft of these (very expensive) books would fall significantly.
    posted by aerotive at 8:30 AM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Who doesn't love digital now?

    Ahh. I get it. You're the trickster-figure who farted out the internet. I'll stop trying.
    posted by werkzeuger at 8:47 AM on February 12, 2012


    > Ahh. I get it. You're the trickster-figure who farted out the internet. I'll stop trying.

    He said in a thread last week that iPhones should replace the call to prayer for Muslims. He's not really arguing from any position other than "smartphones r neat".
    posted by Burhanistan at 8:52 AM on February 12, 2012


    I said that minarets were an architectural feature designed to facilitate the call to prayer. Every argument against a new technology is also an argument just to maintain an old technology. Nostalgia doesn't necessarily provide the best solution to real problems.
    posted by twoleftfeet at 8:54 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Yes, and you ignored, as you are ignoring now, the human component that makes those things vital.
    posted by Burhanistan at 8:55 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Technologies are not just technological, they are social. They are embedded in social practice.
    posted by carter at 8:57 AM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Damn, codacorolla, that was an amazing comment.
    posted by lalochezia at 8:58 AM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


    lalochezia: "Damn, codacorolla, that was an amazing comment."

    Seconded. Thank you for fighting the good fight.
    posted by sinnesloeschen at 9:00 AM on February 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Technologies are not just technological, they are social. They are embedded in social practice.

    I've been studying for the past few months for my candidacy exam (I'm working on the materiality of digital texts), and this is the one thing that comes up in everything I read, from articles discussing contemporary digital culture all the way to books talking about the way mediaeval scribes managed information. There is no way to exclude social context without woefully misrepresenting technology.
    posted by sadmarvin at 9:00 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    If you can't even convince someone amenable like me - reads a lot, frequent library patron, lefty - then what chances do you have to convince politicians and your fellow citizens? Because right now I'm reading this Wikipedia page and it tells a very different story than the one I'm hearing hear.

    With all due respect, with you throwing around the whole "80% of people have internet, so everything should just be digital", I'm not sure you're reading as much on the subject or are as "lefty" as you think you are. Libraries aren't just about books.

    Libraries are often the lifeline for the disenfranchised, recent immigrants (many libraries have the only free or nearly free english language classes) and are often a public access area where basic computer skills like opening a Hotmail account are taught. I know this because I've taught those classes when I was 19 at our local library; the people taking them are not like you, and basically claw their way through every day.

    The nature of public programming, in theory, is to provide things that the free market cannot or will not provide. The free market, the digital market you are talking about, won't replicate the community or the basic knowledge base that libraries provide to the 20% of people who don't have the things you take for granted.

    By forgetting or neglecting to understand how 20%, 5%, 1% of the population who don't have something are often the ones who need it the most, I think you need to recalibrate what it means to be a lefty. That's pretty much the marker of one.
    posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 9:02 AM on February 12, 2012 [35 favorites]


    So there is that. Now the alternate method goes like this:

    1) Go to library
    2) Get a library card
    3) Check out books legally and with the full knowledge the authors, publishers and everyone else is satisfied the publishing world.
    4) Read and learn
    5) Return the book and get another.


    2a) Understand that returning books late incurs a fine
    2b) Understand that if you lose the book, it will cost more to replace than book than it would cost to buy it on Amazon
    2c) Have transportation to the library
    2d) Understand the library is closed most of the time, even in well funded districts.

    3b) Understand that there is one copy of a book in the library, and if it is checked out, you may have to wait two weeks to read it.
    3c) Understand that the library's purchase of one copy of the book deprives the author and publisher of multiple sales

    etc.

    posted by zippy at 9:19 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I volunteer at my local library. I see a lot of people come in to drop off books and get new ones, but I see a lot more people come in to study after school or use the computers or get help with research. Kids need help finding appropriate books for school projects--we're in a poor, majority hispanic neighborhood and their parents don't know the Dewey decimal system or how to select from amongst a broad spectrum of books in a language they don't read. Many of the people using the computers don't know how to do anything on them that a librarian hasn't shown them how to do. Libraries are about a lot more than simply loaning books.
    posted by joannemerriam at 9:19 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Tablet PCs are down to $35 and in fifteen years will cost less than your lunch. Meanwhile, mobile broadband is increasing exponentially. So even in very poor neighborhoods we can project that it will be easier to provide universal digital access than to maintain brick-and-mortar repositories for print media. The social aspect of libraries is important, and replacements should be developed, but more people will have more access to more information if we push digital. That's a Good Thing.
    posted by twoleftfeet at 9:25 AM on February 12, 2012


    Silicon Valley firms, it's $12.5 million for the kind of PR boost you cannot otherwise buy.

    Google could buy all the libraries, install cameras, and call them Google Observation Decks.
    posted by pashdown at 9:33 AM on February 12, 2012


    Tablet PCs are down to $35 and in fifteen years will cost less than your lunch. Meanwhile, mobile broadband is increasing exponentially. So even in very poor neighborhoods we can project that it will be easier to provide universal digital access than to maintain brick-and-mortar repositories for print media.
    In the flier for Senior Tech Zone days at my local library, one of the things they offer to do is teach patrons how to use Google. We are talking about people who need lessons to use search engines, never mind more complicated computer tasks. The only place where they can get those lessons is at the library. So when you say we should abolish libraries and give everyone tablets and broadband, who exactly are you envisioning will show people how to use their tablets? The phantom librarians and other library staff who you've just fired?
    The social aspect of libraries is important, and replacements should be developed
    In what ways will these replacements improve on what we've already got?
    posted by craichead at 9:34 AM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


    I have to ask, twoleftfeet: have you ever been to a library?
    posted by sadmarvin at 9:35 AM on February 12, 2012


    codacorolla: "We need to do something which I'll admit is ill defined and perhaps impossible: we need to become the center of civic engagement in our communities."

    From my little bit of wandering around big city libraries in the US, they already are. Awesome comment.
    posted by vanar sena at 9:42 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    If knowledge and entertainment and community are worth transmitting, shouldn't that effort be aimed where people are really spending their time?

    That would be television. Look how well that has worked out.
    posted by rough ashlar at 9:47 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The social aspect of libraries is important, and replacements should be developed, but more people will have more access to more information if we push digital.

    So, if I follow you, we should dismantle libraries, give everyone access to the internet via tablets, and create some kind of social gathering hole for the disenfranchised? This is the cheaper option too?

    I say this because California, home to 37 million people, spent around $1.54 per capita on library funding in 1999-2000 and last year, spent around $0.33 per capita. You want to spend lunch money (your marker for cheapness) on getting people tablets and new infrastructure? You'd be arguing for a 15-20 fold increase in the budget for basic access to information than we have now.
    posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 9:54 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    There is actually an app for that, and many libraries in California are participating (but their selection is fairly limited).

    (Don't get me wrong, I think that technology alone can't solve our social problems and I fall on the "libraries are an important institution of democracy and modern society" side of the discussion, but I also feel that paper books themselves are on their way to becoming a curiosity of the 20th century.)
    posted by fragmede at 9:56 AM on February 12, 2012


    lalochezia: "Damn, codacorolla, that was an amazing comment."

    Thirded. And flagged for excellence. You have inspired me to go down to my local library and volunteer some time.

    Also, one small way I contribute to the library is by being a loyal customer at the Friends of the Library's annual book sale. It's a great way to stock up on reading material for the year, while helping out the library.
    posted by MexicanYenta at 9:57 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I admit to not being a huge user of public libraries in my adult life. Until I had a child. We go to the story times every week and he gets to play with other kids and hear a nice lady read some stories and sing songs. We check out 10-12 books every few weeks lately, books that I could in no way afford to buy. Half of my day is spent with him dragging a book over and sitting in my lap to read it together. The local baby wearing group uses the meeting space to get together and help new moms figure out how to use those confounding wraps and carriers. Without the library, a really enriching part of my child's life would be missing and we'd be left reading the same crappy books from the Target Dollar Spot every day.
    posted by chiababe at 9:59 AM on February 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


    Codacorolla, I have a question.

    I imagine that this situation isn't that uncommon, and that the computers are often in use for filling in these forms. Is there some reason that one or two of the computers (the ones next to the person running the computer section) cannot be set aside for use for government forms/job applications only? (I am sure there is some reason. I don't know enough to know what that reason might be.)
    posted by jeather at 10:02 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Tablet PCs are down to $35 and in fifteen years will cost less than your lunch. Meanwhile, mobile broadband is increasing exponentially. So even in very poor neighborhoods we can project that it will be easier to provide universal digital access than to maintain brick-and-mortar repositories for print media.

    This sounds disturbingly similar to what many projects in developing countries do: give someone some technology, assume everyone is able to use it natively, and walk away. Pretty soon, without training or tech support, the devices aren't used, break down, are sold for food, or are just plain junked. We already know this doesn't work.

    Look around your house. I bet you have at least one piece of technology lying around that you bought and thought might be useful, but never really got used. Now scale this up and you're talking absolutely massive wastage.

    Codacorolla, brilliant.
    posted by wingless_angel at 10:04 AM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


    3c) Understand that the library's purchase of one copy of the book deprives the author and publisher of multiple sales

    Libraries are the largest purchaser of books in the United States and the data does not support this conclusion you are making as well as many of the others you state. I get that people have valid reasons for not liking their libraries, but it may be worth understanding that the decentralized and even distributed nature of their funding and their governance means that YMMV in many situations. Vermont for example has never had state funding for libraries [along with eight other states] and while I am very sad for California's decision and what it says about people's priorities the truth is that there are a lot of different ways to fund libraries and state support, while I feel that it should be mandatory, is only one of them.

