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March of the philistines
January 25, 2011 6:15 AM   Subscribe

The greedy ghost of market fundamentalism. Oxfordshire county council is planning to close just under half of all of its libraries, and has invited locals to set up new ones on a voluntary basis. Philip Pullman, ironically criticised for having a profit motive, objects.
posted by Summer (111 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you can afford a library you probably don't need one. And if you need one, you probably don't know how to read.
posted by public at 6:21 AM on January 25, 2011


If you can afford a library you probably don't need one. And if you need one, you probably don't know how to read.

what the hell does this even mean, I don't even
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:30 AM on January 25, 2011 [34 favorites]


If you can afford a library you probably don't need one. And if you need one, you probably don't know how to read.

Oh haw, haw, goodness gracious, it seems the working classes want to try and read books! Oh how precious. Now clear off back to your coal mine - or wherever it is you come from - and leave reading to your betters. Or I'll have to call the game keeper to clear you out!
posted by Dreadnought at 6:35 AM on January 25, 2011 [19 favorites]


If you can afford a library you probably don't need one

I can afford to pay $N in taxes per year, along with the rest of my town, to by A books. But I cannot personally afford to pay A*$N to get access to those same books.

Furthermore, even if I never read the books, I'm better off when everyone else reads them, so it's still easily worth $N in taxes a year to me to fund it. If nothing else, that's A*$N less the media corporations will have to spend on new laws for themselves.
posted by DU at 6:35 AM on January 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


Uh...A*$X, where X is the average price per book and A*$X << $N.
posted by DU at 6:36 AM on January 25, 2011


If you can afford a library you probably don't need one. And if you need one, you probably don't know how to read.

Sorry to be the nth person to quote this but I think it's covered in the Pullman speech

There people are out of work, there are a lot of single parent households, young mothers struggling to look after their toddlers, and as for broadband and two cars, they might have a slow old computer if they’re lucky and a beaten-up old van and they dread the MOT test – people for whom a trip to the centre of Oxford takes a lot of time to organise, a lot of energy to negotiate, getting the children into something warm, getting the buggy set up and the baby stuff all organised, and the bus isn’t free, either – you can imagine it. Which of those two communities will get a bid organised to fund their local library?

But one of the few things that make life bearable for the young mother in the second community at the moment is a weekly story session in the local library, the one just down the road. She can go there with the toddler and the baby and sit in the warmth, in a place that’s clean and safe and friendly, a place that makes her and the children welcome. But has she, have any of the mothers or the older people who use the library, got all that hinterland of wealth and social confidence and political connections and administrative experience and spare time and energy to enable them to be volunteers on the same basis as the people in the first community? And how many people can volunteer to do this, when they’re already doing so much else?

posted by ghharr at 6:38 AM on January 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


You don’t need me to give you the facts. Everyone here is aware of the situation. The government, in the Dickensian person of Mr Eric Pickles, has cut the money it gives to local government, and passed on the responsibility for making the savings to local authorities. Some of them have responded enthusiastically, some less so; some have decided to protect their library service, others have hacked into theirs like the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria and its hundreds of thousands of books of learning and scholarship.

Yes, just like the fanatical Bishop Theopilius, or rather nothing at all like it.
posted by three blind mice at 6:38 AM on January 25, 2011


An excellent speech. Why don’t we get this kind of thing in parliament, from a passionate and principled opposition? Both Eds should take note.

Of course, bringing up this specific issue with central government would only result in something along the lines of “don’t look at us – it’s up to local councils to decide how they spend the vastly reduced budget we’re giving them.”
posted by him at 6:41 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pope Guilty: public's comment strikes me as a pretty accurate representation of the sneering contempt with which Tories regard the population at large.
posted by motty at 6:41 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Although our local library systems haven't established a "bidding" process like the one described here, this exact scenario is playing out where I live. Our poor, rural county has three times the unemployment, and twice the illiteracy rates, of the surrounding counties. We also have no local library. The neighboring county — which has a quite nice library system (we use it three or four times a week) — had offered free access to their library to residents of our county, but recently announced they were eliminating any checkout rights, due to budget cuts that might threaten fees they collect from other (wealthy) neighboring counties. So the bifurcation Pullman suggests might come to pass — "Which of those two communities will get a bid organised to fund their local library? ... What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses." — is playing out in real time, right now. I hate it.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:44 AM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


three blind mice -- he was probably just getting the erroneous history from those novels he read when he was a kid. Clearly libraries are evil :)

/hamburger.

Public libraries are where working class and frankly poor kids get addicted to reading and then get their fix. It's a better drug than acid: the hallucinations are much more thoroughly realized and have a more logical narrative structure.

(my husband thinks I sound patronizing unless I point out that I grew up in a slum. But I only sound patronysing because I lived in the public library and read books and thus can use high-faluting language like "fix".)
posted by jb at 6:49 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes, just like the fanatical Bishop Theopilius, or rather nothing at all like it.

If the books are available only to the rich, then to the poor it's exactly the same as if they'd been burned to the ground. (Perhaps worse, since now they are beholden to the rich for the knowledge, rather than being on an equally ignorant playing field.)
posted by DU at 6:54 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I love Pullman and I love this speech; thank you for posting it, Summer.

Market fundamentalists are incapable of hearing the moral case for libraries. Making the business case is certainly tougher--and really, how many volunteers and other well-intentioned library lovers are capable of doing so?--and feels like a sort of capitulation to the fundamentalists' world view--but it may be the only effective mode of communication with them on budget matters.

Here (and elsewhere, I suspect; I'm working on a very loose understanding of this area), public libraries are also constrained by the state library association's requirements: So many hours of being open; so many employees with MLS degrees, etc. Just keeping up with these accreditation rules is an expensive proposition. New books and other items are becoming a luxury that has grown increasingly dependent on the generosity of private donors. At the same time, I've noticed a boom in citizen advocacy efforts (Geek the Library, write your legislators) but again, one that emphasizes the moral case for libraries. Where are the resources and numbers to prove that libraries are drivers/supporters of local economies? And how can library-lovers be helped to find and USE them in their interactions with government officials responsible for allotting monies to libraries?

Anyhow, thanks for the link, Summer. Forwarded to many library-using friends.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:13 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you can afford a library you probably don't need one. And if you need one, you probably don't know how to read.
posted by public at 9:21 AM on January 25 [+] [!]


Epony-go-soak-your-head.
posted by Mayor West at 7:18 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


The market fundamentalist knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:21 AM on January 25, 2011 [14 favorites]


I had an interesting conversation with a coworker recently that I think brings some light to this issue (I work in a public library, and am a library school student, btw). We were discussing being required to come to work on a snow day (when all "non-essential services" were closed countywide). We discussed the idea of whether or not a public library is an essential service. If it is, then closing libraries makes no sense. If it's not, well, then closures are the result in times of budget cuts. What do you think, essential service or not? If it is, we need to make more of an uproar to support them. If not, well, what's the case for keeping them in times of budgetary crisis? I plan on being a public librarian some day (if there are any by the time I've graduated), so you can probably guess my thoughts on the issue, but I'm curious about other opinions.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 7:21 AM on January 25, 2011


How depressing.

I suppose it would be useless to tell the market fundamentalists that you can't employ people who lack basic composition and comprehension skills, nor can you sell a nice car, or computer, or fancy meal to someone who makes minimum wage shoveling coal into buckets.

There's a reason GDP per capita is absolutely dominated by states that socialize education and infrastructure (including healthcare). The benefits reaped from having a healthy and highly educated society, ready to be employed to invent and build the next generation of technology are huge. So is the ability to own a business in a country with a reliable electrical grid, and clean water, and efficient transportation infrastructure. The premise behind this new crop of idiotic market blindness, that you could drop a young Warren Buffet or Bill Gates into a village without a school or electricity or a library, much less a computer or a university, without any effect on their success is absolute nonsense.

Pooling resources: it works, bitches.

with apologies to XKCD
posted by notion at 7:22 AM on January 25, 2011 [24 favorites]


We discussed the idea of whether or not a public library is an essential service. If it is, then closing libraries makes no sense. If it's not, well, then closures are the result in times of budget cuts. What do you think, essential service or not?

