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Public Libraries are Doomed

It’s rare that I make dire predictions, but I’m going to make one. In a decade or so, we can see if I’m right.

Public libraries are doomed.

Okay, that was maybe more dire than I really meant.

How about, public libraries as places to get books or videos or music are doomed?

There, less dire. My proof? The great thing about a dire prediction, as any seer can tell you, is that we don’t need any proof, but Amazon trying to create a “Netflix for books” is persuasive.

Amazon is trying to create an ebook rental service akin to Netflix’s rental service for video (on disc or streaming makes no difference). If they can pull it off and make it as affordable as Amazon Prime, which already competes with Netflix Instant for some video titles, a lot of the people who still use public libraries for reading purposes will likely stop.

That’s crazy, you say! Library books are free! Why would anyone PAY for something they can get for free?

I think we all know the answer to that one, and anyone who has ever compared getting an ebook from Amazon compared to getting one from a public library will know the former is much easier.

Other librarians might also protest that Kindle books are bogged down with DRM, that they don’t play well with other ebook readers, or some similar claim. Yep. So what?

The current generation of Kindle is a fine ebook reader, and the wi-fi model with ads is now only $114. Plus the books can be read on smartphones and other computers.

At that price, even if someone was a Nook diehard (if there are such), buying a Kindle just for the rental books could still be worthwhile.

The trick might be the pricing. A $10/month, one-book-at-a-time plan would be very attractive, maybe with higher priced plans for 2-3 books at a time a la Netflix.

Most of the people who use public libraries primarily for reading could probably afford a Kindle and ten bucks a month. Why on earth would they still keep going to libraries?

There’s another obvious objection, which is that many books are not available in a digital format, and of those that are, the ones that are now currently very expensive – e.g., most academic titles – probably won’t be available under a low price plan, just like they aren’t available now for $9.99.

Only academics and students would care about this, and they don’t rely on public libraries anyway.

Cheap streaming video and music is already drawing people from public libraries, and cheap streaming books will finish them off as purveyors of “information.”

There’s still a lot libraries can do. Internet cafes, tech training centers, community centers, but in twenty or thirty years the idea of a public library as a place to get books, music, or movies will seem quaint. Public libraries as we have known them for decades will be gone forever.

A kind reader emailed asking for my thoughts on this, and gave a price breakdown that put Internet, video, ebooks at only slightly more than most cities spend per capita for their libraries.

What happens when the cost in [Name of City] is more than the companies? How long before libraries can’t compete? When do we admit defeat?

I suspect the time to admit defeat is sooner than we think. If Amazon can pull it off, then between Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify, most people won’t need libraries for anything anymore.

Amazon may drive libraries out of business the way it did a lot of bookstores, and the only ones likely to be disappointed are the librarians. Everyone else will be too busy reading whatever book they want, watching whatever movie or TV show they want, and listening to any music they want, all for about $30/month.

With services at that price, buying books for people to read for free would be about as attractive to most cities as supplying water to their houses for free.

If Amazon can pull it off, then between Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify, most people won’t need libraries for anything anymore.
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Comments

  1. You’re right. There’s another factor you didn’t mention. The people who can afford to pay Amazon $30/month for books, music and video are not the ones using the library for Internet access and help finding a job. But they are the ones who vote and donate to politicians’ campaigns and, therefore, are more influential than poor and unemployed citizens. As local government officials allocate diminishing resources for local government functions, they will be more responsive to voters who don’t use the library than to non-voters who do.

    So, how do we help protect access to library resources for the poor and unemployed? One way might be for librarians to become vigorous advocates of voter registration and of voting in local elections.

    • Mr. West says:

      Or…provide e-reader loans, seriously the idea that the public library somehow provides services for the poor and unemployed is way out of date!

    • Sam says:

      “… seriously the idea that the public library somehow provides services for the poor and unemployed is way out of date!”

      Are you under the impression that public libraries no longer provide these services? Or do you think that they *should* not in the future?

