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Really, libraries don’t need reinventing, thanks

Two stories have made their way to me from around the internet lately. A few weeks ago it seemed everywhere I looked people were sharing the story of a small, “DIY” library in Brooklyn at a work sharing space. LitHub’s Phillip Pantuso speaks with a number of people, including Heather Topcik, director of the library at Bard, who gush that this is a revolution in serendipity where people can actually browse bookshelves. She actually says, “I think there’s some nostalgia there, because people don’t use libraries, unless you’re a student.” Maybe she should drive a couple of hours south and visit some of the NYPL branches Jim Dwyer visited for his piece in the New York Times a few years ago.

Pantuso goes on to say, “Digital classification has abetted the evolution of the library. In the past, a librarian would be tasked with deciding whether to shelve a book about art nouveau metalwork in the art nouveau section or the metalwork section. Now, given that most people will first encounter the book via an online search, it can functionally exist in both places. But the act of browsing and its concomitant serendipitousness are less available.”

I can’t decide which I find more ridiculously elitist — that “people don’t use libraries” or that “the act of browsing and its concomitant serendipitousness are less available” because of digital cataloging. So, no, actually, the shelves are still there, and so are the people. Browsing is not less available than it ever was, just because you can also see a digital catalog. But I tried to ignore this article, because it’s really not reality for most people — a hipster invitation-only set of books in Brooklyn is not a threat to libraries as most of us know them, and if people want to experiment and play librarian in their private, privileged spaces, they can go for it. Have fun.

Then this weekend, my friend Paul and many other outraged people were sharing Panos Mourdoukoutas’ article for Forbes. His main point seems to be: we’ve all got Amazon and Netflix, and Starbucks to hang out in, we don’t need libraries, let’s close them and save taxpayers a bundle. He also makes several unsupported comments like “There’s no shortage of places to hold community events,” and “Technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services.” Both of which are mindbogglingly inaccurate. Libraries in my area are actually regularly turning people away who are looking for space because it’s hard to find places for community groups to meet. And as the American Booksellers Association regularly reports, independent bookstores are thriving — because people are buying what he flippantly calls “collector’s items” but the rest of us still call books.

Also, I was left wondering as I usually am when I read articles like this, have any of these tone deaf, privileged writers set foot in a public library lately? Try it and see your fellow citizens wandering in the stacks, looking at what’s new, what’s shelved beside their favorite authors, or just what’s on the shelf in the aisle they’ve wandered down or the display they’ve come across. Yes, there are patrons who look up what they want to read online, and come to the library for that very thing, or even download a copy on their tablet or phone, but that is not evidence that serendipity or browsing are dead. In fact, given the rate at which I used to have to replace display books when I worked in a public library, I’d say browsing is popular. Don’t take my word for it, look at Pew, which has been reporting for years that Americans value public libraries.  And also, something I’ve discussed here at Nocturnal Librarian before, people prefer print books over eReading.

And I’m sure that someone who thinks stockholder profit is more important than access to public libraries would not stop to consider this, but only 2/3 of American adults have broadband internet access at home. That means that 1 in 3 people do not — and guess what? Many of the have-nots are poor, older, rural, or minorities. Maybe Mourdoukoutas thinks poor people, the elderly, and anyone not living on a coast doesn’t deserve to read? Because you cant download an Amazon eBook without broadband. Nor can everyone afford Amazon Prime, which is the only way to access what Mourdoukoutas  calls Amazon’s “online library.” Which is not actually a library. It’s a marketing tool.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, people who think they don’t need libraries really have no business deciding for the rest of society that they aren’t important. Amazon doesn’t need libraries to die in order to thrive (in fact, they don’t need bookstores to die either, as bookstores are doing just fine and Amazon continues to grow). Americans don’t need a giant corporation deciding what we read. But above all, libraries are often the only egalitarian spaces in American communities, radically welcoming of everyone who comes through their doors, providing vital space, quiet, internet access, resources, community, and yes, print books, magazines and newspapers to people of all walks of life, who rely on their libraries and use them.