First, I wish libraries were always open on snow days because that's exactly when I want to go to the library. It doesn't do me any good if the library is only open when I'm at work. (I go every weekend, but a mid-week trip is always fun and often necessary exactly on a day when I unexpectedly have extra time to read.) So thanks for being there on snow days.

Second, I think you are using the word "essential" two different ways. Libraries are essential but not time-critical. That's the real question when deciding what should be open on a snow day. Firefighters, police, hospitals, emergency repair, etc are all both essential and time-critical.
posted by DU at 7:26 AM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


DU, I like the idea of time-criticality being present in the argument. That's a good way of framing the issue. Social workers are essential but not time-critical.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 7:29 AM on January 25, 2011


Down with this sort of thing
posted by DanCall at 7:29 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Careful now!
posted by fleetmouse at 7:34 AM on January 25, 2011


...they might have a slow old computer if they’re lucky...

And text is deliciously low-bandwidth. And there are plenty of public domain works to choose from.

I'd love a modern, fast computer too. I work 60 hours a week with the damn things but until I clear my personal debt, I make do with a machine so clunky and slow, I have to use a seriously stripped down version of Linux on it. How clunky? Most of my web browsing is done using elinks to keep resource use to a minimum. Having shiny things is not a right.

But ... what gets cut, then? This is a zero-sum game.

Do we cut refuse collection? Do we cut funding for schools? And does anyone here really believe that if Labour had got in things would be better?

The UK is failing, economically and Labour want to borrow more. Yeah, that'll work. The first thing I do when I find myself in debt is borrow more.

The major parties are in the back pocket of the bankers or the unions so no matter who gets in, the vested interests of the few are going to screw over everyone else.

So, cut spending and make do until you can afford better.
posted by littleredspiders at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or I'll have to call the game keeper to clear you out!

Don't forget to have them soundly thrashed, first.
posted by steambadger at 7:45 AM on January 25, 2011


Oh haw, haw, goodness gracious, it seems the working classes want to try and read books! Oh how precious. Now clear off back to your coal mine - or wherever it is you come from - and leave reading to your betters. Or I'll have to call the game keeper to clear you out!

You are all far too easily trolled apparently.

My meaning was exactly as he stated in the article. The rich old white (wo)men (who probably already own a large quantity of books and have the internet) know how to keep their local library going.

Unfortunately the down trodden people (who probably own less books and only have overpriced censored mobile phone internet) are both too busy, and not well educated enough in the dark arts of local government to get the same result.
posted by public at 7:46 AM on January 25, 2011


DU, I like the idea of time-criticality being present in the argument. That's a good way of framing the issue. Social workers are essential but not time-critical.

FWIW, this is how essential services are framed in any American municipality I'm aware of. Effectively, it's "essential to life and property". It's the same with public schools, they are definitely essential overall but are often closed during inclement weather. The library is essential, but your neighborhood will not burn down if it's closed due to a snowstorm.
posted by rollbiz at 7:47 AM on January 25, 2011


If you can afford a library you probably don't need one.

Someone once wrote...

Libraries will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no libraries.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:50 AM on January 25, 2011 [22 favorites]


littleredspiders: I'd love a modern, fast computer too. I work 60 hours a week with the damn things but until I clear my personal debt, I make do with a machine so clunky and slow, I have to use a seriously stripped down version of Linux on it. How clunky? Most of my web browsing is done using elinks to keep resource use to a minimum. Having shiny things is not a right.

Conspicuous frugality can be just as unattractive a trait as conspicuous consumption -- particularly when you bludgeon other people over the head with it.
posted by blucevalo at 7:54 AM on January 25, 2011 [14 favorites]


So, cut spending and make do until you can afford better.
The fallacy with this argument is that revenue is also cut over the same time, and the process becomes circular...revenues drop, cut services. Fewer services are provided, so you need less revenue. Thus, you will never be able to do better. It's another instance of slowly drowning the baby. Make no mistake, this is the outcome that is desired. Reduce public services until the system simply ceases to exist. Then, like a knight in shining armor, the private sector will ride in and take over providing formerly public services. For a price. An ever-escalating price.

Note, too, the provision "if they're lucky" on the slow old computer. Many, many, many people still don't have computers. Can't afford them, even the old cheapies. Can't afford the additional internet connection, too. I guess they could go use the computers provided by the library. Oh, wait...
posted by Thorzdad at 7:55 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Books are old technology anyway.
posted by empath at 7:56 AM on January 25, 2011


I think his anger is directed at the wrong people. Local government funding has been raped by the economy, just like everything else. Some are having to cut non-essential services. I don't like it anymore than the next person, but a shoutly little tantrum isn't going to change the facts. I think it's perfectly reasonable for the authority to challenge opponents to find the savings elsewhere; it's not like they can just over-spend to keep vocal celebrities happy. Public debt is why we're in this situation in the first place. So feel free to blame the Tory government, feel free to blame Labour's last administration, and please (I encourage you) feel free to turn the full power of your vitriol on the banking sector, who's vulgar bonuses this year could fund a public library on virtually every corner. But wag your first at the council? Get off your soap box.
posted by londonmark at 8:00 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Libraries closing are a cultural death. It breaks my heart.
posted by jaduncan at 8:01 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's different in other municipalities, but in the system I work for conditions have to be just this side of apocalyptic before we close down due to inclement weather. I've been there for almost five years and there have only been two days where we shut things down early, both of which were in the midst of ice storms which were making it dangerous to travel outside.

Anyway, this:

> I suppose it would be useless to tell the market fundamentalists that you can't employ people who lack basic composition and comprehension skills, nor can you sell a nice car, or computer, or fancy meal to someone who makes minimum wage shoveling coal into buckets.

Conservatives of all stripes seem to love cutting budgets for education and libraries, then complaining that the country they live in is "falling behind" India or China or whoever they regard as an economic threat at the time. But ultimately this is symptomatic of a larger issue; the ruling classes get everything they need and want and the rest of us are left to fight over scraps. Or, as Pullman put it:

"We must sit up and beg for it, like little dogs, and wag our tails when we get a bit."
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:01 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


But ... what gets cut, then? This is a zero-sum game.

No it isn't.
posted by DU at 8:01 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


No it isn't.

Pray tell explain how it is not. The economic pie seems to be getting smaller - Britain is a less wealthy country than before - and unless you are willing to make some unequal cuts, everyone's slice gets smaller.
posted by three blind mice at 8:07 AM on January 25, 2011


Conservatives of all stripes seem to love cutting budgets for education and libraries, then complaining that the country they live in is "falling behind" India or China or whoever they regard as an economic threat at the time.

We're going through this in Indiana. The solution of choice is to divert scarce funds from public schools and hand them over to charter schools. Just this morning I heard a report that Republicans in the statehouse have introduced a bill to take transportation money from public schools and give it to the charter schools.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:08 AM on January 25, 2011


tbm: Pray tell explain how it is not. The economic pie seems to be getting smaller

Seriously? You challenge someone to show we're not talking about a zero sum game and in literally the next sentence you suggest the economy is contracting?
posted by biffa at 8:24 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Conservatives of all stripes seem to love cutting budgets for education and libraries, then complaining that the country they live in is "falling behind" India or China or whoever they regard as an economic threat at the time.

Well, at least in the US, the conservatives (such as they are) no longer bother to make that complaint. The almighty deficit and national debt have magically become their most ardent concerns after 8 years of unrestrained spending by the Bush Administration. They could not care less if we fall behind, just as long as we're cutting spending and not raising taxes, and just as along as we're not falling behind militarily.
posted by blucevalo at 8:25 AM on January 25, 2011


This is not just a British problem. Here in Texas the current proposals for the budget for the biennium kill 99 percent of state funding for libraries at a time when there are already massive budget cuts at the local level.

I used to live on the west side of Austin. There's a small private library system, the first in the state of Texas, out there. I'm here to tell you that those little old ladies can make a library and it's a nice library and all, but it doesn't compare to the depth and breadth of the city library in Austin. But of course it's more important to cut property taxes and leave the Rainy Day Fund alone in the middle of the budget hurricane than it is to make sure we have libraries (or teachers or state employees of any sort or anything else Texas is about to cut in its budget).
posted by immlass at 8:27 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're right londonmark, this is just a rant.

What does any of it have to do with "market fundamentalism"? As far as I can see, democratically elected governments have cut local councils' budgets, and some democratically elected councils have decided to close the gap by closing some libraries. That looks like democracy to me, not the ravages of capitalist competition. It's scarcity. Deal with it.