    I sidebarred codacorola's comment. I don't have much to add to it but the reason you can't set aside computers for filling out forms is because in the scenario envisioned you'd not only need "extra" computers (and they're all always in use all the time) also need someone to staff it. So who pays for that person? Theoretically if you have to fill out a government form, the government should be helping you do that. Only they don't or they think they are by having there be a staffed public library. This is what we call the "unfunded mandate" to be the social safety net for technology instruction.
    posted by jessamyn at 10:05 AM on February 12, 2012 [30 favorites]


    I admit to not being a huge user of public libraries in my adult life. Until I had a child.

    This is the story for a vast number of people who may not have visited a library in the past 20 years. The trick is, how to make sure the library is around long enough so that when our children's children come along, it's still there for them.
    posted by wingless_angel at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


    We are talking about people who need lessons to use search engines, never mind more complicated computer tasks. The only place where they can get those lessons is at the library.

    Right, that's true now, but in the long run this is a goofy position. It doesn't make sense to maintain buildings and staff for the purpose of training people to use the tablet PCs that eliminate the original need for those buildings and staff.

    That would be television. Look how well that has worked out.

    That's not quite right. Kids today watch TV on their phones and TV viewership is likely to decline as laggards get through the adoption curve. Everybody will have a phone. Everybody. It makes more sense to spend money on digitization and licensing to provide publicly available digital libraries.

    I love traditional libraries and I've spent many happy hours in them, tucked away in a back stack, tugging a hefty volume at random off the shelf and enjoying its heft and smell. I hope libraries stay around forever. But it's not up to me.
    posted by twoleftfeet at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2012


    Not everyone but ~80% of the US population has Internet access and that's good enough to at least seriously considering going digital.

    And you know who that ~20% is who don't have Internet access? They're also largely the same folks who don't have books at home. The shortsightedness of this makes me go a little crazy.

    Another crazy figure: Meg Whitman spent well over $20 mil on her failed gubernatorial campaign. Yes, it's her money and she can spend it as she likes, but take a moment to imagine what would happen if we invested that kind of cash (responsibly) in schools and libraries.
    posted by smirkette at 10:07 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Jeather, I've worked in public libraries for over a decade, the need for access to e-goverment services is pretty overwhelming. If we had a terminal by the desk a staff person would have to be there constantly helping someone and we simply don't have the staff for that. We often have to send someone off to a computer and hope they can muddle though so that we are only dealing with the crisis situations.

    I don't know about ALA, but in Canada a lot of the lobbying for funding is done by organisations that court publishers and vendors as much as they do political parties. Because the vendors are where the library associations get the big money. So pushes for funding tend to be for specific items that are private-public partnerships and are not funding staff. And my opinion is that staff are the heart of the public library; as noted above, a bank of computers and tablets are just decorative paperweights unless there is the "customer service" is there to solve the daily problems.

    I've attended a few seminars on how to influence municipal politicians to support the local library (where I live the library is about 90% funded through local tax dollars) and what I took away was to emphasize there are basically two users of the library: the privileged people who enjoy the community engagement (and are the people the councillors are most likely to relate to) and the "lower class", struggling groups that do nat have stable access to a computer, e-government services, literacy programmes, study space and interacting with the community without spending money. So the message we have to deliver is that the library is a public good for all (our local statistics show that for every dollar invested in the library the community gains almost $4 back by getting people educated and employed and away from crime). But we can't become known as a place poor people hang out or else that will scare away the middle class users. Like the local buses that are going upscale and targeting commuters and as a side benefit expanding routes the young and poor can ride.
    posted by saucysault at 10:09 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    And my response to the "Mobile broadband will fix the digital divide" issue is:

    - net neutrality doesn't exist on mobile phones
    - mobile broadband is prohibitively expensive for poor people
    - bandwidth caps make mobile broadband not a replacement for terrestrial broadband, though it is a panacea in some ways. it creates a tier of second class citizens who don't have "real" internet enough to watch a Netflix movie [1GB per hour] or update their system software
    - who is going to teach these people how to use it?

    I live in a town surrounded by towns where people's only access options are satellite or maybe mobile broadband. It's unclear if they're really building more towers

    that's good enough to at least seriously considering going digital.


    The public library is FOR EVERYONE which means you don't get to play 80/20 games like this like you can in free market economics. I'm all for libraries doing creative thinking and developing new ways of interacting with content, but our solutions need to work for everyone. Our biggest problem isn't funding, it's copyright. For serious.
    posted by jessamyn at 10:10 AM on February 12, 2012 [34 favorites]


    Fact: the great library of Alexandria was opened to allow hobos to masturbate. The papyrus storage thing was kind of a sideline.
    posted by dr_dank at 10:11 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    For a futuristic take on everything codacorolla illustrated, I would highly recommend reading the book I finished this weekend, Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge.

    2a) Understand that returning books late incurs a fine
    2b) Understand that if you lose the book, it will cost more to replace than book than it would cost to buy it on Amazon


    This is why I no longer have an unexpired library card; I purposefully let mine expire because I was spending as much on fines as I would've to buy the books in the first place. Now, if I want to read a book, I buy a physical copy; I have other friends who avoid the library and just buy books for the same reason. In my case, it's my relative privilege that lets me do that, but I have friends who are less well-off (with unreliable transportation, etc.) who do the same thing due to both outstanding fines they can't afford to pay and the fear that they'd rack up new ones. So this is a real thing.
    posted by limeonaire at 10:11 AM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


    It doesn't make sense to maintain buildings and staff for the purpose of training people to use the tablet PCs that eliminate the original need for those buildings and staff.
    I'm truly trying to figure out our disconnect here. I think maybe it's that you think the function of a library is to house books? The main function of a library is provide information. Some of that comes from books, and some of it comes from other other sources. So if a library were to provide tablets and teach people how to use them, that would be within "the original function" of the library. And providing people with tablets would eliminate the need for a space that provides information, because people do not instinctively know how to use technology.

    You seem to think that because you think paper books are irrelevant, we should shut down libraries and open new information-providing spaces that would be called something else. And there's no reason to do that, because libraries can provide all sorts of information other than dead-tree books. (And it's also premature to write off the dead-tree book, although it's entirely possible that someday they'll cease to be an important part of public libraries' collections.)
    posted by craichead at 10:17 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    That's all to say, though, I still support libraries and understand the need them, perhaps more than ever after reading Rainbows End and codacorolla's comment. I used to rely on library computers for Internet access in high school; my husband relied on them and sporadic work and family computer access until he met me and got his first laptop a few years back. So I've definitely been on both sides of that divide, and if O had to, I'd of course get a library card again.
    posted by limeonaire at 10:19 AM on February 12, 2012


    This is why I no longer have an unexpired library card; I purposefully let mine expire because I was spending as much on fines as I would've to buy the books in the first place.

    You gave up your library card because you didn't like the consequences of not holding up your half of the bargain? Did you ever try returning/renewing you books on time?
    posted by sadmarvin at 10:20 AM on February 12, 2012 [20 favorites]


    In addition to the access to e-govenment the amount of time everyday I have to spend helping people do a basic resume in Word or Open Office is astounding. And I am talking all ages groups, educations levels, New Canadians and people born here (after all, I see all their personal details). A lot of people think they know how to "use" a computer because they have been taught a specific task in school or work but they cannot teach themselves expanded skills (and without their own computer and limited time on a library computer they don't have access). And a lot of those people don't have a "friend" they can turn to.

    As to fines, my public library allows staff to waive fines and I do so on a regular basis. Fines are such a small drop in the bucket of revenue that they have minimal impact on the bottom line but can be a huge barrier to access to so many of my patrons. Ask the librarian politely (or sometimes I can just tell it is needed, or overhear a mother explaining sadly to her three children "no, we can't take books home today, maybe next payday") and I get rid of them.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, limeonaire, I have had that recommended before.
    posted by saucysault at 10:21 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    It wasn't working out, sadmarvin. I successfully held up my end of the bargain for more than two decades, but a busy schedule and shortened library hours in my area have made that increasingly difficult, so I've opted out, for everyone's good.
    posted by limeonaire at 10:22 AM on February 12, 2012


    if a library were to provide tablets and teach people how to use them, that would be within "the original function" of the library.

    That is a not what the word "library" originally meant and never has been. This whole argument that libraries are good because they provide a warm place with knowledgeable people who can help poor people learn things is a great argument for some sort of social service, but not for what most people have usually called a "library".
    posted by twoleftfeet at 10:28 AM on February 12, 2012


    I successfully held up my end of the bargain for more than two decades, but a busy schedule and shortened library hours in my area have made that increasingly difficult, so I've opted out, for everyone's good.

    All snark aside, this is one of the major tragedies of the closing of branches and reduction of hours. Many of the prime patrons of a library are in positions where they might not be able to just head across town whenever they need to get or return a book. It may seem redundant to have a number of libraries in a town, but the geography plays a major role in library use.
    posted by sadmarvin at 10:30 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Boo!
    posted by PJLandis at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Nowhere in that article does it say anything about top tax rates. We won't be voting on that until November. WTF?
    posted by one_bean at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2012


    Libraries are so much more than books. They bring teenagers together, offer toddler classes, teach English, provide research help, serve as hosts for local culture, offer meeting spaces for community groups, you name it. If you haven't been to a local library a while, you may be surprised how much it has to offer. That is, if it has any money. Librarians, by the way, also served as a bulwark against intrusive Patriot Act inquiries. So hurrah for libraries. Damn Howard Jarvis and his brethren.
    posted by etaoin at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2012


    That is a not what the word "library" originally meant and never has been.