 

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About Deb Baker

Deb Baker is a writer and insatiable reader, and library director at a community college. She muses about library issues at The Nocturnal Librarian (https://thenocturnallibrarian.com/) and blogs about books, reading, and life at bookconscious (http://bookconscious.wordpress.com/). Her family includes two awesome offspring, a husband, and the cat who adopted them. And a crazy rescue kitten.

246 responses to “Really, libraries don’t need reinventing, thanks

  1. Hear, hear! Just fabulous, hon! I’d love to share it on FB if you agree, or you can do it yourself.

  2. The Forbes writer is doing so for profit, using Buzzfeed and TMZ tactics. It is a lazy opinion piece that is devoid of robust research and facts, informed solely by his affluence and privilege without acknowledging it #rubbish

    Forbes hides behind ad-blocking wall…they suck.

  3. My family loves going to the local libraries. You can’t spark the same interest for reading in little minds by using a device to browse… It’s not the same. That said, my boys (4 and 7) recently learned how to use the computers at the library to put book holds on their account. But we do this in the library. They see in that app immediate if the book is in or not. They are just as excited if not more to go grab a book off the shelf… We need to make sure libraries in the physical sense don’t go the way of the dodo. Even as an adult, when there I love browsing the shelves and feel like I never have enough time!

  4. kirizar

    I’m outraged that anyone would consider closing libraries! Seriously, what a totally ignorant position to think no one benefits from the institutions any longer! Elitist, out-of-touch pricks!

  5. I love libraries. No better feel than to just sit in one surrounded by books.

  6. Excellent point of view, I also think that because we are now more materialistic, people are more likely to buy their own personal copies of books rather than read a used copy. People like to have a collection of books which they can go to at any one time. In all honesty, I think we want our own libraries in our own homes.

  7. Yes to ALL of this! ❤

  8. I don’t care what people say, I love libraries! I just took my 6 year granddaughter to get her first library card. She and her younger sister were surprised that you can actually borrow book. They know they have a limited time to read them so they dont stick it on the bookshelf and forget about it. The digital file system is so much easier than in the old days

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad you took your granddaughter and I hope she grows up loving her library!

      • Me too! Fortunately their local library offers different programs for family like mini story performances. They look forward to going but always bought books at B &N or a local shop. She was so excited with the self checkout. All the best. Keep up the fight for public librarys

  9. Thank you for taking the time to comment on both of these inaccurate articles. As a student of LIS who has yet to complete the degree, my future vision of the world sees the never ending need for public libraries.

  10. Reblogged this on The Scientist, The Teacher, The Bibliophile and Me and commented:
    This is a wonderful response to the latest bash on public libraries. Our need for these open spaces of thought and learning is not ending anytime soon.

  11. Wonderful post! Ereading cannot compare to the feeling of browsing books after books, choosing the one that fascinates your imagination and then settling it with for hours.

  12. eReading is great for travel purposes as I can take multiple works on the go. Even so, I still prefer physical books – especially when studying something. As a kid, I’d spend hours at the library and recently I’ve decided to begin doing it again.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — I agree, eBooks can be helpful when traveling, but I study better in print myself. I hope you treat yourself to a library visit soon!

  13. Amber

    The people writing those library bashing articles clearly don’t use them. But just because you don’t use something doesn’t mean others don’t. Every time I visit a library, it’s always busy. I don’t know about all libraries, but my local library is a hub of community events. It would leave a big hole in this community if it were to ever be shut down and replaced with impersonal services such as amazon prime that many have no access to.

  14. mariebaby20 ⋅

    I was just awhile ago wondering do people still use the libraries? I want to take a trip to my local library and checkout some books or at least have a seat and just read. Being a stay at home mom, sometimes the digital route of reading isn’t enough for me, I need to be able to actually hold the book in a quiet space and read it. Great Post.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — yes, I hope you treat yourself and your kids to the local library. I love holding an actual book myself. I’ll read eBooks if I have to, but it’s not the same experience!

  15. Public Libraries are more than books. They serve a variety of purposes, including teaching tech to people who can’t afford it, providing resources for job hunting and resume crafting, as a hub for government materials only available online (and not available to people who can’t afford tech), and so much more. Every few years somebody writes an article about closing libraries. It will be a dark day if that ever happens.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and this is a good point. Ridiculous comments about books aside, the writer missed all the other things libraries do for their communities!