Whatever the Big Society might turn out to look like, it probably won't entirely suit Pullman's nostalgic childhood memories. And why should it? Libraries throughout history, including in Britain until recently, have often been privately organised and funded by subscriptions and endowments. And they still are in some countries. Would it really do such "terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane" to have to pay 30 pounds per year for a ticket if you find the library useful. That's less than taking the bus there several times a year.

And as for civilised argument, why does Pullman believe that making fun of Eric Pickles weight is helpful "It even goes higher up and further back than the substantial, not to say monumental, figure of Eric Pickles."

I really have lost all respect for this guy
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 8:31 AM on January 25, 2011


blucevalo, always happy to offend those who are happy to be offended.
posted by littleredspiders at 8:34 AM on January 25, 2011


Local government funding has been raped by the economy, just like everything else.

That's not the way it works though is it? The government decides how much will be given to local government. It's a choice they make and a question of priorities. They could, for example, choose to cut the defence budget rather than local government funding. That's just one example though. I'm sure there are many more.

I think it's perfectly reasonable for the authority to challenge opponents to find the savings elsewhere

Why? Why is the burden of the argument on the 'opponents' rather than the people elected to serve us? This is our tax money we're talking about. We have a right to ask for it to be spent on services that improve our lives without the people who are supposed to have our best interests at heart turning around and telling us to bloody work for them.

Public debt is why we're in this situation in the first place.

Oh I know. If it wasn't all that profligate spending on local libraries we wouldn't be in this mess.
posted by Summer at 8:39 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a democracy - we elected them to spend that money. You can vote them out but you can't rant them out
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 8:42 AM on January 25, 2011


Public debt is why we're in this situation in the first place.

Silly me, I thought it was because a large chunk of the financial sector was dangerously and stupidly over-leveraged in attempting to treat slow and safe long-term investments as if they were short-term bonds that could be created and sold as quickly as you change your socks. The budgetary shortfalls primarily appear to be caused by high unemployment and a collapsing housing market.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:56 AM on January 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


[few comments removed - name-callers, knock it off.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:10 AM on January 25, 2011


philosopher's beard -- subscription libraries never cost the equivalent of $30 (inratio to today's wages).

About 1800, the entrance fee to join a private subscription library was 1-5 guineas, and the annual subscription fees were some 5-10 shillings (wikipedia, article on public libraries).

Since a laborer at the time made about 20 guineas per year (1 guinea = £1 + 1 shilling) and that's at a good wage of 10 shillings/week (some made only 6), we're talking about fees more like $1000-5000 to join, and $200-400 per year. And that's in comparison to a good lower-class salary of $10/hour and 40 hours of work per week (working out to $20,000, bc I like round numbers) -- which is more than a hell of a lot of people have.

My parents-in-law, who have a household income in the top 5-10%, could afford such fees. But few people in the bottom 20% could -- and those are the people for whom libraries are the most Important. Even when my mother Struggled to buy food and clothes for us, we could still afford to walk 1/2 an hour to the library and borrow dozens of books. I had as much access to books as a child as my now-husband, despite the gulf in our family's respective incomes -- and that is directly responsible for my literacy and now high level of education. If it had cost $400 a year, I don't think we would have been able to go.

(sorry for the Random Capitals -- the 18th century is bleeding into my iPod.)

also - sorry for flipping btw early 19th cent British currency and American/Canadian dollars (same thing lately). but i know British social economy c1800 and north American c2010 -- for Britain today, make $20,000 = abt £12,000 and thus $1000 = abt £600 (and that's the cheap end), with an annual fee of £120-240. (guestimations -- I know the £ is down, but don't know what low wages are like in Britain today).
posted by jb at 9:12 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks, jb - I appreciate the fact checking. Here in the Netherlands they have an annual subscription fee of around 30 Euros, but I imagine that only covers part of the cost. (Of course, books are cheaper these days)

But I remain unconvinced that asking people to volunteer time and resources to support an institution they claim to cherish is an example of market fundamentalism.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 9:17 AM on January 25, 2011


PB - no, that's an example of the 'Big Society' idea. The problem with the big society idea is that it depends on well organised, energetic, educated, disinterested, full-time volunteers to work. Seriously, where are these people?

This Victorian idea that the charity of a few can create a humane society for everyone was discredited after WWII, in the UK at least, with the introduction of the welfare state. It's sad to see it coming back.
posted by Summer at 9:25 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a democracy - we elected them to spend that money. You can vote them out but you can't rant them out

This is true. For instance, Civil Rights were won in the United States in the 60s after MLK sent a very nice letter asking politely for equality. And then everyone said, "Sure thing!" and the democracy was saved.

One wonders why they didn't think to send the letter earlier.
posted by notion at 9:27 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, looks like us concerned citizens are going to have to start opening our libraries. My private library will only stock socialist literature (Leo Leoni! Yaya!) and my children's classes will stress the reprehensibility of capitalism and the evil of the free market. There will be free classes on computer hacking. Christian books will not be permitted in my private library.

It's strange that this is what these politicians want.
posted by fuq at 9:28 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is the closure of a few public libraries REALLY in the same league as slavery and Jim Crow?
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 9:49 AM on January 25, 2011


But I remain unconvinced that asking people to volunteer time and resources to support an institution they claim to cherish is an example of market fundamentalism.

This is not a crocheting class. This is the network of publicly available knowledge centers that expand the minds of the next generation of people who have to run the world. If we are unable to transmit to them the lessons learned from the past, they will spend most of that time fucking everything up.

The market fundamentalism comes in because it states that anything worth keeping will make a short term profit. It allows only short term incentives to influence the existence of institutions, because as we have all learned in the past hundred years, companies are extraordinary at destroying economies once they neuter regulatory bodies and pretend that they have "fixed" the problem of the boom and bust cycle, and that governments only impede their efficiency. The whole world's economic mess was caused by the fact that these same corporations didn't care about selling loans to people who could afford to pay them back. Their stock price was going up, they were making commissions, and the rest didn't matter.

Perhaps after thirty years of dismally educated workers entering the labor pool, companies would start to form apprenticeship schools. But then we've returned the worker to the unenviable position of being at the mercy of corporations and their owners for their entire lives, even more so than now, not to mention unfairly penalizing someone for being born poor.

I think the last hundred years of history amply show that meritocratic advancement leads to stronger and more robust economies. Returning to a more feudal system of the aristocracy and their corporations controlling the vast majority of the wealth would violate some fundamental parts of the Enlightenment.
"No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged." -Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 8
posted by notion at 10:03 AM on January 25, 2011 [7 favorites]




Now clear off back to your coal mine - or wherever it is you come from - and leave reading to your betters. Or I'll have to call the game keeper to clear you out release the hounds!

Fixed.
posted by Gelatin at 10:12 AM on January 25, 2011


But that's just a screed against market fundamentalism in general. Why should a local budgeting decision be seen as an example of this? They're deciding between libraries and other priorities like old people's carers, schools, police, fire-services, public transport, etc on the basis of what they think are the priorities of the electors. Other councils made different decisions. They aren't even privatising the libraries, even partially (which to me would make more sense than asking for volunteers).

Libraries as "Knowledge centres" i.e. more than books - good point.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 10:15 AM on January 25, 2011


PS Meritocracy is a hideous system and becomes more hideous the closer a society comes to achieving it. I much prefer mediocracy. (I blogged on that elsewhere: What's Wrong with Meritocracy?)
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 10:18 AM on January 25, 2011


PB - the market fundamentalism bit comes in with the bidding process. People are going to have to bid for their funding in what will become an unregulated market. It's the law of the market applied to public services - something that is also being (further) introduced into the NHS. The point is that public services don't operate well when exposed to competition.
posted by Summer at 10:23 AM on January 25, 2011


That was vestigial Presby moralism on behalf of Smith (it's funny how many businessmen seem to only read the rapacious parts of Wealth of Nations, and certainly nothing on moral sentiments).
posted by klangklangston at 10:24 AM on January 25, 2011


He's writing a fourth GOLDEN COMPASS BOOK?!!!
posted by edbles at 10:26 AM on January 25, 2011


"And text is deliciously low-bandwidth. And there are plenty of public domain works to choose from. "

Poor people don't deserve chocolate.

