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Re: [BKARTS] relevance of the LIBRARY in the Internet age

Found this post in my spam so I'm a little late. Most of Jason's questions were pretty quickly answered in the initial rush to do away with useless libraries ten or fifteen years ago -- libraries are, we found out, an essential piece of the social fabric. Possibly another public institution could substitute, but it's unlikely. Libraries have a lot of social capital in the form of public respect and a reputation for impartiality and the defense of basic freedoms which is hard to match. Bookstores, comfy chairs and coffee shops and all, have not stood up well to internet competition. Rare book dealers have for the most part given up on the legs trade. Libraries sponsor classes and public meetings, hold art shows (in Phoenix, the central urban library is a staging spot for the monthly art walk), lend themselves to petition signers, and on and on. What we had to learn in the crisis was how valuable these things are, when we stopped wringing our hands over
 the decline of book culture. True, the web has peeled off the more trivial aspects of the information business, even including Google's massive books digitization project. This is all just access, and access is something you can't have too much of. What's in short supply is people who know how to *use* information to make knowledge. Reflect on how much of the world's stock of artists books is owned by libraries. Who was it who found those books, chose them, bought them, put them into the public record, buttonholes the public to come look at them? A much much older tradition than the librarian which Melvil Dewey invented in 1876 is the scholar-librarian, going back to Hellenic times. The codex book is a wonderful thing, but libraries are not really in the book-and-information business. They are in the knowledge business. The internet age isn't a patch on that.
Ocotillo Arts

----- Original Message ----
From: Jason Thompson <jason@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Sunday, April 27, 2008 7:59:00 AM
Subject: Re: [BKARTS] relevance of the LIBRARY in the Internet age

Speaking of the relevance of books in todays google & internet age, 
my wife is on the board of the 
<http://friendsofrochambeau.org/>"Friends" of our local library, a 
non-profit group which raises funds - through book sales, auctions, 
donations, etc - to use as gap financing for programs the library 
can't afford through it's own budget. The library budget doesn't 
cover all the costs of their programs, specifically children's 
programs, and the "friends" fill that financial gap. They also help 
acquire books & periodicals.

But the question that keeps coming up - in the face of staff layoffs, 
closings and reduced library hours - is: what is the mission of the 
library today? Is it simply a repository for books? A reference 
resource for the local neighborhood? A place to find cheap 
entertainment - books, videos, DVD's? A meeting place for kids after 

Are these relevant resources for a city run, brick & mortar 
establishment in the age of the Internet, Google, Netflix & 

There aren't many additional revenue sources for most libraries - 
they can teach classes, offer space for rent - but how they raise the 
amount of funds necessary to run a well stocked, well managed library 
for 12 hours every day is a big question right now.

We're in Rhode Island, I assume libraries are facing the same issues elsewhere.

Could the library become a membership organization? If patrons had to 
pay for their library card, would they be more invested in the 
library system?

Could libraries turn into mini-bookstores? With cafes, reading rooms 
(I know most have reading rooms, but we're talking comfy chairs like 
you see at Borders & independent bookstores). What if libraries 
teamed up with independent booksellers to set up shop in the library? 
What if there was music playing in the background? What if there was 
a cafe? These are ideas that  have been kicked around.

Just two ideas, neither of which really seem like they'd make that 
much of a difference. But the libraries here are seeing less 
patronage, rising costs, and smaller budgets.

The obvious solution is to lobby for a larger budget, but this 
doesn't seem likely. The long term solution is to make the library 
system relevant. Personally, I love the library, and if you're on the 
book arts list, you probably do too, and it  would be a shame to see 
even more local branches close because of lack of interest.

It's not all doom & gloom, there still are 
for librarians, but our dinner table conversation sometimes includes 
"where does the library go from here?".  What will libraries look 
like in ten years?

Jason Thompson

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