With all its library levy controversy, Seattle has just been a-hoppin’ with library excitement. Now that the library levy has passed instead of broken, it’s time the Seattle public library gave some serious thought to adapting the library for the future.
Fortunately for the library leaders of Seattle, they have just the leader they need, as shown in this this op-ed by a 22-year-old son of a retired librarian. Library knowledge runs in the family, I guess.
According to him, nobody comes to the library to read books, so libraries should get rid of the books. The “crusty books” should all be sent off-site somewhere and shipped in for library patrons, who would browse and select them using a redesigned OPAC that would “make browsing a more pleasant experience.”
I don’t have any trouble browsing via an OPAC, but then again I’m a librarian.
This makes some kind of sense if you assume that everyone would stay home browsing books via a computer, select books, and then come pick them up at the library. Lots of people do that, but is it the norm, especially for children? Seems unlikely.
But the suggestion is odd when combined with the suggestion to replace all the “crusty books” with more computer terminals, since “computers are the new gateways to the vast sea of human knowledge.” (I haven’t decided yet if that’s a mixed metaphor.)
Why would people need more computers at the library when presumably they have them at home? And if they don’t have them at home, are they supposed to come to the library, browse for books through the OPAC, and then come back at some later time to pick up the books?
The two suggestions seem to cancel each other out.
We could also certainly question whether computers provide us with gateways to the “vast sea of human knowledge.” They provide the gateways, but not always the vast sea.
Computers, when combined with the Internet, search engines, subscription databases, and various digital projects certainly allow us to identify vast portions of the vast sea of human knowledge, but good luck getting to much of that knowledge without print books. Ebooks could go a long way to fill the gaps, if libraries were allowed to lend them.
So if I were running the Seattle public library, I’d keep the print books for a while longer, just in case people want to read a larger selection of books than the relative sliver of ebooks available.
On the other hand, perhaps we should go the route one of the commenters to the article suggests and just get rid of libraries altogether. This one’s too priceless not to quote in full:
A recent study suggests that Education is failing in America not because of teachers, or lack of funding. It is the parents. Library funding should be put where it will increase education to the masses.
Close the libraries and buy every student in America a kindle filled with the classics. 10 year plan for Eutopia.
There does seem to be some truth in that. Uneducated parents who live in poor areas with dangerous schools and can’t compensate for their child’s inadequate schooling make it hard for anyone in those schools to achieve. It’s a vicious cycle.
On the other hand, America has really never tried to spend education money adequately or wisely. Put those same kids in year round, all day schooling from the age of three with plenty of extracurricular support and social services supporting the parents, and those same kids might have a fighting chance. Except, you know, it’s not about teaching or funding, it’s all about the parents.
What I can’t figure out is the mental leap from bad parents to closing libraries and buying “every student in America a kindle filled with the classics.” Huh?
I suppose those parents who are so inadequate that they can’t teach their children anything can just stand back and watch those children, desperate for learning, pick up those Kindles on their own and work through “the classics,” presumably public domain classics, because nothing inculcates the love of reading into kids today like some Victorian fiction or stilted translations of the Iliad.
Rather than a 10 year plan for Eutopia (which, by the way, means “good place,” as opposed to utopia, which means “no place”), it would be a ten year plan to eliminate reading among children almost entirely. That doesn’t seem like a good place to me.
Then again, if we eliminate the desire to read books, then we wouldn’t need libraries after all, so we could close them. I suppose self-fulfilling prophecies are prophecies nonetheless. Out with libraries and books. Kindles with the classics to the rescue!