(Also, it's bad for your eyes to read everything on a screen.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:27 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fair points Summer. I've served my time volunteering in Oxfam, but I guess there aren't that many people with skills and time on their hands available. (Actually a lot of them can be a bit squirelly.) Also I agree that competition is massively over-rated, particularly winner-takes-all. For similar reasons I massively disapprove of Big Sport (and not only because it's exhausting to watch and the inane commentary gives me brainache)
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 10:31 AM on January 25, 2011


Sometimes I wonder if any of you lot have ever played SimCity.

I'm loving the standard "they need to cut something, but they need to cut something else" answers. You know, the answers that offer no actual suggestions for what to cut instead.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 10:40 AM on January 25, 2011


Sometimes I wonder if any of you lot have ever played SimCity.

Porntipsguzzardo will solve all our problems!
posted by Thorzdad at 10:46 AM on January 25, 2011


The UK is failing, economically and Labour want to borrow more. Yeah, that'll work. The first thing I do when I find myself in debt is borrow more.
Here's a campaigning blog setting out the case against looking at our national economy as if it was your household budget.
It's a democracy - we elected them to spend that money.
We didn't, hence we have the horrible stitch-up of the present coalition. After all those years of shoddy Labour misrule, the Tories would usually have been a shoe-in and were well ahead in the polls but saw their lead shrink drastically during the election campaign as the prospect of ideological cuts of this kind became more imminent. Their partners the Lib Dems have of course famously reneged on various pre-election promises as part of the compromises they made to get into government, and have now lost the students and disaffected Labour voters who bulked up their vote, to the extent that they're polling about 8% now and staring at complete wipe-out. There is no mandate for the policies being pursued, certainly not the speed and depth of the cuts, let alone the 're-organisation' of the NHS along market lines that the BMA and the rest have criticised so vehemently.
posted by Abiezer at 10:54 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


You only need to read two words here:

'DEFENSE' BUDGET.

'DEFENSE' BUDGET.

'DEFENSE' BUDGET




Tens of Billions of dollars for the bankers.

Tens of Billions of dollars to suck the millitary-industrial-contractor complex's cock.

No money for libraries, the health service, education, etc, etc, etc,

Socialise the risk, privatize the profits.

So it goes.
posted by lalochezia at 11:34 AM on January 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well, the UK defense budget is also being cut by around 8% and the decision on renewing the ludicrous Trident system has been postponed to 2016.

The health budget is protected against cuts.

The budget for international development is being increased.

Source: BBC

Maybe this isn't just about libraries and humanity versus missiles and markets
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 11:52 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


the best part:
I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:58 AM on January 25, 2011


Sometimes I wonder if any of you lot have ever played SimCity.

YOU CAN'T CUT BACK ON FUNDING! YOU WILL REGRET THIS!
posted by daniel_charms at 12:14 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wonder if any of you lot have ever played SimCity.

So, we move everyone into towering mini-cities rife with air pollution and crime, leaving only the chronic underclass to live in the decaying slums near the industrial park, far from subway service or educational resources or clean water, then we contract our power-generation and waste-disposal needs out to a lowest-bidding neighboring township (and then pretend we don't notice when the latter gets burned in the incinerator to provide the former, because it's not happening in OUR city), fund the police department the bare minimum necessary to keep rioters off the streets, and then cry out desperately for federal help when a 300-foot-tall mechanical horror leaves a burning trail of wreckage through downtown?

You know, now that I think about it, SC2K really was the perfect simulation of a horrible dystopian future brought on by adhering to conservative ideals in urban planning. Touché, Will Wright.
posted by Mayor West at 12:29 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The health budget is protected against cuts.

This is a disingenuous claim from the coalition at best - spending effectively frozen as costs rise - leading to cuts like those seen at Great Ormond Street.
That's combined with the promised reforms, which a Tory member of the Health Select Committee called 'tossing an grenade under the health service'. She noted that this was a radical change from campaign promises:
"The unexplained change in approach between the Coalition programme and the White Paper has led to considerable uncertainty about whether the Government intends to build on existing experience within the NHS or create a major discontinuity," they said. "This uncertainty has been compounded by apparently inconsistent messages."
They knew they'd never get a mandate for their attack on the NHS, hence the fine-sounded phrases about ring-fencing whilst intensifying the New Labour process of introducing market mechanisms into the service in a way that amounts to stealth privatisation and cuts to staffing and service provision, again something no-one would get elected being upfront about.
posted by Abiezer at 12:57 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems that part of the shenanigans protested here isn't just closing 20 out of 43 library centers, but also throwing out a £600,000 bone via a competitive grant system that may or may not go to library-related volunteer organizations.

Personally, I can see both sides to the possibility of downsizing the library system if it involves consolidating services and perhaps closing little-used facilities that are in dire need of repair and renovation. But that's something that needs to be carefully justified.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:09 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is another solution: scan it all, and copy it, and put it online. You, and I, and everyone else can have access to the entirety of human knowledge without leaving our humble hovels, so long as we have basic internet access (and there is already the same business case for giving us that, that there was for giving us all electricity, and paved roads).

I was taught to read at the age of two, was reading the Old Testament and the works of Isaac Asimov by eight (and yes, that does give a person odd world-views), and I spent many hours in libraries and many, many more reading the books borrowed from them as a child. But back then, the public library actually was the most efficient mass data storage and access method available. There was no better way to fit a couple megabytes of data into a 12 x 18 x 3 cm package at a production cost of under $1, and no better way to give multiple people access to it, than to put it on a shelf and let them borrow it one at a time.

Nowadays, there is a better way. Attached to my server computer I have a fairly old 600GB drive, coincidentally the size of one book, that contains texts of various kinds that probably couldn't all physically fit, in book form, into the room that contains the drive. And that's just copies of the books that I have bothered to gather. Friends of mine have subsets and supersets of my collection; between us, on our sneaker-net, we probably have more books than any given branch of the library in our city holds.

There already is no need to go to the library merely to perform the function of reading. Assuming one is at the socioeconomic level of having basic internet access, and where people are not at that level, I consider it more important to give them that, than to give them a library, for internet access can perform all of the functions of a library, including the social functions, and more besides.

A library was, and is, an amazing thing but it is a thing primarily intended to perform a function: to give the easiest and cheapest access to the greatest amount of knowledge, to the greatest socioeconomic cross-section of the society in which the library exists. There are secondary functions, for example to emotionally stimulate a desire to read, and at the risk of a derail, I will assert that (1) such a desire already fully flowers in pretty much every human being equipped with a minimum level of curiosity; (2) where it doesn't, it is because that flower has been plucked and poisoned by the great enemy of curiosity - punitive formal schooling. It also serves as a convenient gathering place for community groups, as a small alternative to museums and art galleries, etc.

But the world has moved on, and is still moving on, and the function can already be better served, and only ill-thought-out and selfishly motivated copyright law stands in its way. It will not be long now until you can have in your pocket a device that can hold all, and I mean all, of the Google Books scanned collection, all of Amazon's ebook inventory, and a large chunk of the persistent Internet. And if for some reason you wanted a paper copy of any given book, you could print it out, and when you were done there would be no need to keep it, for you could get another any time you liked; just give it away, or recycle it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:11 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is another solution: scan it all, and copy it, and put it online. You, and I, and everyone else can have access to the entirety of human knowledge without leaving our humble hovels, so long as we have basic internet access (and there is already the same business case for giving us that, that there was for giving us all electricity, and paved roads).

Yeah, there are those bothersome copyright issues to be dealt with, but who cares? People in humble hovels should be content with access to 70+-year-old knowledge anyway. It's not like anything's happened since 1941.
posted by blucevalo at 1:30 PM on January 25, 2011


"for internet access can perform all of the functions of a library, including the social functions, and more besides."

You're right. Just the other day, I had a cup of coffee with my modem, and we discussed how virtual communication is exactly the same as face-to-face communication and how alienation from fellow people doesn't at all affect voting patterns in the exurbs.

The biggest advantage, my modem said, was that when I look at pornography online, the rest of the library can't see me do it.
posted by klangklangston at 1:35 PM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


aeschenkarnos: There is another solution: scan it all, and copy it, and put it online. You, and I, and everyone else can have access to the entirety of human knowledge without leaving our humble hovels, so long as we have basic internet access (and there is already the same business case for giving us that, that there was for giving us all electricity, and paved roads).