      Having worked in public libraries, I can testify that these populations definitely utilize library resources at a steady rate… I believe libraries should do more to serve these populations (offering classes in literacy, social media, computers; hosting community events and lecture series).

      In response to the original blogpost though, I really think assertions like this need to be quantitatively measured. Who uses the public library and how often?

      If I am a single, middle-class woman (or young married affluent woman), then it’s fair to see I probably won’t rely on the library for books and movies.

      On the other hand, if I am a middle or lower class parent, the Kindle isn’t really an option.

    • Spencer says:

      Shouldn’t they be using workforce offices to look for jobs on their computers? I mean, if that’s all they need.

    • Mr. West says:

      Sam, Yes and Yes, public libraries in America are the domain of the middle class and always will be. There is always exceptions to this rule but I would challenge ANY public service librarian to survey the people using their services….they are middle class and looking for escape of some sort. There are always exceptions to this rule, and the public library does provide shelter to the homeless during the day, but overall the library services are used by people that could access these same services at home.

  2. PB says:

    Amen, sister!
    I’ve been saying the same thing, but am accused of being a negative, doomsayer by most colleagues.
    It’s time to redefine public library mission statements or at least figure out where and for what we will be needed!
    This kind of thinking is not for the sake of being negative – but rather trying to be proactive and make a future rather than have it just happen to us.

  3. will manley says:

    The threat to libraries is not that patrons will suddenly flock to Amazon. That won’t happen. Besides most libraries today do not thrive on actual book circulation. Public libraries have two big clienteles today – 1) kids/soccer moms/nannies/grannies and 2) people who come in to use the computers or get free wifi. Amazon’s new plan does not change that. What the new plan does do is give city managers a reason to kill libraries. When you get your MPA degree (which most city managers have) they teach you that local government should only provide those services not available in the private sector. City managers will now seize upon Amazon and Netflix as proof that libraries no longer meet that most fundamental funding criterion. What will save libraries? The kids and soccer moms. Soccer moms have money and voice. They will keep public libraries open. Hug your children’s librarian today. He/she is your future!

  4. Andrew says:

    “Other librarians might also protest that Kindle books are bogged down with DRM, that they don’t play well with other ebook readers, or some similar claim. Yep. So what?”

    I can’t agree with this sentiment more. I’m a librarian. I’m well aware of the DRM issues surrounding the Kindle. I also couldn’t care less about any of that. If I decide I want a book then it can be on my tablet or my phone in a matter of seconds, usually at a fraction of what it costs to buy it at the book store.

    Sure there’s the risk that there might be a rights snafu and a book could get pulled, but so far Amazon doesn’t seem to be abusing their power. Their service is convenient and it works, and that’s all that matters to most people.

  5. John Farrier says:

    Will libraries, as currently conceived, collapse? It’s enough of a possibility that all of us should be making alternate career plans.

  6. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    I’m not sure what (if any) public library you go to, but it is usually the well-to-do who always want something for nothing at the public library. Poor people have been conditioned to think everything is going to cost them.

    I had a woman come in last night all excited about her new Kindle until I informed her that Amazon doesn’t like to share it’s toys with others. I mentioned the new Netflix model, but that didn’t seem to get her jazzed up. She thought $9.99 was too expensive for an e-book (and she didn’t look like she just rolled in from one of the projects or her double-wide trailer)

    Oh, and we get more than our share of college students coming in to look for assigned textbooks and readings.

  7. Ian says:

    To me, it seems a bit early for this. The service hasn’t even been officially announced yet, much less launched, and we have no idea how successful it will be. On the other hand, by definition, a prediction has to be early :)

  8. Libraryman says:

    I think that this changes the current “Bestsellers” model of collection development. Perhaps the library could find a use in keeping non-fiction books? After all I do not think large pictures work very well on the kindle. The latest hack job however, will.