    Not true, twoleftfeet. Here's the OED's definition of library (N.B the OED sorts definitions chronologically, so this is the oldest usage of library):

    1. A place set apart to contain books for reading, study, or reference. (Not applied, e.g. to the shop or warehouse of a bookseller.) In various applications more or less specific.
    posted by sadmarvin at 10:34 AM on February 12, 2012


    That is a not what the word "library" originally meant and never has been.

    So you're trying to tell me that the meaning and context of words never changes over time? Fail.
    posted by ActionPopulated at 10:36 AM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    That is a not what the word "library" originally meant and never has been.
    You're linking to an etymology dictionary to provide a modern definition of what a library does? If that's the right way to think about the question, we need to abolish all the hospitals, because the online etymology dictionary tells us that a hospital was originally a guest house or an inn. We've already got hotels, so I think we need to shut the hospitals down and reopen some sort of place for sick people to get treatment.

    Modern libraries are repositories of information, not all of which is contained in books. They provide access to computers and digital resources, journals and magazines, audiovisual materials, and people who are skilled and using those resources.
    posted by craichead at 10:41 AM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I think maybe it's that you think the function of a library is to house books? The main function of a library is provide information.

    I suspect that state budgeteers disagree with that statement. Those who set library budgets define the library functions, not some anonymous user of an obscure web forum.
    posted by Ardiril at 10:41 AM on February 12, 2012


    Libraries are the largest purchaser of books in the United States and the data does not support this conclusion

    Happy to hear they are, however ... and this means they do not displace direct sales? Do no people who could afford books and would purchase books instead check them out from the library?
    posted by zippy at 10:43 AM on February 12, 2012


    That is a not what the word "library" originally meant and never has been.

    Look, if you've got a bee in your bonnet that's fine, but you have a bunch of actual librarians telling you what their library actually does and if you want to pooh pooh that because it doesn't fit the historical definition of why libraries were created that's sort of on you.

    And limeonaire's situation is sadly typical. Technology has helped somewhat [allowing people to renew online] but we still see people all the time who just don't go anymore because of a combination of owing money and [usually] staff who are unpleasant or patronizing to them about that fact. Here in rural Vermont most of our libraries don't even have fines. We'd just like the books back or know where they are.

    Technology helps with this too, if you can recall your book via the computer it doesn't matter to us if it's at your place or our place, the books belong to the community not the librarians. Of course all this technological innovation is only really useful if there are people who know how to use it and one of the new digital divides is people who know how to work the library system to put books on hold, recall them, get electronic versions or even know how to fill out an ILL request, and people who just head into the building and look on the shelves. There are a lot of ways we could do better.
    posted by jessamyn at 10:44 AM on February 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


    Every time I hear some Tea Party moron screaming loudly about how he/she shouldn't be paying taxes, I think of California. What's the GDP of the state? It's huge, right? Like 8th or 9th largest in the world, if you think of California as its own county. This is a place that should by rights be a paradise in which to live: good jobs, lots of income, nice weather, beautiful parks... But somewhere along the line, some misguided dolts decided that Californians shouldn't pay taxes, they made it insanely difficult for the state government to actually levy taxes, and boom - the whole place has been slowly crumbling ever since. It's a microcosm model of what the Tea Party wants to do to the entire country: keep the rich in charge, protect their income streams, and watch in silent acceptance as the way of life made possible by responsible public spending disappears. Watch as they are deluded into actively voting against any measure that might improve their lot, that might make it easier for their children to escape the downward spiral. Saddest thing is that the people making these decisions in the ballot box have zero idea that they are voting away thir futures.

    You forgot only one detail: come up with handy scapegoats on which to very loudly blame the crumbling of civil society, so that the real source of the problem is obfuscated to the point of disappearing from the conversation entirely. Here in CA, for example, that means years of sustained blame heaped upon immigrants and teachers' unions for destroying our public schools, rather than Prop 13, which is the engine that has been driving this state off a cliff for a generation.
    posted by scody at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


    Oh, I remember the other thing I was going to say: Just to add to the chorus on this, the whole "digital natives" thing is bunk. I'm of a supposedly digitally savvy generation, and I'm an expert-level computer user probably only because of the sheer amount of time I spent in college and since experimenting with (and breaking, and fixing) my machines. That, and I'm part of a pretty techie crowd, with quite a few friends who are in tech/software fields. But yeah, I'm continually amazed by the ways otherwise smart younger coworkers work their computers in the most cockeyed ways, like double-clicking on anything that needs to be clicked at all, completely not knowing how to discern among (and thus distrusting) search results, and not doing (to me) basic things like looking up how something in a piece they're writing is correctly spelled before turning it in. Just a day ago, I had to show the guy installing software on people's Macs how to actually install it (rather than just leaving the program in an accidentally-ejectable folder on everyone's desktops. And this is a heavily computer-reliant industry, publishing; my mother, who works at a state-run career center, has told me stories of the difficulties a lot of job-seekers, even younger ones, are having with the technology. Oh, and guess where a lot of the increasing numbers of unemployed people without computer skills have to go to log their job applications, check in and file each week, etc.? Oh yeah...I've heard many frustrating public-library tales from an unemployed friend in the past couple of years.
    posted by limeonaire at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Do no people who could afford books and would purchase books instead check them out from the library?

    Some, sure, but if you've been to a house with books before, chances are the authors they've chosen were introduced to them free, either through a library or through borrowing from friends. Libraries also induce people to buy books they really like to always have them, or to expand their access to include books the library doesn't have.

    This is the same argument people had when cassette tapes came out; if people can tape songs off the radio, isn't it going to stop people from buying music? The answer was no and the music industry expanded greatly thereafter.
    posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 10:50 AM on February 12, 2012


    this means they do not displace direct sales? Do no people who could afford books and would purchase books instead check them out from the library?


    Usually it means that people who discover authors at the library then go out and buy more books by those authors and in fact they're usually just higher content consumers generally speaking. Same with CDs and movies, the people who illegally download them are often some of the largest purchasers. And at some level it's a balance over the entire industry. Poetry books, for example, would almost not exist if they weren't purchased in great numbers by libraries because the market for them is so teeny otherwise.

    There are other countries like Australia and the UK where books sold to libraries actually have a payment that goes directly to the authors to replace this lost revenue so I'm not saying that it doesn't happen but the studies that have been made seem to imply that on balance, no, the publishers would not be raking in more money if libraries didn't exist in fact they'd be receiving significantly less.
    posted by jessamyn at 10:53 AM on February 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


    I suspect that state budgeteers disagree with that statement. Those who set library budgets define the library functions, not some anonymous user of an obscure web forum.
    When the budgeteers in my state explain their decision to shut down all the unemployment offices and have everyone file for unemployment online, they like to point out that everyone in the state should have internet access through the public library. So I think they've got the memo, whether or not you have.
    posted by craichead at 10:54 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    But somewhere along the line, some misguided dolts decided that Californians shouldn't pay taxes, they made it insanely difficult for the state government to actually levy taxes, and boom - the whole place has been slowly crumbling ever since.

    Many californians would disagree with your assessment that "the whole place has been slowly crumbling ever since".
    posted by Ardiril at 10:54 AM on February 12, 2012


    Whether I received a memo is immaterial. I don't make the library budget.
    posted by Ardiril at 10:55 AM on February 12, 2012


    you have a bunch of actual librarians telling you what their library actually does and if you want to pooh pooh that because it doesn't fit the historical definition of why libraries were created that's sort of on you.

    I'm not the one cutting funds for libraries. There's a perception problem here and yeah, people think that libraries are houses for books and when funds are cut to libraries it doesn't bother them as much because it doesn't seem like they're cutting other important social services. They think that libraries are houses for books because most people aren't librarians and don't have this expanded notion of "library" and so they fall back on what the word has usually meant since it was first created the 14th century. Rebranding the word "library" as some other kind of social service is a bad way to get funding for these other social services.
    posted by twoleftfeet at 10:56 AM on February 12, 2012


    Many californians would disagree with your assessment that "the whole place has been slowly crumbling ever since".

    If not the whole place then the freeways definitely.

    I could be driven blindfolded down 280 and I could tell you when we hit Cupertino by how especially shitty the road gets.
    posted by Talez at 11:01 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    twoleftfeet's future, where one day everybody - everybody - will have a phone (by which he means a smartphone, I gather) is assuredly distant. I have the oldest, most basic phone I can possibly procure, and this will continue to be my modus operandi. I do not want a colour screen. Or a camera. Or a browser. Or any of that bullshit. I want a phone. I know several young, techy types that feel the same way. Hell, I know quite a few that don't own a mobile phone at all, having given up on the hassle of it.

    It's like why cash won't really disappear for the foreseeable future - technology like this is kind of a lifestyle choice (much as living in an unelectrified wood cabin in the mountains is), and you just can't exclude people who have made less popular lifestyle choices from society altogether.
    posted by Dysk at 11:02 AM on February 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


    This is the same argument people had when cassette tapes came out; if people can tape songs off the radio, isn't it going to stop people from buying music? The answer was no and the music industry expanded greatly thereafter.