      • We were all worked up at my library this morning, but you know, it’s been a while since anyone has written about how irrelevant libraries (and librarians) are. When I was in library school, it was all the rage.

        The overwhelmingly positive response, though, was awesome. People are seeing what we’re doing, and that made everybody’s day.

      • Deb Baker

        Yes — so much response that Forbes took the article down. Lots of library love today.

      • Ms.Baker, Here in Homer,Alaska,our library became too small,so a town of 5,500 people got together ,held fund raisers, borrowed some, donated and built a beautiful modern library, which hosts many events, has wonderful personal working there and makes us proud. My lady & I threw out our T.V. 30 yrs ago, never missed it, now we read all the time, many books. A good book about the value of libraries is “Alas Babylon”,forgot author name…older book. Libraries Forever! george_4997@hotmail.com

      • Deb Baker

        That’s great that your community came together in that way to support your library!

  16. Great article. Frankly it is harrowing to envisage a world where all public spaces and services have been dissolved and all we are left with is a handful of giant corporations to divide the spoils between themselves.

    It is simply impossible to replace public amenities with private companies. They have completely different objectives. And as you so compellingly argue, talk of the library’s demise is much exaggerated.

    To me, public libraries are one of the greatest achievements of humankind. Think of what they represent. A repository of human knowledge and expression made available to everyone, regardless of who you are. That is what makes me proud of this species.

    Now think of what Amazon represents …

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. You have said it perfectly — private companies don’t care about the general wellbeing of citizens, that’s not their reason for being, and it IS why we have public services. And I couldn’t agree more that “public libraries are one of the greatest achievements of humankind.” Which is why I am confident they will endure.

  17. Pingback: Really, libraries don’t need reinventing, thanks — The Nocturnal Librarian – …et ego vivere

  18. Michael van Dyk ⋅

    When I was in college, my favourite part was always the science library and it’s massive collection of books. Sadly, they were rarely used, as most students only used the library to study for tests. However, my friends and I would joke that if someone were chained to a desk in the library’s basement for two months, he would emerge a wizard.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Michael. As an academic librarian these days, I find it’s hard to promote books to already maxed out college students who are working, sometimes caring for siblings/parents/children of their own, and trying to keep up. But many of them DO want to read, and do appreciate that the library is there for them in other ways, and I’ve made great connections with people just talking about the books they loved as kids.

  19. All public services are under attack from those who feel that ‘the others’ i.e joe/jo in the street are somehow stealing their money by daring to want libraries, parks, affordable public transport etc. I feel they are motivated by not wanting people to be educated or live pleasant stress free lives in good wholesome surroundings so that they can hang on to as much of their money as they can. Long Live Libraries and all who access them.
    As for e-books tried ’em hate ’em. Half of the pleasure of a good reading experience is the feel of the papers, the soft rustle of a turning page, or the annotations/marginalia written in a soft pencil or biro.
    I also ask how many kids, people on low incomes can hit the hipster adults coffee bar library? and even if they could would they be made welcome?

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — I agree. Some people aren’t going to be welcomed into coffee places, or can’t afford them, and there are people who “have” who don’t want to use their tax dollars on those who “have not.” I agree about the feel of a book, too! Although I can’t quite bring myself to write in them, haha. But finding interesting marginalia in an old book is fun.

  20. I have to add one more thing – Wake county libraries in Raleigh had a total print circulation of over 9 million collector’s items in 2017. https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ld/about-libraries/data/library-statistics/2016-2017

  21. My local library is thriving. I am part of a writers group that meets there every other Saturday afternoon, which is a huge advantage for me and other writers who need critique partners. A couple of book clubs meet on a regular basis at the library. There are several different children’s story times for all ages of kids. They regularly host classes to help people learn how to use different programs on the computer. This all in addition to the books, DVDs, and CDs, of course!

    Another library nearby has a wonderful program called Sing and Dance for little kids. They also hosts a special needs support group, which offers free classes, support groups, and activities. Several local libraries host special needs story times and other such activities, including tutoring and reading to therapy dogs. So, no, libraries are far from irrelevant.

    http://www.cynthiahilston.com

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. So true that libraries offer such a variety of things that Amazon couldn’t or wouldn’t, from therapy dogs to writers’ groups, and all sorts of other community-driven programming and classes.