  9. Lushpuppy says:

    1. This kind of change happens all the time in all professions. Technology changes society’s needs for different kinds of employment. Not a big deal, but something that any “professional” should have had enough schooling by now to predict. Entire industries have been created and made irrelevant in the span of a hundred years. The fact that we somehow believe that we are so fundamental to society that we cannot accept changes when they are bound to come our way is surely making a tragedy out of what should be the fulfillment of our dream – universal access to information.

    2. Libraries have adapted to changing roles in their communities in the past, so why the long face when presented with the fact that it will likely happen again in the future? Why do people think that old definitions about what a library is and isn’t must be adhered to when they seem to force us into a corner? The only people pushing us out of business are those of us not willing to accept change.

    3. Public/Academic/Corporate libraries still do more things for people than just loan out books and movies. Capitalizing on those will sustain us in the future. Parents still want child and teen programming, elderly still want computer classes and programming, and the general public is still full of people who wouldn’t know where to start looking for just about anything. Use of technology still requires a brain, and it seems (thankfully?) for the general public they are handed out sparingly.

    Perhaps we need to think of this in from a different viewpoint: how much more time and money will we have on hand when we no longer have to devote all those resources to maintaining these collections? We could instead use that potential to construct different facilities and programs that could help our patrons in more beneficial ways.

    We have a choice: embrace the technology and the change and use it to realize the potential that we are supposedly hoping for, or simply go the way of lamplighter who wanders the streets mumbling about these newfangled electric lights.

  10. Mr. West says:

    I think you all may be missing the point, the future will be cities, towns and municipalities going to Amazon for licensing of content INSTEAD of funding a library. A given city could purchase a license from Amazon for the entire city and provide access to that contact through a public library card. The city could also lend out or subsidize e-readers to anyone that required one. In this model, there is no more need for a “physical” library, no need for an expensive ILS and no need for librarians. Just a need for “gatekeepers” to the licensed content….this world is not far away folks, and in my opinion it will be much better!

    • bleh says:

      If my town wants to dump millions of my tax dollars into licensing content that can disappear at any time and for any reason, curated by a private company that has no real accountability… Well, we’re going to have words if we start going down that road.

    • Sam says:

      Yes, because the average person is so information literate… what do we even need librarians for? Psh.

    • Lushpuppy says:

      I quite got that from the AL. The problem is still that you define a library as a place that houses books and DVDs. If that is your measure, then sure – you’re right. Libraries, however, are more than that. They are about learning how to read, learning about new subjects and technologies, and fostering community.

      The fact that Amazon might offer this service to a city sure sounds nice, but doesn’t make a difference to us really. Think about it, ebook and DVD downloads are the future regardless of Amazon Prime or Netflix. It’s just a matter of economics and the cost of manufacturing books/dvds – eventually you reach a point where the cost of manufacturing them physically isn’t feasible anymore from a profit point of view. The end of books and DVDs isn’t something that may happen, it’s going to happen.

      What librarians need to do is to figure out how they will deal with libraries when there are no books and no DVDs. What do you do with the space? How do you get people to come in?

      The answer is programming, providing reference service in multiple formats, providing new and innovative public spaces, and reminding people that, with books or without, libraries are about literacy.

    • Ms. Joneser says:

      Mr. West obviously hasn’t been to a public library in some time, let alone worked at one. This idea that “most people” can afford an e-reader, plus the monthly charges – or a PC, plus the monthly Internet – would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Our many-tiered society with its accompanying income disparities has made this possible.

      I realize that, as a public “servant” I am responsible for everything wrong with this country in the past ten years, but even this “overpaid” librarian is considering dropping basic cable. If my city didn’t offer $19 wireless, I wouldn’t be using it with my 5-year-old laptop.

    • Spencer says:

      @Ms. Joneser- I think YOU are missing the point. Instead of throwing yourself a pity party as you nail yourself to the cross, maybe you should read the actual argument. The city can PAY for these services (or will be able to in the near future) in total from 3rd party vendors for cheaper than it costs to fund the library. It has nothing to do with you and your perceived slight- but everything to do with what the city and citizens see as value for their dollar.