And while we're at it, give everyone a device that can use that access. Not a huge expense, but one that's often out of the reach of the poorest of the poor in our culture.

But the world has moved on, and is still moving on, and the function can already be better served, and only ill-thought-out and selfishly motivated copyright law stands in its way.

Well, that's the rub, isn't it? With most publishers 1) not releasing large chunks of their IP in digital format and 2) demanding a retail-priced sale for every human reader, I still find it better to just buy the print book 80% of the time. Then there's the digital divide across international borders that makes it easier to ship a bound volume across than to get a license for some books.

The brutal fact of the matter is that copyright isn't going away in the foreseeable future, much less for FY11-12. So if you want to give a few dozen kids access to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, your only choice right now is the bound volume.

Of course, I'm probably naive here, but libraries and librarians serve important services that can't be filled by Google and Bing at this time. I can easily see a library without books for example, with librarians serving as salon hosts, omsbudsmen, and expert guides.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:38 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


blucevalo Yeah, there are those bothersome copyright issues to be dealt with, but who cares? People in humble hovels should be content with access to 70+-year-old knowledge anyway. It's not like anything's happened since 1941.

Leaving that ridiculous 70-year window intact doesn't count as "dealing with" the bothersome copyright issues. Copyright and the internet is like heresy and the printing press. It was thought to be all very important at the time, but it seems absurd now.

klangklangston You're right. Just the other day, I had a cup of coffee with my modem, and we discussed how virtual communication is exactly the same as face-to-face communication and how alienation from fellow people doesn't at all affect voting patterns in the exurbs.

The alienation and isolation that blights your life can be helped, a little, by participating in discussions on websites like this one. With people, rather than your modem. I agree that face-to-face communication and community development is absolutely vital, and libraries do to some extent provide this (and I did say so above, but I expect that you with your fine reading skills just summarized my comment as "HE SAID BAD THINGS" in your head and immediately rushed to flame me).

But community development isn't the sole or even the primary function of libraries, a library isn't in itself needed to develop a sense of community, and developing a sense of community is in itself an important separate issue.

I am not saying "get rid of libraries". I am most definitely not defending the short-term-thinking scarcity-economic thieves and liars who do propose to get rid of libraries. I am saying that the primary function of a library has been technologically superseded, and that the argument to preserve the library because it is the sole source of free books is wrong (or ought to be made wrong); and that the argument to preserve the library because it is the sole source of social interaction is wrong (or ought to be made wrong).

Certainly there are people for whom the library is the sole source of books, and/or the sole source of social interaction. Those are problems that the library is not the only, or even the best, or even a particularly good, means of solving.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:54 PM on January 25, 2011


aeschenkarnos, public libraries aren't just (and haven't been for some time) mere book repositories. Yes, the lending and storage of books, DVDs, audiobooks and periodicals is a large part of their mandate. However, in all but the poorest of library systems, they also serve as internet access for those that can't afford it. People of that description are numerous. It may seem hard to believe that someone can't afford a computer and internet, but believe me, there are a lot of people like that out there. Additionally, you forget that libraries have programming. Most public libraries have programs ranging from storytime for children, to classes on using the internet to find jobs for adults. Then, there are the meeting spaces they provide. They are true community centers.

But let's forget all that. Then you have the librarians. Trained personnel that know how to research, collect, classify and instruct to make all this wonderful information accessible. Yes, you may be computer-literate. Not all are. You may know how to decide your next leisure- or professional development-book (or ebook, or pure knowledge beamed straight into your brain or whatever form you consume information). Some people need help. You may know why wikipedia isn't always the best way to get your facts. Some people need assistance. You may have expensive subscriptions to specialized databases of information ranging from genealogy to chemistry research. Most don't. In fact, many people wouldn't know how to use these resources if they had them at home. Let's also discount the social worker role many public librarians play to some extent (lots of homeless people, people with special needs, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the just plain lonely come into the public library, and part of a librarian's mandate is to help them all). Librarians wear a lot of hats, and tend not to be really noisy about why exactly they and their libraries should be better appreciated and supported with funds.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 2:15 PM on January 25, 2011


Ok, that's what I get for a slow post.

I am saying that the primary function of a library has been technologically superseded, and that the argument to preserve the library because it is the sole source of free books is wrong (or ought to be made wrong); and that the argument to preserve the library because it is the sole source of social interaction is wrong (or ought to be made wrong).

I would argue that free public libraries (which are largely an invention of the 19th century in New England) have always been, in fact, community centers organized around making information and knowledge accessible. They grew out of the Lyceum movement of the time, and were meant to be places of both study and meeting to discuss the pertinent issues of the day. The lending function came later. (I can provide cites for all this, if you like. Mostly, though, dead-tree editions.)
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 2:21 PM on January 25, 2011


nonreflectiveobject

Firstly, "is" is not a rebuttal to "ought".

However, in all but the poorest of library systems, they also serve as internet access for those that can't afford it. People of that description are numerous. It may seem hard to believe that someone can't afford a computer and internet, but believe me, there are a lot of people like that out there.

Dear god, I'd never have realized this had you not told me! I wonder if it might possibly be a good idea to actually make internet access available to everyone? To extend the debate beyond "shall we have libraries or not?" to "what is it we do with libraries, and how can we provide those things in a better way?".

Additionally, you forget
Sorry, I hadn't realized that I was mindbogglingly stupid. Thank you for your patronizing and didactic tone. It's awesome to engage with you on that basis. (Seriously, knock it off.)

I am familiar with what libraries are and what they actually do. Everything they do, I want still to be done, and more besides. I'm not arguing the "defund and reduce" case, I'm arguing the "increase and expand" case. I don't want there to be a "special place for books and reading", I want the entire world to be a place in which books and reading are available to all. In which places where the collective knowledge of humanity isn't available, are unusually deprived. Like places without, say, running water and electricity, or enough to eat.

The stakes of this cultural battle are a lot higher than whether a given kid gets to participate in story time and develops a love of performance that eventually makes her a great playwright, or a given homeless person gets treated with a bit of kindness and respect and helped to find a job and housing and eventually gets to live a healthy, happy life.

The problem with the library being the repository of collective human knowledge, is that it makes places not the library into places not the repository of collective human knowledge. It's a similar thing with school: "school is the place we learn" means that "places not school are places where we don't learn".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:43 PM on January 25, 2011


The problem with the library being the repository of collective human knowledge, is that it makes places not the library into places not the repository of collective human knowledge. It's a similar thing with school: "school is the place we learn" means that "places not school are places where we don't learn".

I don't find either of these opinions to be very common. It's a nice utopian dream but it's not one that matters much for the next fiscal year where the questions center on how many libraries will be closed and how the local government plans to distribute 600,000 pounds in volunteer grants.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:53 PM on January 25, 2011


An account from someone who was there at the townhall and felt very inspired by the turn of events: "You won't build Jerusalem/'cos you don't know what building is".
posted by dustyasymptotes at 2:54 PM on January 25, 2011


Okay, what do you prescribe? I'm having a hard time envisioning what you're talking about outside of a utopia, and I'm guessing that's not what you have in mind. Please bring up any idea and I'm willing to talk about these things from an implementation point of view. Libraries are, in my mind, very cost-effective ways to provide a range of services, but if you have ideas how to supercede them, I'd be happy to discuss them with you. Additionally, I think I was being polite. I apologize if I came across as disputatious, condescending and/or contentious. I do think, however, you owe me the same apology.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 2:58 PM on January 25, 2011


nonreflectiveobject Okay, what do you prescribe?

Reframe the debate. As the blogger from dustyasymptotes' link above says, don't follow their road. Attack the scarcity and competition based mode of thinking that leads to this absurd desire to make cuts in the first place. Agitate for higher taxes to fund universally-applicable services, including but not limited to book and internet access, health, and education, which are economically stimulating, which leads to a better standard of living. The untaxed portions of our incomes end up buying us more, than they would under a lower-taxed, but worse-funded, social model.

Get politically involved. Don't let it be something optional, that you can safely leave to those who care about it, and ignore except when some issue like this comes up.