  22. As a former librarian I can testify to the fact that many things that are in a library are not online. Obsolete records, local artifacts, rare prints, limited editions, first run of important newspaper events. Libraries carry books that goes deeper into details on a subject whereas online you only find the most well-known basic facts. I don’t know who this person is but it’s obvious he have never visited a library. So how would he know what’s in them. Libraries are supported mainly by grants, the local community donations and private funding not taxpayers dollars.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think in many areas of the U.S. libraries are still supported in part by local tax dollars, but you make a good point about other revenue too, like grants and donations — in fact, people who love their libraries can usually donate to them. Also, you are correct that in some cases, libraries are the only places to hold the kinds of old records and artifacts you mention. Good point!

      • Thank you. Yes, you are right a small percentage does come from the public. In small towns the public tax dollars may play a larger role than in larger cities but usually the states apply for educational grants to cover these expenses. When the grant is given to the state each library that applied is given a share. It is dispense among the smaller areas which aren’t large enough to apply for one on their own merit. Some confused school property taxes with library taxes but the public library doesn’t see a penny of the property taxes meant for the school. I love the Internet but I don’t think it can take the place of a library. It would be a living nightmare trying to record all the things at someplace like the Met and put them online. LOL!

      • Deb Baker

        True! I noticed that before his article was taken down the man who wrote the Forbes piece tried to explain what amount of his taxes was for the library and he seemed confused!

      • 🙂 I am sure it was taken down when they realized the man hadn’t researched the information for the article. He must confused school libraries with the public libraries. Yes, taxpayers does support the school library because it is part of the school. I was a librarian for five years and that’s how most are ran. But he was not the first person I heard say libraries are spending taxpayers money with nothing to show for.

  23. Reblogged this on Pamela D. Beverly and commented:
    I was just in the library about a week ago, turning in two books. I have a sister who rents DVDs there and most importantly, it’s free for people! I’m an author and earlier this year, I participated in an authors’ reception at a local library. Several libraries within driving distance here in Maryland have remodeled them and a lot of them have summer programs for young readers, where they can win prizes for reading! Rediscover your local library; you might be surprised!
    Great post!

  24. I totally agree! Libraries are everlasting and are a great addition to the community.

  25. Johnzelle

    Great post! While I prefer books in audiobook or ebook version, I enjoy them free through the app that my local library participates in. Furthermore, I walk to the library every weekday on my lunch hour to sit and read (using the library’s internet). Sure, I can afford to buy books without the library, but I value the ability to go to a library as a quiet space, even if I rarely check out physical books. Plus I enjoy benefiting from my tax dollars. As I write this comment from a library, I look around and see all walks of life: Upper middle class (such as myself), wealthier older people, to poor. Everyone is welcome and I love that. Thanks for sharing!

  26. I’m lucky to live in a place where membership to one county’s libraries gives you access to neighboring counties and cities as well, so I can use the resources at dozens of libraries. Each, every time, is quietly bustling with activity, little kids enjoying story hour, the wide range of people using the computers, people converting VHS tapes to mp4s, and, without fail, people slowly browsing the shelves. Libraries, along with public education, are among the last stalwarts of the democracy this nation envisioned. A place where tax dollars go directly to the public benefit, and the public makes incredible use of them. Anyone claiming otherwise speaks from a place of pure ignorance, and with distinctly impure motivation. Thanks for this post!

  27. Reblogged this on Dear Sister and commented:
    LOVE this post! I am an avid fan of libraries, and not having access to one contributes greatly to feeling isolated and out of the loop. I couldn’t agree more with this blogger!

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and reblogging — you make a really good point about libraries helping people feel less isolated. When I worked at a public library I had a couple of patrons who always called to ask us little things like whether there was trash service on the upcoming holiday, or what time the local band concert was taking place. Sometimes she asked me about the weather forecast. I think we were friendly voices for her, as well as a source of local information.