  11. Jessi says:

    It’s too bad the airlines going broke too – flight attendent was my backup plan for when libraries fail. I guess I will have to return to school forever so I can stop paying my MLS student loans!

  12. bettyedit says:

    I’m a Nook diehard. (Just so you know.)

    :o)

    Thanks for your blog, I love it!

  13. Kipper Twin says:

    I think public libraries are doomed, but I think Amazon sales initiatives are a small part of the problem: basically, the model for public libraries is outdated, and public libraries will be sunk by fiscal mismanagement, chronic outsourcing, incompetence and irrelevance for being a community resource that does not respond to the community. In our increasing slide into irrelevance, the idea of public libraries should be a quaint adherence to an ideal that does not work any longer.
    But no need to fear though, academic libraries will probably follow suit, perhaps not immediately.

  14. Anonypotamus says:

    Public libraries can, perhaps, hope to become something akin to a government funded social club with certain services like literacy attached.

    It’s a simple matter of the price of information. The value of a given library is related to how much a given class of information costs. Books as a medium of information are very expensive. Up to this point, books have been the primary medium our civilization has used to communicate most of our information, so libraries have offered a pretty good value.

    But the price of information has dropped, and will continue to drop. Publishing is kind of irrelevant to this. The bulk of the information people seek is freely available on the internet, or is available at a relatively affordable price. Even poor people can afford it. And it’s going to get more affordable.

    One thing librarians as a profession have failed to do is become effective guides to information. We’ve tried to fashion ourselves as ‘gatekeepers’, which is a tough well when there aren’t any walls.

    • gatoloco says:

      Price drop? Technical information costs more than ever. The ASTM dropped certain paper items, and replaced them with a fabulously expensive online products. Thomson Reuters and Elsevier prices have increased a great deal. Mission critical science, engineering, and architectural information have never been more expensive.

  15. Anonypotamus says:

    * a tough sell

  16. karl says:

    I’m waiting to see if Amazon offers something like a cell phone model: free Kindle with 1 or 2 year commitment – that could make things interesting (in a good or bad way depending on your perspective)

    Something about the ad-supported Kindle weirds me out. I don’t mind advertising in magazines, but books, well it feels oddly violating, and if it was a viable practice, don’t you think we’d have ads in paper books by now?

    • Spencer says:

      There was a company that tried to work with this model- but they didn’t have very many books- and none by author’s I recognized. I think they failed miserably.. It’s the model that makes the most sense to me. Get a “free” Nook/kindle when you sign up for a 3 year contract. Cell phones do it with great success. Netflix doesn’t offer a roku box with sign up, but they are relatively competition free.

    • Tom says:

      As far as advertising in books goes, it’s definitely not a new thing.

      I still have a number of 70s and 80s paperbacks that included card inserts for sets of encyclopedias or Marlboro cigarettes bound into the middle of the book. It’s also not unusual for the more lurid genre fiction to devote the last several pages to advertising for upcoming products from the same publisher.

      It’s probably the expense of accommodating advertising space into the page layout of the main body of the book that has kept ads off of every page.

  17. Kareem says:

    This just means that public libraries will have to get more creative with marketing. Take a note from Kenton County Public Library in Northern Kentucky. They have created innovated ways to keep their circulation numbers high.

  18. Teetop says:

    On the positive tip, this could be a good reason to get out of the habit of buying 150 copies of the latest bestseller. The collection money can be reallocated if a significant part of the population is renting rather than requesting these books. It will affect that part of the library’s clientele, maybe, but the nonfiction collection and deeper fiction users will still be better served by the library.

  19. Alice says:

    I attended a webinar about this: what libraries should do if books (and music and videos) are no longer in the equation, entitled “Libraries in a Post-Book World”

    Find the archived link here:
    http://bit.ly/r2hM1q

    Very thought provoking.