    OK, I see that. I know I learned about a lot of authors through libraries, so I think my last claim about libraries is pretty weak.

    I was addressing an earlier post on the inconvenience of digital downloads, and trying to show that if one claims that digital downloads deprive authors of revenue, then the same argument can be made of borrowing.

    We know in both cases that sharing stimulates buying, so my claim to be weak with regards to libraries. Similarly, the claim that torrenting deprives authors of revenue follows the same pattern, if one believes free access stimulates sales.
    posted by zippy at 11:06 AM on February 12, 2012


    There's a perception problem here and yeah, people think that libraries are houses for books and when funds are cut to libraries it doesn't bother them as much because it doesn't seem like they're cutting other important social services.

    Uh, this isn't happening in isolation from threats to education, medicare and social security. This isn't about perception of libraries, this is a war on the social safety net that is being waged across the country.

    This is a small-time budget line victory for people who think that government should get out of the business of helping poor and disenfranchised people so their bank accounts can get a little bit bigger.
    posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 11:10 AM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


    In this thread it seems to me that I distinguish between the people that definitely do not use libraries and the people that definitely do.

    Will this adversely affect free public pornography for hobos?

    In "my" library system, internet usage is not anonymous. Hobos don't have library cards, unless they can prove residency with State issued ID, or from addresses on utility bills. If they don't have library cards, then they can't log in on the "public" terminals.

    I saw an older mexican man thrown off of the public terminals because he was caught logging in with a card number and pin from a scrap of paper that he brought with him.

    So, no, it won't affect their access to free pornography.
    posted by the Real Dan at 11:22 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    But somewhere along the line, some misguided dolts decided that Californians shouldn't pay taxes, they made it insanely difficult for the state government to actually levy taxes, and boom - the whole place has been slowly crumbling ever since.
    But state and local tax revenues in California don't seem to be that low? Higher than average, anyway (12th highest, on that chart).
    posted by planet at 11:27 AM on February 12, 2012


    When you want to change a perspective, a perspective change is often the best tool.

    Ignore "helping poor and disenfranchised people"; that argument is unconvincing. Concentrate instead on national security* and how libraries (and education in general) are vital toward maintaining national security. Give the swing voters a reason to swing your way.

    Work with the system instead of constantly butting your head against it. Masochists excluded.

    * ... or economic security, but you may have to go an extra mile in explaining that one.
    posted by Ardiril at 11:31 AM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    But state and local tax revenues in California don't seem to be that low? Higher than average, anyway (12th highest, on that chart).

    Our property tax - the one that's a steady source of revenue is limited thanks to Prop 13, which allows assessed home value to increase no more than 2% except in the case of a change of ownership or new construction. It also limites property tax to 1% of the full cash value of the property.

    Sales and income tax, which are more closely tied to the economy being good or bad, make up the difference. So we have severe revenue shortfalls in bad times.
    posted by zippy at 11:34 AM on February 12, 2012


    Whether I received a memo is immaterial. I don't make the library budget.

    Yes, you do. By who you vote for and by contacting your elected representative in office to tell hem your priorities and voting them out when they fail you.
    posted by saucysault at 11:35 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Rebranding the word "library" as some other kind of social service is a bad way to get funding for these other social services.

    Public libraries aren't "rebranding" themselves; public libraries have historically served many of those functions that you are dismissing. The idea that libraries provide community services beyond just circulating books was explicitly recognized in the movement to build, expand, and fund the public library systems in the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, from its earliest days the New York Public Library was an important community resource for immigrants in terms of language acquisition and cultural exchange.

    Your claim that people are just falling back on some "14th-century" definition of the idea if a public library is patently false. (First off, there was no concept of a public library in the 14th century because there was no concept of the word "public" as we think of it here. But I digress.) Libraries were widely seen as providing community services more than a hundred ago; it's not some sort of kooky marketing campaign that librarians have just made up in the past couple of years. If people don't know the full scope of what libraries do or provide, then that is reflective of their ignorance.
    posted by scody at 11:36 AM on February 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


    So we have severe revenue shortfalls in bad times.

    You're right. But it's also true that we spend too much in good times. When our revenues go way up in boom years California raises expenditures to match... and then a crash happens and voila, huge deficit.

    Yeah, it's because the state's income is so variable due to the monumentally stupid Prop 13.
    posted by Justinian at 11:37 AM on February 12, 2012


    voting them out when they fail you.

    Oh, I do, and I have yet to vote for a Democrat for any office.
    posted by Ardiril at 11:39 AM on February 12, 2012


    (Although I have voted for a few communists to avoid voting for a Democrat. ;-P )
    posted by Ardiril at 11:41 AM on February 12, 2012


    Why, bless your heart!
    posted by werkzeuger at 11:43 AM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Our property tax - the one that's a steady source of revenue is limited thanks to Prop 13, which allows assessed home value to increase no more than 2% except in the case of a change of ownership or new construction.
    I see that to some extent, but it looks like California's per capita revenue from state and local property taxes was still in the top third, at least in 2008. Where California does seem to lag is the property tax burden as a percentage of home value. But it's not clear to what connection home value has to needed expenditures.
    posted by planet at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2012


    heheh, life's not easy for us small-l libertarians.
    posted by Ardiril at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2012


    I imagine that this situation isn't that uncommon, and that the computers are often in use for filling in these forms. Is there some reason that one or two of the computers (the ones next to the person running the computer section) cannot be set aside for use for government forms/job applications only? (I am sure there is some reason. I don't know enough to know what that reason might be.)

    At the last place I worked this was the case, however it varies by system. We had reference computers (between 1 and 4, depending on the branch size) which allowed for an hour use at a time. However all time draws from the same pool, and think about the last time you applied for a job... was 2 hours enough?
    posted by codacorolla at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2012


    Many californians would disagree with your assessment that "the whole place has been slowly crumbling ever since".

    California as a larger *place* still indeed has more than enough to recommend it. But California the *state* has some serious governance issues, and those do indeed seem to be resulting in an erosion of helpful public institutions and services, and I don't think you're going to find a significant portion of Californians who disagree with that (though I suppose you might find many who believe that public institutions either don't matter or are the source of the problem).
    posted by weston at 12:02 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I suppose you might find many who believe that public institutions either don't matter or are the source of the problem

    Easily found; they vote.
    posted by Ardiril at 12:04 PM on February 12, 2012


    twoleftfeet: If we just digitize everything we can cut building site and operation costs to almost nothing. The only difficulty is establishing the first point, that there is a genuine need for a public library. I would argue that commercial services shouldn't control our available information.

    “If we just digitize everything” -- this mantra pops up in every thread about libraries, but especially funding for libraries that comes from taxpayer support. You don't seem to know -- or care to know -- how much of a huge “if” that is, even in the best of economic times. And then there’s “the only difficulty," which is "establishing the first point, that there is a genuine need for a public library” -- which is made more difficult by the cavalierness of your “digitize everything” point.

    Foci for Analysis: Approx. time: 5-10 minutes.

    You assume that, as the commenter above does, that everything already is -- or almost is -- or will be anytime soon -- online (and the corollary, freely available to all).

    rough ashlar: Good thing that the blending of the power of the State being used to benefit Corporations isn't Democracy then.

    Good thing that cynicism never dies on mefi!

    running order squabble fest: If I was a poor Californian kid, I would become an expert at Google Scholar.

    And that would get you -- what? A few abstracts? Access to limited numbers of free-access articles? And links to articles that have subscriptions that are owned by libraries that -- oh, yeah! -- in California have now had all of their interlibrary loan funding slashed to zero, so getting access to the actual article is next to impossible!

    Foci for Analysis: The possibilities are endless once you abandon the preconceived notions about libraries and how a society should approach knowledge sharing in general.

    And who’s going to hold the torch for the progressive forward thinking you describe if the first public reaction to library funding being cut is, “Meh, they’ll find it somewhere else, everything's digitized or will be soon enough, why should I give a shit”? And who is this “you” you are talking about, the people who are going to abandon all preconceived notions, take great leaps into the wonders of the future, etc., etc.? Surely not the taxpayers of California.

    Summer: In this new digital reality, children like Winterson would be fucked.

    In this new digital reality, children like Winterson should be well and good fucked -- or so the thinking would seem to go in the predominant mood of this thread.

    caution live frogs: Every time I hear some Tea Party moron screaming loudly about how he/she shouldn't be paying taxes, I think of California.

    Actually, I think of all 50 states, "from sea to shining sea" (as Mitt Romney sings on the campaign trail), because there are “tea party morons” (as you call them) in all 50 of ‘em, in my experience -- just look over the border in Nevada or Arizona for starters. Hooray!

    fuq: Also, a lot of technocrats in this thread are forgetting that libraries are social things.

    There are people, technocrats or not, in this thread who do not give a shit that libraries are social things -- or that libraries are still things, period.

    Ardiril: heheh, life's not easy for us small-l libertarians.

    Let me get out my tiniest violin.
    posted by blucevalo at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I'll get out my Strat and Marshall.
    posted by Ardiril at 12:09 PM on February 12, 2012


    running order squabble fest: If I was a poor Californian kid, I would become an expert at Google Scholar.

    And that would get you -- what? A few abstracts?
    I'm pretty sure that was a joking reference to a particularly embarrassing Forbes column that made the rounds a few months back.
    posted by craichead at 12:10 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Easily found; they vote.