      • I have lived in places where the public libraries we’re effectively inaccessible and I can tell you that it makes a tremendous difference when you don’t have real access to information. It hurts the public as much as it negatively affects the country in the long run.

  28. Brick and mortar public libraries are essential for maintaining a democracy. Well written article – thank you for standing up for what’s good and egalitarian in this country.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks, Sharon, for reading and commenting. I get frustrated by the misinformed “we don’t need libraries” articles that come around every so often, but I will keep on responding to them because they don’t deserve to stand unanswered!

  29. Great post, so interesting and so true. Unfortunately some of our children’s schools are also opting for online text books. I was shocked! I see no sense in changing the way we read, our children read – I don’t agree.

    • Yes! There’s a high school in Calumet City, IL I believe that has all of their text books on a tablet that they students have to get. It’s how they do their assignments, read in class, and see their grades. Everything is just digitized now.

      • Deb Baker

        Interestingly, there is research coming out now (and Education professor at my previous university liked to talk about it with me) that shows that people do not learn as well, and do not retain what they read as fully, if they read on screens!

      • Deb Baker

        And thanks for chiming in here at Nocturnal Librarian!

      • Yes! My kids school seems to be going that route. Ugh, I don’t like it. What happens to those children who don’t have access to a computer at home? Or no internet? It’s complicated all around.

      • Deb Baker

        That is another worry for sure – internet access is not universally available or accessible for all, and neither are computers.

      • Very true. I grew up without a computer because my mother – a single mom at the time, couldn’t afford one. Thankfully not many things had to be typed and when they were, she’s takes us to the library to use the computers there. We’re living in a time where, schools will assume children all have computers at home. Not only that, a computer is still not enough, add in the printer and internet. A computer without internet is still not enough.

      • Yeah. At my little sisters’ school even though she has regular textbooks, they don’t allow her to take them home. How is she supposed to do homework or get some extra studying in?

      • Yes! And I asked the teacher the first time all this happened. I emailed her and said, how is my daughter suppose to do homework without her text book? She said, oh! It’s online! What?! No, we need the book. Everything is online now. 🧐

      • At least you had an online copy, my sister doesn’t even have that. But, when I was in college I would prefer books, especially used books because other students would write in them and sometimes there was step by step ways of how to get an answer or already highlighted important parts.

      • Things can come up though. My 8 year old is currently doing summer school to help him get ahead for the new grade and the online website has been down for three straight days. So for three days he hasn’t been able to do his work because their system has been down. We can’t reply on machines to help us. Oh very true! I’d prefer used ones too 😌

  30. Hi there, this seems another example of the fragmentation of society, where someone continually mixes with like-minded people so thinks that the world is all of their frame of mind. If they don’t appreciate libraries they think no one else does. How wrong they are! And libraries are just the place to attract all kinds of people. Good article 😊

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. This is such a good point — we need to get out of our bubbles, and honestly, what better place to do that than at your local public library!

  31. Completely agree! I go to the library once a week and would rather go to a public library than a boutique

  32. Tiffany

    Right, ah libraries are still popular. In fact even though digital downloads are available people will go into a library to read them or pick up a physical book. In fact, when Hurricane Sandy hit, everyone turned to the library to stay connected and read. So what are these people talking about with closing libraries. Clearly they didn’t do research. 🤨

  33. Pingback: Really, libraries don’t need reinventing, thanks — The Nocturnal Librarian | Librarian Musings

  34. Want to learn the value of libraries? Read “Alas Babylon” when the power is lost and the town is isolated…Guess what the power of How-To Books had for them! by alaskamansluckgt@gmail.com

  35. As a digital native, I still find great value of physical books. I much prefer physical copies to digital. I even opt for hard copies of my textbooks, when financially possible. I also frequent my local library often and browse to find something that interests me. Whenever given the opening, I speak the praise of out public libraries and reading in general. I hope I am never relegated to reading on a screen as my only option.

    • Deb Baker

      Thank you for reading and commenting — your experience and preference as a digital native speaks much louder to the trite “no one reads books, everyone is digital” argument. I’m glad you support and use your library!

  36. Sidharth

    The problem is that either these writers base their opinions on what they see immediately around them and not on the actual ground realities. Just because they or their compatriots don’t read off ‘antiquities’ doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t either.