  20. M says:

    I thought the same as soon as I heard the amazon news. Public libraries are doomed… they seem out-dated and irrelevant. My prediction: public libraries will become basic bare-bones operations staffed with mostly part-time low-paid associates.
    Yep… not sure there’s anything we can do about it. We simply cannot compete with the private sector.

  21. Smith says:

    Public Libraries doomed? Really. E Book checkouts currently in the system I work at is less than 0.01% of the total circulation and we have a relatively large e-book collection.

    • spencer says:

      The point is the cities can potentially fund this for less than funding a library. If that happens, it is in the interest of the city to choose the path that provides the most service for the least cost. Most people will see this private options as providing the most service (if you throw in the internet, devices, etc.)

  22. I would argue that they are not so much doomed as condemned to obsolescence unless they focus on the needs of the community; do critical evaluation of their worth that can be explained in real, economic terms; be prepared to jettison outmoded thinking and bureaucratic structures that preserve status quo rather than elevate innovation; refuse to reconcile the competition for public funds with their own needs; understand that they can be leaders by not panicking but rather reflecting; know that they are doom if they continue to repeat the same mantra of “free services” without some energy behind change. I love my library and will support them as long as I can. However, I am in search of innovation–not calcification. All institutions have to change; this “essay” is yet another wake-up call…

  23. M says:

    That’s because e-book rental at libraries sucks as a service.

    • L says:

      With regard to e-books, most patrons use the library as the support desk for assisting them with their numerous questions about troubleshooting and downloading to their e-readers and other assorted devices. Right now, it’s the one place they can actually get a real person to help them with these questions. If the e-book and e-reader vendors ever figure out how to do this, then I agree, libraries will truly be out of the loop.

  24. Gardener62 says:

    I’m a Kindle owner and looking forward to being able to borrow books from the library. To me, this is an exciting option. My library system has many more books available as ebooks than Kindle, carries many out of print books, etc. I’m thinking that linking the Kindle to the library will start a golden age for libraries. Think of the demand, albeit digital. Why would I pay to borrow books from Amazon? I’ve given them enough money. If they do not provide the library borrowing linkage by the end of the year, I am ditching my Kindle for a Nook.

  25. Suzy says:

    Oh God, I hope not. I’m almost finished with LIS school!

  26. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    As a former librarian and an author whose publisher specializes in library sales, I would certainly hate to see public libraries go the way of the dinosaur. Hopefully, that dire prediction will not come to pass.
    Public librarians have proved to be adaptive. Not everyone has gone high tech or can even afford to do so. Libraries represent the best of democracy making learning available to all who want it.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH, Five Star/Gale–check it out at local libraries

  27. Denise Duncan says:

    I also think there is an additional need that libraries might try to meet. Have you ever noticed the number of people studying or on the internet with their own computers in coffee shops and book stores? Where do many of these, particularly young, people go? They go to Barnes and Noble (B&N) and sit in their cafe’s and study, read books and magazines they haven’t bought, and do all the things that used to be done in a library. Barnes and Noble, now that Borders is gone, can no longer afford to run a bookstore when a large share of their customer base treats them like a library. The other problem B&N has is that they are a huge Coffee Shop with a lot of real estate; tough to compete against a Starbucks with so little real estate when you are that big. Young people also go to Starbucks, stuff themselves into these small coffee houses, drink coffee and hook up to the internet? When I was studying for my last Masters I tried studying in both the library and Barnes and Noble. The library was great to study in for peace and quiet, but it was extremely depressing. I’m not sure the average student today would voluntarily study in such a quiet place except on a college campus. Many of them want the interaction of people in the background. Libraries don’t encourage the intermingling of their customer base that the new generation of people want. People want to go somewhere where there is a lot of people interaction even if they are not interacting with them. Libraries are not set up to encourage that. Maybe they should. Studying at Barnes and Noble was better because I felt like I was out with people. I’m not sure B&N likes it though. In the library I felt, on the other hand, I felt isolated.