    They do indeed. Often like those who attend vegetarian restaurants and complain they serve poor meat.
    posted by weston at 12:13 PM on February 12, 2012


    I'm really starting to hate the internet. It's become the fashionable excuse for dismantling virtually every facet of civil society. Damn this thread is depressing.
    posted by saulgoodman at 12:15 PM on February 12, 2012 [22 favorites]


    Often like those who attend vegetarian restaurants and complain they serve poor meat. - ... but even more often like those who are the majority.
    posted by Ardiril at 12:18 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Okay, I'm a Californian, I don't support the dismantling of public institutions and services, and I do vote in a way that consistently reflects that position (and so do many millions of others here). So can we stop this bullshit about how all 37 million of us in the state have just brought this on ourselves? A simple majority won't even raise taxes here; it takes two-thirds. That was put into law right around the time Prop 13 came into being. Clever, huh?

    1. Destroy funding for public services
    2. make it almost impossible to reverse.
    3. blame the people not actually in power
    4. MOTHERFUCKING PROFIT
    posted by scody at 12:33 PM on February 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


    can we stop this bullshit about how all 37 million of us in the state have just brought this on ourselves?

    Sure, we can stop it, but it doesn't change it. Losing a battle to rhetoric is a common first-world problem. This is our privilege of being citizens of the United States of America.

    it takes two-thirds. - Thus your goal.
    posted by Ardiril at 12:39 PM on February 12, 2012


    I know California is in a budget crisis, can anyone explain how this amendment got set-up and passed?

    California is in a permanent budget crisis, due to the previously mentioned Proposition 13. One of its other provisions requires a 2/3 super-majority to pass a budget bill or tax increase. It's the prototype for Grover Norquist's "starve the beast" strategy & makes it incredibly difficult to get the legislature to agree to spend any money at all, ultimately making it necessary to enact a series of painful & harmful cuts like this one. This is the root cause of pretty much all of California's budget problems. Until it's rescinded, California government will be left in a state of perpetual failure, jettisoning one necessary program after another in the name of survival like a trapped animal gnawing off its own limbs to escape the jaws of a trap.
    posted by scalefree at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    jettisoning one necessary program after another in the name of survival like a trapped animal gnawing off its own limbs to escape the jaws of a trap.

    Or, cutting out a cancer in the name of retiring to Arizona.
    posted by Ardiril at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2012


    Sure. Cancers like libraries.
    posted by weston at 12:49 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    it takes two-thirds. - Thus your goal.

    I'll get right on that, with my Super PAC funding, chief.
    posted by scody at 12:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Amusingly weird old Arizona has some of the better public libraries among the states that don't have property tax. I am honestly not sure why this is the case, but as I said before there are a lot of different things that affect a state's library system beyond just state funding.
    posted by jessamyn at 12:53 PM on February 12, 2012


    I'll get right on that, with my Super PAC funding, chief.

    Nobody said it'd be easy. Just necessary.
    posted by scalefree at 12:55 PM on February 12, 2012


    This is the same mindset in Canada that is stripping StatsCan of its budget and scientists. (My daughter in law has an MLIS in and works at StatsCan and they love her and can't keep her.) Reduce access to facts and the people become more malleable. Authoritarians hate facts. Facts defeat fear and uncertainty and they are the easiest way to control a population. How can you argue with "because I said so" if you have no facts?

    The world is collapsing into war; the tribes are authority and knowledge.

    I fear what knowledge will have to do to survive. Anonymous and Wikileaks are on the front lines but they are just throwing pebbles.

    I suspect the next 20 years will be wilder than Vinge, Stross or Watts could imagine.
    posted by seanmpuckett at 12:59 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    If we just digitize everything

    Get back to me when you figure out how to digitize free homework help 5 days a week, bilingual story times, tech-savvy teens who volunteer to help people figure out how to use their digital gadgets, classes on how to use email and stay safe online/use a browser/skype with your kids or grandkids, access to the increasing amount of governmental forms that are only online without having to buy a computer and internet access and a printer yourself, etc. etc.
    posted by rtha at 1:06 PM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


    free homework help 5 days a week

    IM with peers? Khan Academy?

    Kids who have access to computers at home - and obviously this excludes many - collaborate via IM (and Facebook). They get cheap to free language tutoring, from a native speaker, in almost any language, via Skype too.

    Lots of kids don't have on-line access, but the ones with parents who can afford to fund things do, which I think is part of the funding issue. You need to draw in people who have resources, and if you have resources, the internet is a really attractive alternative.
    posted by zippy at 1:17 PM on February 12, 2012


    "They can get ... tutoring"
    posted by zippy at 1:18 PM on February 12, 2012


    7) The understanding that by downloading the file, even if it exists, it is a most likely a crime, depending on the situation and that the person downloading and whoever owns the computer can be held responsible for that action.

    8) The understanding that unless it is a file in the public domain, you have contributed to cheating someone out of part of their living by not purchasing or not using a copy of the intellectual property that was properly acquired.
    Do you actually think that authors get paid when people check out their books from the library? There's no difference between checking out a book from the library and torrenting it, in terms of how much money the author gets.
    California is in a permanent budget crisis, due to the previously mentioned Proposition 13. One of its other provisions requires a 2/3 super-majority to pass a budget bill or tax increase. It's the prototype for Grover Norquist's "starve the beast" strategy & makes it incredibly difficult to get the legislature to agree to spend any money at all
    It only takes 50% of the vote to change the law via referendum.
    posted by delmoi at 1:20 PM on February 12, 2012


    The ballot initiative for tax increases thing was a brilliant move on the part of the right. I give the CA government another couple of years at most.
    posted by Slackermagee at 1:20 PM on February 12, 2012


    Delmoi, I don't know about the US But in some countries authors are compensated (only a small amount, it's true) based on loans.

    I teach in a university and my students are clueless about searching for items, or even working out if what they've found is useful. And - what never seems to get mentioned - most of them still print out what they can and work from that. I keep waiting for the generation that abandons paper and we're nowhere near that yet.
    posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    IM with peers? Khan Academy?

    Which requires a device and an internet connection and a quiet(ish) place. Khan Academy is awesome and I've recommended it myself on the green, but a talking video is not a substitute for a person who can see you're not getting the explanation [this way] so let's try [that way], and who can see that the reason you're not getting it is you don't fully understand a foundational concept.

    It's not just that "people with money" have to be convinced of the usefulness of libraries - there are already lots of those. Our main problem is the "fuck you got mine" crowd. And, apparently, an increasing number of people who think that digital spaces and services are just as good if not better than physical, in-person kinds. I'd like to see some actual policy and budgetary analysis before I'm convinced.
    posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    There's no difference between checking out a book from the library and torrenting it, in terms of how much money the author gets.

    There absolutely is a difference -- which is that the library had to buy the book in the first place. And if it's a popular book, they're going to buy a lot of copies. My library system bought 364 of the new Wimpy Kid book, for example. (It used to be that library sales were THE big force in children's publishing, though that's less true as kids have more disposable income of their own.) The number of copies ordered is based on how many people are going to check out the book -- we have certain metrics in place to reorder books if we have twice as many holds as there are copies of a book, for example. There's also the small amount of wear and tear that each checkout puts on a book, which eventually adds up to needing a replacement (if the book's still popular enough to warrant getting a new copy when the old one wears out.)
    posted by Jeanne at 1:38 PM on February 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


    The internet is great if you know how to look, know what you're looking for, and the topic is of enough interest to have a reliable internet community surrounding it and the person has the funds to access it if necessary.

    So not so much great for people who don't know how to research, don't know how to tell the difference between someone's crackpot opinion and a reputable source, are unfamiliar with a topic or don't even know it exists, and who want to know anything that lives behind a pay wall like scholarly research.

    The idea that those are not huge problems argues for a very sheltered view of the world on the part of the INTERNET EVERYTHING advocates.
    posted by winna at 1:39 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    you just can't exclude people who have made less popular lifestyle choices from society altogether.

    Huh? Sure they can. Perhaps you mean "shouldn't." But there are plenty of places in the US where, if you decide to make an unusual lifestyle choice — living without a car, for instance — you are effectively shut out of much of society, because you just can't get around. Now, you can certainly make the case that we shouldn't do that, and I'd agree with you, but it's pretty much the case right now.

    If you want your particular lifestyle choices to be respected and preserved, it's probably necessary to at least make sure that a fair number of your fellow citizens understand (if not actually share) your stance; telling them that they "can't" disempower you is likely to lead to a nasty surprise, since in a democracy like California's, except in limited circumstances where protections have been carved out by higher governing bodies, they quite manifestly can.
    posted by Kadin2048 at 1:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The social function of libraries as physical places to congregate is important, but we could develop other places to congregate; parks or town squares or coffee shops or whatever.

    Have you ever tried to write a paper at a park? Or you know, read a book in the rain? See many nine year olds hanging out in coffee shops?

    I'm really boggled at the total lack of imagination of some people in this thread. I live in a city with a very large poor population. Try to imagine being a kid living in a very poor and violence prone place, doing their homework using an ipad in the public park. Can you possibly conceive of anything going amiss in that scenario?