  37. Absolutely agree. I’m from the UK but what you say applies over here too. Well said!

    • Deb Baker

      Hi Terry, thanks for reading and commenting, and I have written about the sad plight of UK libraries on Nocturnal Librarian in the past. It’s been heartening to see the public fight back for them, but your leaders seem to not get their importance either!

  38. Monika

    Hey, its an interesting take on the topic. On many levels I agree with you, but would also add some extra perspective. My experience might be very different from your because Im from Poland, currently living in Germany.

    I associate libraries with free time – when I was a little girl I spent there my time after school reading comics, magazines and books, taking some home. When I went to collage I realized that many students treat it like a place when they can work and focus – it makes sense but their association is very different from mine.

    When visiting a new city I like to visit a library there – they tend to be amazing buildings. Some of them beautifuly old, other excitingly innovative. And I think they tend to follow the spirit of the times – you are mentioning it in your text – digital catalogs, you can find not only traditional books but also other mediums, the space is designed for different needs.

    Still I think many people have those outdated associations with libraries as places where you see because you have to focus on work. I know many who were shocked that I enjoy spending time in libraries. But its because of their associations and experience. I think it might be the case for authors of those texts as well. They seem to long for a place that they dont associate with preparation for a difficult exam or writiting an essay, hence the ‘reinvention’ and belief that only students use it.

    But maybe it’s too much of an armchair psychology 😉

    But

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — you may be on to something, if someone didn’t have a good experience with libraries they may not understand why others enjoy them.

  39. America is not the only place trying to implement this thought. Our local library in NZ got rid of the senior librarians (saving money) who also dealt and started many wel used community groups in library environs. Libraries and bookstores help us find new authors. If you are in a lower income they give access to books and Internet you wouldn’t have otherwise. Maybe that’s what they want, dumb easily controlled robots not thinking intelligent people who won’t accept tyranny

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. You’re right, sadly it’s not just one country facing this kind of criticism of freely available library services. The UK has also had draconian cuts. Good point about the link between libraries and a well informed citizenry.

  40. An amazing blog I came across. 🙂

  41. We use libraries regularly and our local library is a hive of activity. I will always prefer a book in the hand over an ereader that has to be charged regularly. My guess is the author of that article has not been inside a library since the age of three.

  42. I LOVE THIS! I am 18 years old and I prefer libraries too. There is so much on the internet now a days I feel that libraries are almost like an escape, a way to take a break from technology. I go almost every week and I love to see what new topics I can find. We should be adding new books into the library not taking them away. My blog has so much information from the books I read, school and how it life enlightened me. GREAT POST.

    • Deb Baker

      Thank you for reading and commenting – your generation gets stereotyped as preferring online everything so speaking up makes a difference in being more accurately represented!

  43. Great points! I just started using my public library within the last few years again after going through a phase of “I have to buy every book and have it be mine.” That got expensive and and my house got full of books I will probably never read again, and some that I didn’t like. E-readers are great for travelling, but I love being able to hold a real book in my hands and turn the page, and I visit my library consistently now. I hope they always stay available. Thanks for sharing!

  44. Completely agreed! Libraries can never be replaced 😊

  45. As a 50+ individual, I love the feeling of walking into a public library and soaking up the knowledge held within. It would be a crime to expect everyone to get their books from the world wide web. Not everyone has access, and for those who don’t, their children would be robbed of story time and summer reading programs. There are still some financially hurting people in this world.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — yes, the article I responded to didn’t take into account how important libraries are to families and to people who rely on them.

  46. The public library in Athens, GA, is one of the busiest and most diverse public places in Athens. We are talking about building another library on the other side of town. Best use of tax-funded public money I know of.

  47. Pingback: Really, libraries don’t need reinventing, thanks – www.Shortstories.blog

  48. To me this is horrifying. Real Libraries are so important to so many.

  49. Libraries, especially in smaller areas, are a community cornerstone. You and my dear friend, Kelly, are kindred spirits. You might find her blog interesting: http://www.knightwriter2k.com/
    She drove from IL to CA and hit many small town libraries and wrote about them.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ll check out your friend’s blog. What a great trip! I admit I’ve dragged my families into libraries in various places we’ve visited or passed through. Nice to know someone else “collects” libraries!