    Back to Barnes and Noble. They, like the library, are not going to be able to survive either in the future when they are selling less and less books. They are selling less books because 1) the e-books they sell that go with their Nooks can’t be purchased in their stores, only on-line. What is the purpose of going to their stores then? To see what those books look like? 2) If you look at B&N today, the majority of business that we can see is going on in the Cafe where people are intermingling with each other, reading their books and magazines for free; like a library. There are actually clicks of regulars that are there just because they love the atmosphere. Can a library deliver that kind of atmosphere at public expense, while having books to borrow, and possibly books to sell, with coffee on the side? If they could, their municipalities wouldn’t have to pay so much to keep them alive, and they would attract more people and more money. Could they be the place where people go to preview the newest books?

    So I think there is a need to rethink the library. Make it a place where books are exchanged, possibly bought, where people come to not just study singularly, but also collectively and where people intermingling goes on. Make libraries a place to meet and greet. Make libraries more exciting; put a cafe in them. That will possibly extend their life over the next 10-15 years. I know to the purest among us that seems ridiculous, however, colleges are starting to do the very same thing. There are so many students out there looking for a place to study and intermingle with people at the same time. The library could add the intermingling piece because right now they are doing it in B&N, Starbucks and places like Panara Bread. These places really aren’t set up for that; they are set up to make money. Maybe the library should rethink what it is set up for.

    I believe that in the future, there is going to be a need to merge the elements of a Starbucks Coffee Shop, a Barnes and Noble with all of its new books, and the public library for the betterment of a different population today.

    • OnceAndFutureLibrarian says:

      I actually utilized my local Borders as a library when I was in college. I could use any book and read it in the cafe for free and then there were free refills on coffee. One coffee purchase for the day and a free book. Also, since they ordered any book that you requested, any time I was interested in something for a paper, I just ordered it through them and when it came in I read it at the cafe. Sometime what I ordered sat on the shelf long enough to go into the dollar bin, then I would buy it since I was there so much and knew when they placed the inventory.

    • Matt B. says:

      I’ve two comments.

      First comment is too O+FLibn. Are you and those like you the reason for the failure of Borders?
      One word : MOOCHER!!

      Second comment to Denise: Wonderful points. Adapt/Change/Evolve or Die. About ten years ago, everyone pined about using Borders as a model for how libraries should offer coffee and display books to attract readers/customers. Didn’t Keep Borders Alive. They fails to realize the changes in their environment until it was too late. Be Aware & Adapt/Evolve or Go extinct. Be proactive: Do not be reactive. Understand the needs of your users and make the changes before it’s too late. Renovate and expand your facilities and infrastructure (ex. more electrical outlet near comfortable furniture. Encourage and facilitate interaction. That’s how ideas and thoughts are exchanged, developed, and improved upon. Nothing is created in a vacuum. What if libraries evolved into a Community/communication centers where people gain access to ideas and information. Then it’s shared, discussed and molded into something better and then released so they benefit the lives of others. That is the ideal. Now let’s figure out how to achieve it.

  28. Gardener62 says:

    In our family, it has been a rite of passage for the children, once reaching their third birthday, to get their first library card. We take advantage of the wonderful books, the children’s programs, etc. Who else promotes literacy for free? Our little ones always look upon library visits as attending a scrumptuous banquet; they are so excited to see so many books. And yes, we promote literacy and love of books at home, but what a wonderful experience for young ones! If libraries go down the drain, what will replace this experience?

  29. Tom says:

    Around here, the bread and butter patrons are the families with small children. They’re not going to go for the new digital revolution anytime soon for the same reason why they come to the library in the first place– expense.
    Keeping a new reader in books would bankrupt most families. Add in more than one child under 12 or so, and the cost multiplies. Require an expensive, delicate device for each family member and that’s pretty the end of the story.