Additionally, I think I was being polite. I apologize if I came across as disputatious, condescending and/or contentious. I do think, however, you owe me the same apology.
I have no problem with disputatiousness or contentiousness; persons unwilling to dispute or contend don't participate in this kind of discussion anyway. I accept your apology for being condescending, and I apologize for being condescending at you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:18 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"(and I did say so above, but I expect that you with your fine reading skills just summarized my comment as "HE SAID BAD THINGS" in your head and immediately rushed to flame me)."

Well, actually, my reading skills are just fine. I was mocking your techno-utopianism and your concurrent commitment to glib assertions all in one snarky package.

But the blunt fact is that:

a) Technological replacements for libraries are over-rated and over-sold. Not only does a tremendous amount of what libraries have not exist in a digital form, and the translation of it to digital forms is non-trivial for a whole host of reasons, but there are many attributes that fundamentally cannot be digitized. Technocratic fundamentalism is no less stupid than market fundamentalism (they even walk side-by-side pretty often).

b) By defining "library" as purely a function of reading, you are wrong both historically and contemporarily.

c) Your comment is library-illiterate, in that it shows no real understanding of how libraries function nor their function in general.

So, while I laud your ability to regurgitate Mondo 2000 articles, and may hope that some of your childlike naivete can be bottled and sold to hipsters, you simply don't justify the smug tone of your comments with any underlying insight or understanding. And saying things like a print-out of a book is the same as a book don't further engender a charitable appraisal of your ability to think about libraries.
posted by klangklangston at 3:34 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You do not have a monopoly on the terms of this debate, klangklangston, and it is clear that your understanding of charitable appraisals is theoretical at best. You are strawmanning me, and hanging names around the strawman's neck to support your self-righteousness.

I am not in favor of the closure of this or any other library. I don't know where you got that impression, and at this point it seems that your vehement attitude to me is prompted by some kind of ideological difference that renders me, despite wanting to achieve the same things and more, somehow repulsive to you. I am in favor of widespread literacy and access to text. I am in favor of the improvement of community spaces, which would include continuing to service any function whatsoever that you and nonreflectiveobject and others could raise an argument for libraries to have. Do you disagree with either?

Your mocking me, whatever that is supposed to achieve, has nothing to do with the blunt fact that digital storage and digital transfer speed are reducing in cost and increasing in capacity, and you will soon be able to have a hard drive that contains the simple textual content of the books in a city library. Which fact, in turn, has implications for the nature and use of public libraries. (Or maybe the dark side will win and we'll have to pay license fees to read to children, in which case we're all an awful lot more fucked than the attempted closure of one provincial library would indicate.)

Now, how you choose to align yourself in relation to that blunt fact is between you and that modem that you mistook earlier for your actual human conversational partners (to make some rhetorical point?). It remains a fact. Data storage is improving. People are getting their own "storage devices for the content of books" Dictionarily. It would be valid to call these things "libraries", though obviously they fulfil only one, minimal, function of a library: giving us all access to a lot of books. Equally obviously, it would be best if as many people as possible could use those functions, because those people will think of different things to do with them, contribute more to them, and improve us all.

If that's "techno-utopianism", then so be it. It's a hill I'd be willing to die on. I'm not sure if you even have a goal in mind for this debate, klangklangston. Do you? What do you want from this?

Library is to reading as kitchen is to cooking as church is to worship. Obviously other stuff takes place in it, very good and necessary stuff. But reading is, above all else, what a library is about. What it is built for. As that function changes, it raises the questions of what else libraries can and ought to do, and what other institutions can fulfil the functions.

A lot of those other functions, for example social work, have historically and contemporarily been picked up by libraries due to funding cuts prompted by the exact same kind of thinking that is displayed by Oxfordshire County Council. It's not a natural function for a library to be assisting people to get jobs. It's a desirable and decent thing to do, but the fact that the librarians are doing it, means that no-one else is, or at least, not well enough.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:56 PM on January 25, 2011


"I am not in favor of the closure of this or any other library. I don't know where you got that impression, and at this point it seems that your vehement attitude to me is prompted by some kind of ideological difference that renders me, despite wanting to achieve the same things and more, somehow repulsive to you."

The reading comprehension you alluded to eludes you. I have not argued that you are in favor of closing this or any other library, and that you think this is the crux of the argument shows that it really is you who is misreading.

"Your mocking me, whatever that is supposed to achieve, has nothing to do with the blunt fact that digital storage and digital transfer speed are reducing in cost and increasing in capacity, and you will soon be able to have a hard drive that contains the simple textual content of the books in a city library."

Except that is not at all a fact, and simply calling it one does not make it one unless you are a Republican. The hard drive will have the capability to store an equivalent amount of information as a city library, yes. It will not store the same information, though there will be significant overlap. What I am mocking you for is the elided step between "can store" and "does store," among other things.

"Library is to reading as kitchen is to cooking as church is to worship. Obviously other stuff takes place in it, very good and necessary stuff. But reading is, above all else, what a library is about. What it is built for. As that function changes, it raises the questions of what else libraries can and ought to do, and what other institutions can fulfil the functions."

Really? A library is primarily a place where reading occurs? A better analogy is that a library is to reading as a kitchen is to eating. But just because restaurants exist isn't a reason to get rid of my kitchen. There are significant costs associated with restaurant dining, and simply declaring that you support the poor having fast food provided to them does not overcome the facile nature of declaring that kitchens are no longer necessary for eating.

As to ignorance, the reason why I mention it is because digitizing everything available currently in libraries is not a trivial task, let alone replicating the huge amount of access they grant and the trained staff they offer. You simply don't seem very aware of the drawbacks to the solution that you're proposing, rather like a '50s sci-fi writer announcing that we'll solve poverty with robots. Or declaring that the problems of the music industry will be fixed by abolishing copyright.

So, when you already have a grasp on what libraries do, and why they do the things they do, maybe I'll take a little more seriously your pronouncement that because reading has changed it raises existential questions for libraries. Until then, you're oversimplifying things that you don't understand and proposing solutions that manage to not solve the problems libraries do face while foisting upon them a whole host of new problems.
posted by klangklangston at 5:18 PM on January 25, 2011


Just because it looks like a difficult task doesn't mean that nobody can do it. Especially if, as in the case of book scanning, it's a huge amount of repetition of relatively simple actions.

I predict that it'll happen. It should take about five years for this to be approximately finished, although finding old books and adding them to the "Library of Humanity" will continue for centuries yet (and I predict that finding books to add will be a "bounty" market for a while). By about 2016, I expect that the bits of the LoH that are indisputably out of copyright anywhere will be made available to everyone. Say roughly 60 million books, roughly 20MB average each, that's roughly a petabyte of data. Biggest HDD currently on the market in 2011 is about 10TB for about $2000. In five years, unless something odd happens, that'll be 500TB. So three of those drives. Public libraries, which will still exist in 2016, will be among the early adopters of this. I predict that by around 2014 most large public libraries will have a dedicated server computer that holds all of this stuff, and as new books come in, downloads them.

As for the other end, the recently written books, I predict that at least some large and small publishers, particularly university presses and government printers and the like, will voluntarily decide or be legislatively told to add their own books to the LoH. Perhaps it may even become a condition of having a copyright, to add it to the LoH. (It's far cheaper than physical storage of books.)

The USA's current ludicrously, absurdly elongated copyright term isn't a worldwide thing and as the USA's economic power diminishes, its ability to force other nations to enforce US copyrights will fall. In nations where books are out of copyright, there is no reason not to add them to the LoH. This puts them into the system, and no technical reason prevents them from getting back into the wider world's copies of the LoH.

Time marches on and HDD price decreases. At some point, it becomes feasible as a private individual to access an LoH server and download the lot. Much as private individuals do today by seeding torrents, they can and will add their ebook collections to the copy they have, and these will propagate.

Stopping it is technically infeasible, which makes it legislatively impractical. Given that any nation or state that breaks the copyright embargo immediately and greatly gains, I predict that some will choose to break that embargo. By 2020 I predict that there will be nations that do not recognize copyright as we know it today, and those nations will economically benefit. Once the USA sees this, I predict that it will do the same. A short term of copyright is arguably beneficial but long copyright terms only slightly benefit a very few, and very greatly hinder the very many.

At some point in that chain of events, the Library of Humanity will be more or less complete. Every book you've ever read, wanted to read, even heard of, will be in it. At some point, you will be able to have your "own copy" (or equivalent right of access anywhere, anytime) of it.

