Posts tagged ‘Libraries’

May 27, 2011

Libraries Crumble

by Vince

Charles Simic laments:

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.

I see this when I am at the library in York. Scores of grown adults and kids do not have computers at home and rely strongly on their 2 hours allotted to them a day to look for jobs, work on schoolwork, and yes a fair amount of time set aside to watch YouTube videos.

Once I started to enjoy reading, libraries became my new toy store. Free books, so many services and resources at your fingertips (secondary language services, such as Rosetta Stone, are there to use and others are available to check out) and more all there and paid for by our tax dollars.

Simic makes a few more points worth noting:

This was just the start. Over the years I thoroughly explored many libraries, big and small, discovering numerous writers and individual books I never knew existed, a number of them completely unknown, forgotten, and still very much worth reading. No class I attended at the university could ever match that. Even libraries in overseas army bases and in small, impoverished factory towns in New England had their treasures, like long-out of print works of avant-garde literature and hard-boiled detective stories of near-genius.

Wherever I found a library, I immediately felt at home. Empty or full, it pleased me just as much. A boy and a girl doing their homework and flirting; an old woman in obvious need of a pair of glasses squinting at a dog-eared issue of The New Yorker; a prematurely gray-haired man writing furiously on a yellow pad surrounded by pages of notes and several open books with some kind of graphs in them; and, the oddest among the lot, a balding elderly man in an elegant blue pinstripe suit with a carefully tied red bow tie, holding up and perusing a slim, antique-looking volume with black covers that could have been poetry, a religious tract, or something having to do with the occult. It’s the certainty that such mysteries lie in wait beyond its doors that still draws me to every library I come across.

Pictured: a library established by Andrew Carnegie.

January 6, 2011

Creative Destruction Meets Bookstores

by Vince

Megan McArdle’s reflection on Borders’ withering has me thinking. I consider myself a newbie when it comes to books, bookstores, and libraries. Its only been a few years since I have valued having books and reading them frequently. Recently, I have spent some painstaking time thinking about the positive impact buying a book at an actual real life book store has compared to simply finding it on Amazon and having it delivered to my villa in 4-6 business days.

In today’s frugal times, Amazon is quite tempting. However, when I run numbers through my head, I can sometimes only spend another dollar or 2 at a bookstore for the same book found on Amazon. Go look for a book on Amazon and you can see what I am talking about. Unless you are looking for a very common book, which in that case at best it could be sold for 1 cent plus $3.95 S&H, you may pay just about the same price at a bookstore. As McArdle mentions, bookstores don’t come with the same environmental impacts as ordering a book online (shipping costs, cardboard, etc).

As for creative destruction, libraries are amazing. I get to volunteer once a week at one. I assisted a lady the other night on the phone who was looking for books and interactive DVDs for parenting and teaching sign to your child. She had the light bulb moment that I had a few months back: why do I need to go out and spend money on these books or DVDs when they are at the library, most of them free for me to use? I have gone on my Netflix and Amazon list and found a lot of movies and books that I want to check out and then seen that they are available at my local library. My point is this: will the avalanche known as creative destruction one day wipe out our free libraries?

July 12, 2010

Are Libraries Necessary?

by Vince

Marilyn Johnson ponders over the closings of or cuts in libraries over the past years:

I’ve spent four years following librarians as they dealt with the tremendous increase in information and the ways we receive it. They’ve been adapting as capably as any profession, managing our public computers and serving growing numbers of patrons, but it seems their work has been all but invisible to those in power.

I’ve talked to librarians whose jobs have expanded with the demand for computers and training, and because so many other government services are being cut. The people left in the lurch have looked to the library, where kind, knowledgeable professionals help them navigate the bureaucracy, apply for benefits, access social services. Public officials will tell you they love libraries and are committed to them; they just don’t believe they constitute a “core” service.