    Ownership of e-books has been revoked by the copyright holders in various instances. Those advocating that people and libraries put all their resources into digital products apparently want to outsource information to those that can throttle it at will. As a student I've seen firsthand the idiocy of academic publishers charging universities for access the content the university has created for free. What happens to the e-libraries of the future when they can't afford to update their subscriptions to whatever for-profit is providing their content? A library full of old books is far more useful than a library full of non-functioning e-readers.
    posted by oneirodynia at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


    oneirodynia: Reread what you quoted. That comment addresses congregation, not writing nor reading.
    posted by Ardiril at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2012


    I normally don't comment if I haven't read the entire thread, but in this case I logged in just to say this to the folks going on about the ease of finding books on line: LITERACY classes. LITERACY CLASSES.
    (also, thanks codacorolia.)
    posted by girandole at 2:03 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Why should low taxes be blamed for California's budget problems, when it has one of the highest tax burdens in the US (6th highest state and local combined tax burden in 2009 according to this report) and employee compensation constitutes 2/3 of the state budget?
    posted by shivohum at 2:07 PM on February 12, 2012


    Yeah, we should all totally get our information from disinterested outfits with names like "tax foundation," yo.
    posted by saulgoodman at 2:21 PM on February 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Shivohum, it’s not the magnitude of the taxes but the way they interact with spending priorities. California has a deadly combination of No-New-Taxes politics and unfunded mandates from referendums. Our citizens have denied the legislature the ability to levy taxes, but maintained for themselves the right to establish new costs by popular mandate with simple majorities. It’s a total disaster that these two prerogatives are not in synch with each other.
    posted by migurski at 2:22 PM on February 12, 2012


    There’s also the issue of where those taxes mostly end up: “San Jose’s budget, like the budget of any city, turns on the pay of public-safety workers: the police and firefighters now eat 75 percent of all discretionary spending. The Internet boom created both great expectations for public employees and tax revenues to meet them. … In practice this meant that when the police or fire department of any neighboring city struck a better deal for itself, it became a fresh argument for improving the pay of San Jose police and fire. The effect was to make the sweetest deal cut by public-safety workers with any city in Northern California the starting point for the next round of negotiations for every other city.”
    posted by migurski at 2:25 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Re congregating, most people in my experience come to the library to have a brief interaction with other people but mostly for a quiet place to study, or have a storytime/community event. Which is what oneiodynia was addressing. I work in an area where most households with children have more than five people living there. The only place for quiet study is the library.

    What do you mean by congregation Ardiril? Book clubs? The local Big Box Bookshop encouraged book clubs until they discovered those groups would sit for hours talking in comfy chairs and only buy a few books amongst the whole group. It was a poor return on investment for the Bookshop so they took the chairs away. Coffee shops don't want the book clubs either because they spent so little (the local shop has a sign saying after 20 mins you have to leave). Booking a community information session on a health topic, storytime or offering ESL classes in a Park or Town square is not feasible anywhere that can't guarantee nice rain-free weather (but not too hot or cold) on a day advertised months in advance.
    posted by saucysault at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2012


    Basically, we’ve spent the past 40 years carefully setting bear traps for ourselves and then stepping in them, one after another.

    Prop 13 needs to go.
    posted by migurski at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Yeah, we should all totally get our information from disinterested outfits with names like "tax foundation," yo.

    I'm sure "unionwatch.org" has our back. It provides handy links to the Right-to-Work Foundation, for example. You like rights, doncha?
    posted by werkzeuger at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    twoleftfeet: "Rebranding the word "library" as some other kind of social service is a bad way to get funding for these other social services."

    GUYS I'VE GOT IT!

    We will simply rebrand Libraries and all the services they do. We can call them "The Book Housing, Information Retrieval, and Online Filling Outter Emporium!"

    -------
    A lot of you have said precisely what I would have said. Basically.
    1) Digital Natives? Yeah - if merely using FB and texting means "digital native", then we are massively fucked. I have a lot of techy oriented friends (did some early online telnet type stuff) but they aren't particularly adept at a lot of tech stuff. They know their one or two things to do and that's pretty much it. These are people who really got their start on the more geeky end of online stuff before DHTML and FB and all that stuff took off.

    2) Fuck the semantic games. I understand the argument of "what the public thinks a library is" -- and maybe there's a war to be waged, and maybe it's being waged right now against people who tell us how dare we use the word library to refer to all the things a library does instead of what most people think, and then tells us there's a perception problem, and then refuses to change their perception of the problem thus becoming, I guess, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    3) Privilege. Lots of it.

    Anwyays, I guess that's all I can say - it seems this thread is pretty well hashed out from what I can tell. Just wanted to throw my lot in with the Librarians!
    posted by symbioid at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    saucysault: I am not the one who was quoted.
    posted by Ardiril at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2012


    San Jose’s budget, like the budget of any city, turns on the pay of public-safety workers

    Because, you know, poorly-paid police and firefighters with bad retirement and health options are a good thing for a city.
    posted by GenjiandProust at 2:35 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    San Jose’s budget, like the budget of any city, turns on the pay of public-safety workers

    Show a library educating kids to grow up to handle the technology used by police forces and military branches, and you will get funding for that library.
    posted by Ardiril at 2:39 PM on February 12, 2012


    Yeah, we should all totally get our information from disinterested outfits with names like "tax foundation,"

    And of course, when you can't find fault with the message, attack the messenger. The Tax Foundation was good enough for the New York Times and CNN to cite. But if you want other sources, according to this list by the Federation of Tax Administrators (which excludes local taxes), CA comes up 12th in 2010, and according to this report by the Public Policy Institute of California comes up 13th in 2008.
    ---
    Migurski, isn't what logically follows from what you've said to end unfunded referenda and constrain the growth of public safety worker compensation rather than end Prop 13?
    posted by shivohum at 2:44 PM on February 12, 2012


    Kadin2048: Huh? Sure they can. Perhaps you mean "shouldn't."

    I figured the context made it clear that I was making an appeal to moral imperative, yes.
    posted by Dysk at 3:01 PM on February 12, 2012


    "Idiocracy was not just a movie. It was prophesy."

    For fuck's sake, it was a documentary.


    My copy of the DVD said comedy. And that wasn't right either.
    posted by biffa at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2012


    Don't tell me you didn't chuckle when the word "shit" was on the president's teleprompter.
    posted by Burhanistan at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2012


    Because, you know, poorly-paid police and firefighters with bad retirement and health options are a good thing for a city.
    There’s a substantial amount of daylight between “poorly paid” and what we’ve got now, which is total lunacy. I know of beat cops here in Oakland pulling north of $200K after overtime, and our twenty-two-unit apartment building is owned (and neglected) by an SF firefighter. These guys have strong unions and they absolutely refuse to back down from their unsupportable arrangements.
    posted by migurski at 3:40 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Delmoi, I don't know about the US But in some countries authors are compensated (only a small amount, it's true) based on loans.
    Well, that is definitely not true in the U.S. Which is where California is located.
    There absolutely is a difference -- which is that the library had to buy the book in the first place. And if it's a popular book, they're going to buy a lot of copies.
    Someone had to buy the book to scan it and upload it as well. It's just more efficient.
    posted by delmoi at 3:46 PM on February 12, 2012


    It seems that there is pretty much no one in California will to "back down from their unsupportable arrangements" whether it be the police/fire unions or the legislature.
    posted by josher71 at 3:46 PM on February 12, 2012


    Why not do a public initiative?
    posted by delmoi at 4:26 PM on February 12, 2012


    OP: California rejects top rate tax increase, removes all state funding for CA libraries.

    We did? When did we vote on that? Or are you from the future? There are a few tax increase issues that may by on the ballot in November. If the millionaires tax increase issue does make the ballot I hope the language reminds people that winnings from the California lottery are exempt from state income taxes because that's about the only way most Californians will make anywhere near a million dollars a year. There may be as many as 4 tax increase questions on the ballot in November. As people tend to vote for their own self-interests (or in the case of taxes on rich people the possibility of winning the lottery) I suspect they'll all fail. And we'll see incredible cuts. If we were in Europe we'd call them "austerity measures." Cuts that will result in closed classrooms, lower attendance in colleges, more closed parks, less help for poor kids and the elderly. But guys like Mitt Romney can still pay lower property taxes on his house in La Jolla , and his California state income taxes won't go up so it all works out. I mean these millionaires are job creators. They need our help!

    These cuts are lowering the quality of life and they're disproportionally hurting the poor and rural folk. The next set of cuts will be worse and impact more people.

    I'd love to see prop 13 repealed and get rid of the supermajority requirement for tax increases in the legislature. But I can't see that unless people are rioting in the streets over our austerity measures or there's other extraordinary impact, people aren't going to vote to raise taxes. We couldn't even get an $18 DMV fee on car registration to fund state parks (and get free admittance to the parks which would make up for the higher feed if you just went to a park a few times). So now we have 70 fewer state parks to go to. Good job! Fuck parks!

    The worst part is these cuts are fucking things up not just for us now, but the future generations. I got a world class public school eduction (primary and secondary) in California. Our schools today are near the bottom. This won't matter much now but in a generation there's going to be a lot more dumbasses around.

    A lot of people love to kick California when it is down. Laugh at how fucked up our state is. The problem is we're a microcosm if the US government. Everyone wants things they can't afford and no one wants to pay taxes. We have a 2/3rd majority required to raise taxes. You can't pass any law without 60 votes in the US Senate to sign on. The biggest difference is we can't borrow our way out of our mess so we have to make the cuts now instead of later. Instead of high speed trains we can't afford, the US builds aircraft carriers it can't afford.
    posted by birdherder at 5:00 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    > The next set of cuts will be worse and impact more people.

    Few things are more depressing than watching a society begin to slowly circle the drain in part because people hate paying taxes more than they value society. Today it's libraries. Tomorrow it's street lights. Next week it's...?
    posted by The Card Cheat at 5:18 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]



    It's absolutely true that only a small percentage of the population use the library.