I suppose Yellowstone could blow up, there could be another world war, climate change could kill most of us off, an asteroid could hit us, a new global religion rise, or some other event occur that invalidates this. I suppose my timeline could be overly optimistic and it could take another five or ten years for each step. But am I wrong here? Is the chain of logic broken?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:58 PM on January 25, 2011


Abiezer: This is a disingenuous claim from the coalition at best - spending effectively frozen as costs rise - leading to cuts like those seen at Great Ormond Street.

The NHS has seen a real terms increase in funding of 82% since 1997. Its budget will fall by a nominal amount over the next parliament. Regardless of whether you support a Keynsian or Monetarist economic policy heavy public sector cuts were eventually inevitable (the Labour plan was 20% over the parliament). The NHS and Education make up a third of the total budget, and defense about 8%. Frankly, ringfencing health spending under these circumstances is irresponsible, and necessitates massive cuts elsewhere. That is why we are seeing 40% cuts in higher education funding. How do you suggest funding your budget increase?
posted by Marlinspike at 7:02 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


We know that money has been going in since 1997; a lot of that was because costs have risen and the population aged. The point about the current freeze on funding (your own link notes it's now actually a small cut due to inflation) is that the NHS will be spending more picking up where other services have been cut.
How do you suggest funding your budget increase?
Stop wasting money paying for marketisation and PFI and close the GBP120bln tax gap would be a start. Higher taxes to pay for the service would probably be an easy sell - they were in Scotland (where folk are more civic-minded it's true). And that's without such obvious savings elsewhere such as not renewing Trident and pulling out of Afghanistan.
posted by Abiezer at 7:37 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not a natural function for a library to be assisting people to get jobs.

Well setting aside the problem that none of the functions of a social institution can be called natural, I fail to see why not. Librarians have curated periodicals for over a century, and that role expanded to include databases and the internet almost as soon as those forms of media became available.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:42 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I should add that we don't spend much on health per capita compared to other OECD nations - why would you even advocate cuts or a freeze when the deficit is not anything like historically high?
posted by Abiezer at 7:55 PM on January 25, 2011


Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing?

A terribly sad, confused piece of writing that fails to grasp the broader thrust of the Big Society movement.

The goal of life, and by extension, the economy, is to promote "prosperity". We measure "prosperity" by "wealth". Why? For the lunatic reason that money is countable, so we use it as a proxy for happiness. Yet these "people" are the same people for whom, for decades now, every intuitive measure of welfare---mental illness, stress, happiness, obesity, literacy and numeracy, life expectancy, trust, imprisonment rate, inequality, you name it---has been falling at exactly the rate at which their "wealth" has been rising. It turns out that the more time you spend in a cubicle selling photocopier warranties to strangers on the phone, the less happy you get. Who would have guessed?

At a deeper level of economic analysis, these are the same people who can only obtain this so-called "wealth" by doing more and more meaningless work for less and less money in a system which has to drive manual labour out of manufacturing and service processes to maximise profit, and therefore manufacture more and more to maintain employment, in a world that can no longer supply the materials and energy or absorb the waste products from a system that has grown too large. It is a broken paradigm, from a world when we were cowboys in an inexhaustible environment.

Study after study shows that relationships, responsibilities, defining places for ourselves in society and filling those places make us happy. What makes you happier? Selling a photocopier warranty to an insurance company rep? Sitting on a beach for 10 days in Marbella in between bouts of warranty selling? Or working with friends to contribute to a thriving, vibrant library? If I choose to do less of the former, my "wealth" goes down. But if, with the time so created, I do more of the latter, my happiness goes up. So am I wealthier, or not?

And how patronising to imagine that, by selling fewer photocopy warranties, my life becomes correspondingly "empty". I have created space in which I can re-engage with people, in society, and in so doing, make my contribution to social capital. Or dig my garden to grow my own food. Or, God forbid, sit and bloody read.

It takes a peculiar sort of ignorance to imagine that the only valid form of work is paid work.
posted by falcon at 3:36 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's the first time I've seen a political soundbite called a 'movement'.
posted by Summer at 3:54 AM on January 26, 2011


And whatever the motives of the originators, it takes a special kind of naivete to imagine it's not being talked up now as a farcical and clearly inadequate band-aid to get volunteers to take up the slack as the state withdraws service provision. And my sense is that the time of greatest prevalence of public service ideals, clubbability, hobbies and the rest was when a family could survive on one wage and the services were fully funded by the standards of the day. The very people who are the inheritors of the Thatcher-era war on the very idea community and society now have the cheek to preach to us about its virtues.
posted by Abiezer at 4:01 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Falcon, I don't think economic growth makes people unhappy and mentally ill. But the rat race does. The evidence points to inequality as the biggest cause of all the problems you mentioned (as in The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett - reviewed in many places, including by me here)
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 5:53 AM on January 26, 2011


why would you even advocate cuts or a freeze when the deficit is not anything like historically high?

You appear to be confusing the deficit (painfully high) with the total level of debt (high, but not intolerably so yet) Abiezer. If the deficit isn't cut, then eventually the interest on the ever increasing debt level will become intolerable, whether that interest is paid via inflation or direct taxation.
posted by pharm at 8:31 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops, that's what I meant pharm - cut the deficit by closing the tax gap etc.
posted by Abiezer at 12:04 PM on January 26, 2011


Oops, that's what I meant

Both the deficit and national debt are at historic highs. "The deficit is the highest for nearly 70 years, and the national debt is the highest for 50 years."

Stop wasting money paying for marketisation and PFI and close the GBP120bln tax gap would be a start. Higher taxes to pay for the service would probably be an easy sell - they were in Scotland (where folk are more civic-minded it's true). And that's without such obvious savings elsewhere such as not renewing Trident and pulling out of Afghanistan.

I agree about PFI. The cost of setting up the previous generation of trident was about £15bn over a decade (that's 1% of gdp as a one-off cost, where the increase in national debt was 11% just last year). The entire defence budget (including Afghanistan) is 8% of the budget. You could scrap the entire military and still have 10% cuts to make overall. As far as tax rises go, I thought the economic policy of the centre-left was based on Keynes. I doubt he would have supported increased taxation just as an economy comes out of a recession. I don't know anything about the tax gap, I'll have a look at the article you've linked, but if there were really serious abuses, or realistic measures which could have been taken, Labour had ample opportunity to do something. I suspect, like the other points here, it is a way to avoid engaging in a serious debate, a shibboleth for identifying your companions in comfortable indignation.
posted by Marlinspike at 2:04 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I understand it, the debt really isn't that high in historic terms, or particularly large compared to OECD peers.
What cripples serious debate in my view is the ideological commitment to reducing collectively-provided services from devotees of a neoliberal worldview that has just fallen flat on its face. It's no surprise Labour did nothing as they subscribed to the same tenets.
I'd be happy for us to cut our cloth according to our means if I felt that cutting was done with a view to the collective good and with a commitment to the kind of public service provision that is still clearly the preferred choice of a vast majority. That's clearly that's not the case with the current round of cuts and 'reforms'. The financial crisis has been seized upon as an opportunity to push through fundamental changes for which the current administration has no mandate.
I note you've not addressed the point that we spend less than most other European industrialised nations on health - do you not think that's also relevant to whether things are as unsustainable as is made out?
You can spare me the cracks about comfortable indignation while you're spouting a load of pseudo-realist bollocks because either like a prize mug you'll swallow any line that the agenda-driven slash-and-burners are pushing or you're on board with their anti-social crusade.
posted by Abiezer at 3:00 PM on January 26, 2011


I actually agree that the right similarly engages in these debates in bad faith, and the recession is certainly being used as an excuse to push through a Thatcherite programme of some sort. Unfortunately that doesn't remove the deficit.

This debt and deficit are indeed not significant historically if you view this recession as an event of similar severity and rarity as a world war. The graph on the linked website shows public expenditure on debt as hovering between about 2.5-4% in the forty years following WWII. The entire Education budget at present is 4.5% of GDP, and Health 7%. God knows how many hospitals and schools might have been built had Britain not been forced to starve itself to the bone in defending itself against an existential threat.