  30. Stephanie says:

    Those who say that moms and kids need libraries, not ebooks, are absolutely right. Kids are glued to glowing rectangles way too much these days anyhow, IMHO. The experience just isn’t the same. What moms and young children often need more than anything is to get out AND BE AROUND ACTUAL PEOPLE, for their mental health, not to mention the sheer fun and stimulation that going to a public place that’s child-friendly and full of books and other fun materials can provide. I used to work as a programmer at a branch of our local public library. We offered a couple dozen programs every month, and almost every one of them was full, with a waiting list, even in the dead of winter. They came for the books and programs, but they also came because they knew the staff and got to meet new parents and their kids got to learn how to be in the world with other kids. Can Amazon offer than, hunh, hunh? I rest my case.

  31. Joyce says:

    I am a married upper middle class woman and I use the library all the time. Why? Because I do not need clutter. I love returning the stuff to the library. I live in a fairly affluent area, and our library is used a lot. People go crazy when the hours are reduced. In this economy saving $30 a month is good. The library here offers programs for young people, children, resume writing, etc. I don’t believe Amazon does that. I love my library..I am annoyed with you.

  32. One process that librarians spend a great deal of time and care is acquisitions. Searching and purchasing the right books for a collection is a highly skilled task. It requires subject knowledge and knowledge of the public. It requires the ability to know what is usable today and what can be valuable for the future collection. Non-librarians have no idea that the acquisitions and cataloging process is what makes a bunch of books into a library. A member of the public may easily download a book, but it takes a library to gather a collection of books. The collection has more value than the sum total of the individual items.

    I get directional questions, requests for technical help and challenging questions that require many hours to prepare a proper answer. Some of the questions are interesting enough to write articles about.

  33. AMS says:

    Come spend the day in our libraries where 60,000 people come a month for help. They are unemployed, broke, many are depressed and our books are what they are looking for.
    Are you kidding-$30.00 a month when they do not even have a home to stay in!! Please re-enter the Real world of Public Libraries!

  34. puddlepublic says:

    I agree with Joyce.

    And this debate is so stupid. I worked in a library in a wealthy area. The people that came in were from all income levels and all wanted different things. Some wanted computer access and others wanted new best sellers they could return. Our library was always busy. It is the only one open on weekends in the area because of busget cuts in neighboring cities. People came in for the shade and a place to sit, people came on for stacks of books, teens and college students came to do homework.

    We got so busy we could hardly keep up. People come to the library and our circulation and program attendance was great. People who talk about how no one uses the library for books are clueless. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but for now we’re still really popular and get compliments on our collection (books, CDs and DVDS), service, programs, space, and hours of operation.

    Libraries that are only used by one group for one thing by one group are probably failing in other areas and are not good examples of what a library is and can do.

    I just got a new library job across the country from my old one and today I noticed tons of people reading, studying, teaching their kids, and using computers. This still goes on and we have a librarian who teaches people all over town how to use ebooks.

  35. puddlepublic says:

    And I don’t care if Amazon makes it possible to get rid of the buildings. People do really love libraries and talking to people about books. Machines might make it easier, but the building is important because people are not machines. We can have everything shipped to our houses and never have to go to stores. But we do. We can download music but people collect records.

    And don’t give me any of this garbage about how everyone can afford and wants an ereader because I know that this is not true. People still love books. People love being in rooms full of them. Writing junk about how people don’t love books is only making it harder to convince the people with the money to support libraries. You are making it more likely that people will turn away from libraries by telling the public that even librarians don’t love libraires and have given up on them. I think that’s just awful.

  36. Stephanie says:

    This is a good debate for us to be having. The fact that it’s been so lively is an indication of how deep our love for–and concerns about–libraries really run. Ultimately though I agree with Joyce and puddlepublic; we have to stop talking in such a defeatist way. I am a librarian, I worked hard to become one, and I will *never* stop fighting for libraries. I can think of few if any other professions where one can do so much that’s needed and positive in the world.