    No it's not. Where I live nearly 60% of the population have a library card, they make an average of just under 14 visits a year each to the library borrowing an average of 53 items in that time.
    posted by tallus at 6:13 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    It's absolutely true that only a small percentage of the population use the library.

    This really varies. In rural areas we have towns where over 100% of the population has library cards because people from neighboring towns also get cards there. The numbers generally are in the 80% range around here. And many more people have library cards than cell phones out here.

    This number varies depending on where you live but there are statistics and things that can actually be known, facts like "the percentage of the population who have library cards" for example. I'm pretty sure I would know where to find this number for any state in the US. NYPL, for example, has 1.86 million library card holders. That's about a 50%-ish number considering it serves Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island.

    I know to people who don't use the library or who know a lot of people who don't use the library it can seem like there must not be many people who use it, but that's just not correct.
    posted by jessamyn at 6:22 PM on February 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


    You know, it's really a pretty small percentage of people who regularly use libraries.

    This is absolutely, demonstrably false. The majority of people in the U.S. have a library card (in fact, as of 2008, the number of library card holders had reached a record high), the majority of people in the U.S. visited a library in the past year, and the use of libraries is increasing year over year.
    posted by scody at 6:52 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


    California rejects top rate tax increase, removes all state funding for CA libraries.


    This headline is a bogus linking of two things. Why is a brand new extra tax needed to fund something we've already been funding without it for a hundred years?

    The truth is, Sacremento collects vast amounts of state income and sales tax, at some of the highest rates in the country, yet it's always whining that it needs more.
    posted by w0mbat at 7:11 PM on February 12, 2012


    The truth is, Sacremento collects vast amounts of state income and sales tax, at some of the highest rates in the country, yet it's always whining that it needs more.

    So are you contending that services all over the state aren't, in fact, being cut? Or do you concede that they are being cut, but that they're being cut for reasons unrelated to budget shortfalls?
    posted by scody at 7:18 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Sacremento

    It is Sacramento. It is the state capital! Stop by your local library and sign up for an adult literacy class before they get cancelled due to budget cuts.
    posted by birdherder at 7:21 PM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]



    It is Sacramento. It is the state capital! Stop by your local library and sign up for an adult literacy class before they get cancelled due to budget cuts.


    Quit being a jerk. Maybe there's a book at your local library that will help.
    posted by liketitanic at 9:01 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Few things are more depressing than watching a society begin to slowly circle the drain in part because people hate paying taxes more than they value society. Today it's libraries. Tomorrow it's street lights. Next week it's...?

    Selling off critical resources & infrastructure to private enterprise & foreign governments smart enough to invest & rich enough to afford it. Welcome to America, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Mega-Corp. Since it's all private property, your "rights" are what we tell you they are. Now get off our lawn.
    posted by scalefree at 9:34 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Man, this 'put it on smartphone stuff' is kind of funny. I was at the Seattle Public Library the other day and they actually have a bank of public payphones. And there were people using them to make phone calls. Never mind your magical IM and ebooks.
    posted by jacalata at 9:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


    How did the libraries end up being the support structure for the poor anyways?
    posted by smackfu at 6:44 AM on February 13, 2012


    They're warm, and they're open during the working day. Pretty much a slam-dunk, I would have thought...
    posted by running order squabble fest at 6:59 AM on February 13, 2012


    How did the libraries end up being the support structure for the poor anyways?

    Lack of other public options. It's been a combination of deinstitutionalization programs in many major cities, lack of other social safety net stuff, privatization of public spaces, and rising unemployment. Even if you're someone who is staying in a shelter, a great deal of those places kick you out for the day so you're left to sort of wander around on your own. The library is heated [or cooled] and has public bathrooms and, most importantly, usually some sort of policy that says it's okay for you to be there so you don't get the usual harassment that you get being in other places. I see it as a mirror of the way our society has been treating the poor generally. There's an out of sight out of mind feeling that people seem to have and flat out not enough programs for people with serious problems. This, of course, varies from place to place, but my personal feeling is that we've forgotten that "public" areas of our society are really for everyone but we have a hard time getting our heads around the fact that everyone includes a lot of people who are eking out sort of marginal existences sometimes.
    posted by jessamyn at 7:07 AM on February 13, 2012 [22 favorites]


    Actually - it's a couple of years old, now, but I have a feeling it's probably not significantly outdated: Chip Ward's A Slashed Safety Net Turns Libraries into Homeless Shelters:
    In bad weather -- hot, cold, or wet -- most of the homeless have nowhere to go but public places. The local shelters push them out onto the streets at six in the morning and, even when the weather is good, they are already lining up by nine, when the library opens, because they want to sit down and recover from the chilly dawn or use the restrooms. Fast-food restaurants, hotel lobbies, office foyers, shopping malls, and other privately owned businesses and properties do not tolerate their presence for long. Public libraries, on the other hand, are open and accessible, tolerant, even inviting and entertaining places for them to seek refuge from a world that will not abide their often disheveled and odorous presentation, their odd and sometimes obnoxious behaviors, and the awkward challenges they present to those who encounter them.
    Indeed, as far as I know (and Jessamyn would know better) the American Library Association's Policy 61 is still current:
    Concrete programs of training and development are needed to sensitize and prepare library staff to identify poor people’s needs and deliver relevant services. And within the American Library Association the coordinating mechanisms of programs and activities dealing with poor people in various divisions, offices, and units should be strengthened, and support for low-income liaison activities should be enhanced.
    posted by running order squabble fest at 7:31 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Actually - it's a couple of years old, now, but I have a feeling it's probably not significantly outdated:

    You are correct. It is not at all outdated. Libraries are still a daytime destination as loitering enforcement has been stepped up. I am sure there are library systems that have taken measures to lessen the use of the buildings for this, but it does not take much to justify being in a library. Put a book in your lap and you are pretty much good for a while. Of course, the general rules of good behavior also apply, but most people looking to get out of the rain and waiting for the shelter to re-open are respectful of the environment and understand that it is a real oasis as opposed to sitting at a bus shelter.

    Of course, there are always exceptions.
    posted by lampshade at 9:17 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


    To the people who've had the solution of 'throw indiscriminate technology at the problem', I think that this report on OLPC is relevant.
    posted by codacorolla at 9:45 AM on February 13, 2012


    codacorolla: "To the people who've had the solution of 'throw indiscriminate technology at the problem', I think that this report on OLPC is relevant."

    Not to mention that "a building filled with people familiar with teaching information literacy" is also a form of technology, albeit one that's less sexy to some.
    posted by Deathalicious at 10:24 AM on February 13, 2012


    Also, a library, even the crappiest grimiest, grossest run-down building, is a magical palace to young kids who love to read. Just going to the fiction section and running your finger across the books (which is especially nice if they all have that protective plastic cover on their dustcovers so that they make a pleasant thrum) is a wondrous thing, and then letting your finger just stop on a book and deciding whether to read it or not.

    Short of going to a bookstore, without libraries it's not possible to have that kind of kinaesthetic discovery. Instead, you're just going to be searching for things you were already looking for. So many authors I never would have read if all I had to find books was a search engine like Google.

    The cool thing about organizing fiction by the author's name is that it's a largely subjectless organizational system. Historical fiction sandwiched next to mysteries next to a more traditional "novel" (which is why although I often find it more convenient, I also like it when libraries don't segregate genres). You're bound to discover new things that don't fall into your normal comfort zone, and you can decide whether or not to pursue it. Contrast that with Amazon, which under "Related" is only ever going to show you more of the same.

    As a child, going into a library was great because it was an intersection between something public and something private; internal and external. I dunno, maybe I just have a weird thing for libraries but for me no amount of e-technology will ever replace them.
    posted by Deathalicious at 10:37 AM on February 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Quit being a jerk. Maybe there's a book at your local library that will help.

    I would... but my library opens late on Mondays because of budget cuts. Really. It isn't Sacramento's fault, but a decision made at city hall.

    When I lived in Austin, I hated when people spelled it Austen. Jane was great, but the ATX was named after Stephen Austin (not the 6 million dollar man).

    I apologize for being a jerk. I'm just sensitive over misspellings of place names. Don't get me started when people spell the country Colombia with a u.
    posted by birdherder at 11:29 AM on February 13, 2012


    All that is much cheaper now. If we just digitize everything we can cut building site and operation costs to almost nothing.

    It's great how this is just tossed out there as a one-liner, casual-like. In our next sentence, we'll solve world hunger. DIGITIZE ALL THE THINGS!

    Let's talk about books, just physical books, none of the other goods or services libraries provide. We've had the technology to digitally store the entirety of human written knowledge since at least the 1970s, and digital transcribers have been working on it diligently ever since. How quickly is that working out? Who will be paying for the hardware, the software, the facilities, the electronic backups, the proofreaders? Maybe if people stopped writing new things for a century or so? Digitize all the things?
    posted by nicebookrack at 12:34 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


    How exactly would one go about digitizing access to computers and e-readers?
    posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:46 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


    nicebookrack: Google seems to have a pretty massive set of stuff digitized. And almost all new works are going to be produced in digital form first, then printed -- if even that.
    posted by delmoi at 1:15 PM on February 13, 2012


    And as someone who has spent a lot of time reading books on google, I can tell you that the quality of their scanning is frequently pretty bad.
    posted by winna at 5:43 PM on February 13, 2012


    Google seems to have a pretty massive set of stuff digitized.

