Has technology made community libraries a thing of the past? Are they just “a drain on taxpayers and authors that no longer makes sense”, as British children’s author Terry Deary says?
The other day, I borrowed the rather mediocre film I, Robot from the local library. In it, there’s a scene where the CEO of the fictional US Robotics says to Will Smith’s character “maybe you would have simply banned the Internet to keep the libraries open. Prejudice never shows much reason.” Later in the day, I coincidentally ran across this piece about how best selling British children’s author Terry Deary thinks that libraries “are a drain on taxpayers and authors that no longer makes sense“. Frankly, I think his opinion is driven by his concern for revenue more than anything, and who knows – maybe he’s one of those cranky old guys who hates kids and is bitter about the fact that his financial success is entirely dependent on them. But I have to confess, the thought has crossed MY mind on occasion that maybe my once-beloved local library is becoming obsolete. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we do another Library of Alexandria thing; I love books. In fact my idea of porn is a visit to the Huntington Library or watching videos of robotic library retrieval systems. But in an era when the consumption of trees solely for the purpose of storing information in them is no longer necessary, should we really keep doing it? As much as I love books, I completely embrace the migration to eBook readers and eBooks, partly because of the fact that eBooks are “greener” than “dead tree editions”. But probably more because I find it harder and harder to justify having so many books on shelves when my entire book collection could literally fit in my pocket. Although I don’t precisely subscribe to Seth Godin’s framing of libraries as mere “warehouses”, I don’t know – given such pervasive access to the internet – if they can really fulfill the same role they have for over a century. Libraries are one of the things a lot of modern people take for granted as a fundamental component of civilized society, when in fact the idea of a shared community library is relatively new, at least in the larger timeline of libraries in general. Straightdope.com has a great overview of the history of libraries if you’re interested, and regarding the debate about whether they’re obsolete, the Harvard Library did an Oxford-style debate last year. Video here, and expanded notes from one of the debaters here. And me? I think at the very least libraries need a dramatic rethink. What do you think?
Book Retrieval Porn