  37. Laura says:

    I’m a librarian. I would consider myself middle class. I rarely use my public library – except to perhaps occasionally download audio books. I would proudly fight to keep my tax dollars funding libraries but that is because I know the value of the services and collections my library provides. Sadly, the majority of citizens don’t.

    The current public library model only fulfills the needs of a subsection of our society – those who have time to go to the library. And it should fulfill the needs of those people. However, libraries have to get better at the delivery of their collections before most people will see the value of a library – and therefore – ever step foot in one again.

    ps – I also own a Kindle and am very happy libraries are now able to lend Kindle books via Overdrive. Thanks Amazon.

  38. Wonderful. I suppose there are several million (?billion) people out there who are still trying to establish public libraries in their locality. Trouble is books are priced for the US and European market, and are too expensive for the majority of would-be readers outside these marginal places. For most global readers, pirated copies, or second hand copies are still in huge demand, while anything ‘e-’ is still out of reach. Western libraries need to ‘get out there’; western librarians need to be where their users live (just like social workers). Cataloguers, indexers and shelf-stuffers are doomed, certainly; but readers still need informed and educated helpers and advisors. Just having a Kindle or internet connection (lucky you!) is no longer enough.

  39. puddlepublic says:

    This is the guy we should pay attention to: http://jaslarue.blogspot.com/

    He knows print books are in trouble…but he also has ideas about how to keep libraries going. His library is involved in almost all parts of the community and he has ideas about how libraries can be publishers and all kinds of things.

    :)

  40. Ben says:

    I don’t understand how libraries are doomed.

    Yes, cheap electronic rentals mean that a book can be delivered to a consumer at a cheaper cost, but who pays the rental fee? If 100 people borrow a popular book from a library over one year the cost of that book is tied to the one physical item that the library purchased. If 100 people rent a popular book from Amazon over one year, do they not pay 100 separate rental fees? How is it cheaper?

    And what service would the city be paying less for? Is the city honestly going to rent individual e-books for each citizen who wants it? I don’t see that being cheaper.

    Annoyed librarian informs us:
    “A kind reader emailed asking for my thoughts on this, and gave a price breakdown that put Internet, video, ebooks at only slightly more than most cities spend per capita for their libraries.”
    Great authority there. If your friend told you that, it must be true. May we have a look at those numbers?

    Furthermore, do Internet, video and ebooks encompass the entirety of library services? What about databases and other deep web content subscriptions? Surely those take up a fair amount of a library’s budget. Plus, how many people do you know who would buy a really decent reference collection and update it every year?

    Kindles and Amazon do not spell doom for the library. They provide great services, and I am not arguing that point. But they just aren’t public libraries. Public libraries provide a lot of services to their communities. A lot of these services are not really considered in the fuzzy logic that sees Amazon, the bane of big box book stores, as an equal threat to libraries.

  41. Kim says:

    Finally read this and it brought up some questions. If they are so doomed, then why are public libraries swamped all the time? My public library certainly is, particulary on the weekends and after school. I have a friend who is a children’s librarian there. She doesn’t just coordinate a significant amount after school and Saturday programming, including bookclubs, homework help, and a variety of educational programs, my public library also partners with preschools, headstarts, and the public and charter schools, taking services on the road. The collection is excellent, the databases are frequently used, and this library doesn’t even have an extensive ebook collection. Why would a city be willing to fund ebooks for all if they won’t fund a library?

  42. Lib says:

    Ok- what about children’s books? I mean baby board books, Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, Don Hillert, and Petr Horacek with his tactile and pop up books. These books for the 6 and under crowd cannot be replaced by ebooks. The children are learning motor skills, colors, numbers, etc. These books will remain, and it makes sense that they would remain in the new libraries that will be more like community centers.

  43. Zagrobelny says:

    This assumes that everyone who uses the library is rich, or at least can afford Amazon and Netflix, and doesn’t need assistance with anything at all, like computers, or job hunting, or research papers, or genealogy….

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