    I've been working on a research project for the past several months (on the social/cultural history of Vienna intersected with the medical history of the treatment of syphilitic myelopathy up until 1907), and I can tell you that the vast majority of material I've found on Google Books is only available in snippets (and sometimes not at all, beyond a title page). Which can be handy in determining if the book indeed contains any content that might be useful for me, but which in practice is basically useless in terms of being able to read the content in full. In other words, Google Books allows me to do research about my research, but I can't do the research itself.

    Luckily, I have devised a hack! Once I've determined that the contents of the book might fit my needs, I am able to order a special version of the text -- it is made with hundreds of pieces of paper, anchored on one edge between two stiff covers, thus enabling me to flip through the pages (in slow or rapid succession, however I wish and as often as I wish!) so that I may actually read every single word that the author wrote -- from a variety of private and public book-owning institutions around my city that are willing to loan me these marvelous contraptions for weeks on end, for free. I wish I could explain better how it works, but you'll just have to trust me: it's pretty amazing!
    posted by scody at 9:51 PM on February 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


    As a librarian, I was sad to hear about state funding cuts in CA, but I love, love, love this thread. Most every time I have thought of a point I wanted to bring up, someone else has made it for me, and not always another librarian. Here are the exceptions:

    Amusingly weird old Arizona has some of the better public libraries among the states that don't have property tax. I am honestly not sure why this is the case, but as I said before there are a lot of different things that affect a state's library system beyond just state funding.

    My theory: Well-off retirees and well-off tourists do wonders for any public library. (I've observed this latter in my own state; the Minocqua and Sturgeon Bay public libraries have very high levels of monetary support from donors. And as for the former, well-off retirees tend to support things they enjoy, like libraries, with their money and time, freeing up library resources for other things, which results in libraries with better collections, better services, staff with more time to provide those services, better facilities, etc.)

    I hope that public libraries that are doing well due to lots of donor support have strategies in place for maintaining funding when the donation money goes away. (Poor economy means people are hard-put to save/invest money for retirement or spend part of their time at a vacation spot, union and other pensions are reduced as union memberships and benefits shrink, reduction in public programs means otherwise well-provided-for people have less disposable income, etc.) But knowing human nature, most probably don't.

    It is Sacramento. It is the state capital! Stop by your local library and sign up for an adult literacy class before they get cancelled due to budget cuts.

    As a librarian I've had to learn to ignore other people's spelling bugaboos and correct them silently if I need to in order to do a search. But as someone who only lived there for a year, 14 years ago, it STILL bothers me when I see it spelled "Bismark". It's a state capital and it's spelled BISMARCK; if you didn't learn it in third grade when you learned the rest of the state capitals, learn it now. (Must admit, I'm even more irritated by the fact that most of my relatives can't be bothered to learn the difference between the two Dakotas and think I lived in South Dakota. Meh...I don't see most of my relatives that often.)
    posted by gillyflower at 11:57 AM on February 14, 2012


    They might have been trying to find out more about Biz Markie, of course.
    posted by running order squabble fest at 2:41 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


    @zarquon

    robots. we're gonna do it with robots
    posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:43 PM on February 17, 2012


    I've learned a lot more about libraries, what librarians do, and what they could do for me if asked from being on Mefi for a while than I did out of all my years of using libraries of various sorts.

    All of which, plus the discussion in this thread, raises several questions for me...

    - I wonder how many people who could be greatly helped don't know to go to a library, or if they do go to actually ask a librarian? Esp among the poor and those who didn't get a good education.

    - Given that it seems a big area of importance now is net access plus help in using the net, is there some model that could greatly increase the capacity? Maybe some kind of volunteer network where people with a laptop and little bit of training could act as a kind of mobile librarian?

    From another perspective it seems to me that we're starting to move into an era where access to a laptop or e-reader and the net is going to be so essential to functioning in society that we have to find a way to ensure that everyone has it, the same as we take it for granted that everyone has to be taught to read and write.
    posted by philipy at 6:12 AM on February 18, 2012


    Right now codacorolla's comment is the top link at Hacker News with 146 comments.
    posted by bukvich at 2:46 PM on February 18, 2012


    Note: codacorolla's illuminating thought experiment is getting a lot of discussion and plaudits over at Reddit (where it just hit the front page).
    posted by Rhaomi at 8:00 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The job you describe is basically what I did after Hurricane Katrina in evacuee centers. Everyone there needed it. It's also what I ended up doing for all my neighbors where I live (which is more or less low income housing) since I have tons of computer knowhow and equipment and fast Internet.

    We need more community tech centers everywhere, and people who just sit and help others do essential online tasks, without judgmental or hierarchical attitudes. I like the idea that libraries would be just one of those resource centers.

    I've often thought that corner shops and schools would be the ideal spot for Internet info booths. Just set up a desk in a corner of the local liquor/corner shop, and the entry hall of elementary schools, and staff it with a savvy laptop owning volunteer.
    posted by geeklizzard at 3:06 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    staff it with a savvy laptop owning volunteer.

    You can tell how much a job is valued by how much society is willing to pay. Designing bridges, where a poorly built one may collapse and kill people? Pretty well paid. Moving money around to make rich people richer? Very well paid. Giving everyone access to information to get jobs, access basic government services, assess health information, improve literacy and make informed choices? Not worth much.

    The problem with using volunteers (speaking as a past volunteer co-ordinator) is you need people that are trained and skilled, reliable, stability in their personal lives ( so they were easily contactable), have transportation, and able to afford the real costs of volunteering (both in the supply of equipment and time). Which pretty much describes any employed person; who thus work when they are needed to volunteer or have no time with their multiple commitments. I spent a lot of time training people who were just resume padding and quit with no notice or else had social skill deficiencies that made delivering services difficult. Accountability is another huge area of concern; what would you do if your volunteer was giving out wrong/outdated information? How would you even find that out without paid oversight?

    Because everywhere wanted the best volunteers they had their choice of location - in your newly created volunteer position do you think most people would choose to bring their car and personal laptop to an area that was mostly lower socio-economic status (and struggle with language and cultural barriers not to mention a real or percieved threat of violence) or a nice middle class suburb where end-users are polite and grateful and it is close to home?

    Out-sourcing library services to volunteers is what the UK is trying now as part of the Big Society, let's see how that works out for them before we scrap the system that is currently serving people's needs at a very low cost.
    posted by saucysault at 4:40 AM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    It's probably also worth pointing out that in practice, a lot of volunteers have an agenda. I live in a working-class-to-poor neighborhood, and the local evangelical megachurch does a ton of outreach to my neighborhood. They offer free English language classes, for instance. But I don't think they're just doing that out of the goodness of their hearts, and I'd prefer for there to be a publicly-funded alternative.
    posted by craichead at 6:42 AM on February 20, 2012


    I bet none of you knew this, so just fyi: there is a digital public library being built as we speak. All Californians have access. So does anybody in North Carolina, Wyoming, Maine, and Arizona; and anyone in any of the libraries listed here. Pretty soon it will be available in every state of the US.
    And, I hope public libraries can stay alive. It will be a tragic failure of our society if this institution is allowed to die.
    posted by fixiemama at 12:16 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    That digital public library (yay Internet Archive) is great for long tail items as long as you have a computer, and internet access, and a quiet place to read undisturbed...
    posted by saucysault at 12:23 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I bet none of you knew this, so just fyi: there is a digital public library being built as we speak.

    Open Library is a big deal, yes many of us know about it.

    The Internet Archive has the okay from all fifty state libraries to go ahead with this which is cool but they're still stuck in serious copyright dilemmas to do anything really major as far as ebook lending to people who are not blind. Boston Public Library has been doing some very novel stuff w/ them in terms of pushing the envelope on what is and isn't allowed as far as circing digital copies of books that the library already owns, but it's still patchwork. Many people can only lend/borrow from items their own library owns and IA/OL is not in the business of fixing that problem, yet. You also basically need not only some form of broadband but also a reasonable degree of sophistication to use their stuff. Not complaining, it's lovely and actually he best effort we've seen to date, but they're only sort of a library [legally, yes, in the public's mind only sort of] and that sort of thing matters. It's interesting to watch what they're doing since even though they're collecting/archiving actual copies of books they do not have an open-to-the-public location and I think to a lot of people that really matters. Plus, as much as I love them they are not PUBLIC and that means they have different goals and values. Even though their values align very very closely with mine, they are not answerable to the public in the same way as a public library is.

    There is also dp.la which is doing a similar program. Honestly, digitizing and making content available is the easy part to this equation and there are many people doing a very good job. Having this translate into true equity of access is the not-easy part and there are not as many people who seriously care about trying to fix it.
    posted by jessamyn at 12:27 PM on February 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Here in Iowa City, Iowa, our free public library truly is the center of a huge active community of library users of every color, every age, every religion, and every socio-economic level found in America today. I cannot even imagine Iowa City without its public library. I gladly pay my annual property taxes knowing that it pays for the library.

    The loss of libraries is the loss of western civilization in the near future.
    posted by Galadhwen at 6:10 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Today’s Love Goes to Arizona’s Banned Book Smugglers
    posted by jeffburdges at 7:33 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I should've probably linked LibroTraficante directly there.
    posted by jeffburdges at 8:28 AM on February 26, 2012


    Local government makes a lot more sense knowing they literally get their ideas from the trash.
    posted by scalefree at 1:37 PM on March 11, 2012


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