I didn't address the comparable spending because it didn't fit into the previous post. I agree the NHS has historically been underfunded, and I support a higher expenditure long-term. But the service was operating pretty well in international comparison, and then had its budget almost doubled in real terms. It is nonsense to say that an 85% budget increase can be swallowed up entirely by demographic trends, over a decade, without any remaining leeway. We are now at about the European average, and yet you want the budget to carry on increasing, despite GDP dropping by 8%. The only consequence will be spending the next decades paying off debt which should be spent on public services. You're advocating a PFI deal on the health service- to mortgage the future for short term gain.
posted by Marlinspike at 3:54 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be clear, I don't want to see the budget increase for the sake of increase; if the BMA or the Rowntree Trust or any party of good will comes up with a model that is sustainable, then great (mentioned those two organisation as they do have various proposals on their sites but couldn't see anything comprehensive or recent). What I won't accept at face value are attacks based on supposed fiscal realism that are in fact driven by a hostility to the nature of the service.
As to the larger economic picture, I think the graph shows that debt is tracking the long cycles of boom and bust, even absent the very highest peaks of the two world wars (and especially the first of those wasn't entirely divorced from those cycles of capital anyway). I think their take there is reasonable enough - that the recent financial crisis is of a major order, even if not on a par with those wars. I'll freely admit I'm no great shakes at economics, but then reading widely on it there's plenty better informed and educated than I that aren't subscribing to absolute doom scenarios we're being presented.
posted by Abiezer at 4:22 PM on January 26, 2011


The problem Abiezer, is that whilst some of that GDP fall is simply a consequence of the recession, a chunk of it is permanent. Before the election I believe the Treasury was of the opinion that about half of it (4% or so) was a permanent fall that would only be regained via future economic growth, not simply by the end of the recession in the way that ordinary recessions of the past 20-30 years played out. Balance sheet recessions are like that.

Unfortunately for all of us, the government taxed and spent on the basis that the GDP levels of the last decade were not only real, but going to continue in the same fashion for the next couple of decades. In fact they ran a budget deficit the entire time, accumulating debt into the largest economic boom of the last 50 years! (at least) With the artificial stimulus of ponzi bank lending removed, we see that a good chunk of that GDP growth never really existed, yet we have spent money (and made future pension promises to public sector workers which in many cases were are funded purely on the basis of taxation) on the basis that it did. When you have an 8% fall in GDP, 4% of which isn't going to come back for a decade & you *already* have a budget deficit even when you include the ponzi income on the government balance sheet, a painful retrenchment in the levels of government service is pretty much inevitable, whoever got into power. The only difference was going to be how much of that retrenchment was achieved via taxation (or inflation via printing money, which amounts to the same thing) and cuts in levels of government service.

I live in Oxford, and hate, hate the coming library closures, but at the same time have to accept that the government is in a real pickle & has little choice but to cut expenditure: We're simply not as rich as we thought we were. Sure, the government could put taxes up to fund the existing levels of state expenditure, but at the cost of destroying the recovery from the recession; peoples' take home pay is already being badly squeezed by a combination of inflation and tax increases. Mervyn King was suggesting yesterday that the combination would result in a 12% cut in real incomes. Imagine a 10% rise in income tax on top of that; I'm not sure the economy would cope. We'd end up in a crushing deflation like Spain or Ireland. Yes, corporate taxation could bring in more cash this would be at the expense of the shareholders who are, at this point in time mostly our own pension funds, many of which are already in deficit.

(Preventing the large multinationals like Google from playing games which let them avoid paying any taxes in the UK despite making large profits here would be an excellent idea, but doing that is far harder than it looks: it essentially requires ripping up intellectual property law and rewriting it as I understand things.)
posted by pharm at 12:26 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still remain to be convinced on that need to cut public expenditure, pharm. It's what I take from articles such as this (author's site, piece was first published in the FT). I realise recent signs are that any recovery has stalled and we may get the fabled double dip, but he seems to have taken that possibility into account too. And is it not argued that that retraction may well be in part due to cuts in public expenditure? Other arguments I've seen include mention of the 1.3 trillion bank bail-out (which was found smartly enough), which left the state owning 850 billion of assets, which were the political will extant, could be earning money for the treasury, as one example of an alternative.
As I say, I'm no expert, but there's plenty out there, from sensible mainstream figures, that goes against the cuts consensus, setting aside the cases made by the public sector unions with a vested interest. And as I've reiterated, I certainly don't want any cutting done by people who are against the whole idea of the welfare state and are pouncing on this like hyenas.
posted by Abiezer at 12:55 AM on January 27, 2011


The government plans to spend more (in nominal terms) every year going forwards Abiezer, so it seems to me that they're pretty much following Britten's line of argument.
posted by pharm at 1:42 AM on January 27, 2011


Oh, on the "1.3 trillion" bank bailout: that figure is the maximum possible liability that the state took on, if all of that debt defaulted completely with no recovery. Clearly this was an extremely unlikely outcome. The actual costs will be in the hundreds of billions (IIRC). The immediate cost in actual cash terms was relatively small: the costs were almost all in the form of future possible liabilities.

What did we get in return for our money? Well, we got a functioning banking system on which the entire UK economy depends, which is a pretty good return in my book. Now, I'd argue that we should have extracted a far greater price from the financial sector for that bailout & the government was foolish and naïve in the way they were snowed by the banks, but simply doing nothing would have been far, far more costly.
posted by pharm at 1:48 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Abiezer: And as I've reiterated, I certainly don't want any cutting done by people who are against the whole idea of the welfare state and are pouncing on this like hyenas.

Yes, that's my feeling in the U.S. as well. I don't trust class-warfare conservatives with 40 years of history cutting welfare services while protecting their own pork to make those cuts.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Philosopher's Beard: re: "I don't think economic growth makes people unhappy and mentally ill", Wilkinson and Pickett observe that, above a threshold income (or about USD10,000 a year), marginal income adds no marginal benefit, as measured by a wide range of indicators. At the same time, the cost of earning that marginal income does continue to rise (as measured in loss of free time, association with friends, family and neighbours, participation in community, etc.). As these are all necessary for full health, economic growth beyond a certain point is uneconomic in the sense that we lose more than we gain. They are pretty clear on that point.
posted by falcon at 1:38 PM on January 27, 2011


Abiezer, re: "As I understand it, the debt really isn't that high in historic terms" - the figures you supply suggest the debt---including pension---is only 50% of GDP. According to the Institute of Economic Affairs, the pension component of debt alone is 75% of GDP. The problem is that the Government has been quietly shovelling the pension debt off-balance sheet for decades, and using ludicrously low actuarial figures to estimate the entitlement. It is arse-shatteringly large. Nor, I think, has your rosy estimate factored in the Net Present Value of future health care costs of our ageing population.
posted by falcon at 1:47 PM on January 27, 2011


That intervention from the IEA only highlights the ideological nature of the argument - it's not as if they haven't got a dog in the fight. Which is not to say that public finances haven't been subject to creative accounting, but they're a prime example of the kind of anti-welfare state fundamentalists who are making hay while it pisses down.
posted by Abiezer at 11:22 PM on January 27, 2011


Here's another picking apart of the accepted view on the economy, and he takes into account the contraction of GDP pharm mentioned. Also saw this from a bunch called New Political Economy reading around in the light of argument here; like the IEA they take a political position, which they set out in this e-book (that I've not done reading yet). It's framed as policy advice for Labour, but bar that doesn't seem too pie-in-the-sky from what I have got through so far.
posted by Abiezer at 5:15 AM on January 28, 2011


Abiezer, I'm a lifelong reader of the Guardian, but if the IEA is biased in favour of cutting the size of the state then the Guardian is definitely biased the other way. The fact that the Guardian is publishing articles opposed to the government cuts is neither surprising nor informative!

Only last year the same author was arguing that the government couldn't borrow to stimulate on the kind of scale he talks about in the article you quote, because of the possibility of a catastrophic fall in the value of the £.

Now the Tories are in power he's all for it & Osbourne should open the floodgates. I smell a rat :)
posted by pharm at 6:48 AM on January 28, 2011


Fair dos pharm, I only happened across that as a reference in another article. My main point really (not being qualified to make a hard and fast judgement) is that at the very least there's room for argument.
Mad thing is, I'd be interested in the 'Big Society' and popular as opposed to sate control of service provision if it wasn't for the fact that it's these people introducing it now with what strike me as clearly dishonest motives.
posted by Abiezer at 9:34 AM on January 28, 2011


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