      • Thanks for replying, Deb. Kelly interviewed numerous librarians on her trip and focused on cities of 10,000 or less, I believe. She has an MLIS, but not currently working in the field, unfortunately.
        And if you happen to know any library that might be interested in a scholar’s collection of 5000+ books (more German), my father passed in 2016 and his library should go to a worthy cause.

      • Deb Baker

        Hmm . . . your father’s collection sounds like a real treasure. You’ve probably tried nearby colleges? Maybe searching (or asking your local public librarian to help you find) for the nearest university with special collections might be helpful? Good luck, but I am sure somewhere there is a library, museum, or collector who would like those books. If there is an antiquarian booksellers’ association in your state, they might know of someone who could come appraise the collection (even if they aren’t very old; often antiquarian book specialists also deal in special or scholarly collections).

  50. I agree whole heartedly. As an English teacher, i have created more joy in the life of cynical students by introducing them to the library, than by confining them to the classroom. Libraries are sacred.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. My grandmother was an English teacher and also a librarian — I think your students are lucky to have you! Thanks for keeping library love alive for new generations.

  51. Lilofthisandthat ⋅

    Thank you! I love the library and I love that you now have an option of getting ebooks and audio books from most libraries.

  52. PPJ

    I love my library. My little ones live the library. We go about once a week. Books are the best and ereader are terrible when it comes to children’s books. Besides I often go looking for a book but enjoying seeing the books near it that I would not have considered. Libraries rule.

  53. When I’m an old senile lady, I hope to be forgotten in a library. It was the place I hid from my science teacher who demanded I dissect a frog and it’s the only place I’ve ever felt truly at home. Wonderful statement you’ve made. I’ll be reading.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting and for the great story! I am glad the library was a refuge, is a home, and can be the place you enjoy until you’re old, although I don’t wish senility on you!

  54. Neha Sharma ⋅

    I am actually surprised at the brazen nature of such commentary. Not everyone has internet access and not everyone sees ‘hanging out’ in Starbucks as the best way to spend time and honestly, even the ones who do are probably right in their own ways. What bugs me is this elitist tendency to take their individual experience and generalise it without checking their privilege.

  55. brielleh

    Thank you for this article! As a millenial, I can’t imagine a month going by without several trips to the library. I’m all for libraries becoming more modern, but paperback books will always need a home when they’re not in readers’ eager hands.

    • Deb Baker

      Thank you for reading and commenting and identifying yourself as a library-using millennial. Your generation faces a lot of stereotypes and the more you can speak up about your actual lived experiences the better!

  56. kewsmith

    Libraries are integral parts of communities. Funding is what libraries need more of.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and you are right — it would be lovely if libraries not only didn’t have to justify their existence, but also were assured of funding!

  57. I saw that Forbes write up as well. And in my view, it makes a very good point. Benjamin Franklin started libraries with community donations, if memory serves. Back then citizens were not “ordered” to pay for them. Involuntary donations to public (government) libraries is just one example of servitude. Does that not bother you?

    • Deb Baker

      Thank you for reading and commenting. To answer your question: it doesn’t bother me at all. Taxes in my view are for the greater good of society, and I am happy to pay them; I do not think of it as servitude but rather as paying my bit to contribute to services I and others rely on, such as police, firefighters, schools, and yes, libraries. I do not like everything my taxes pay for, but then neither do others. I am guessing you you would prefer not to pay taxes and you are welcome to your own views. But points I make in my blog post — that the author’s points about reading, books, etc. were unsupported, counterfactual, and/or inaccurate is what really got me. Also, as so many of the people who have commented here have noted, his view represented only those who can afford to use expensive services like Amazon, and the “third places” he mentions that are privately funded prevent some members of society from spending time there (such as children), or make it uncomfortable for some people to be there (such as those who can’t buy their expensive products). For those reasons (inaccuracy, lack of understanding of issues of access), I felt the article was poorly researched and not very thorough. I don’t actually talk about taxation at all in my post, because to me that wasn’t the main problem with the article.

      • I too do not agree that any one private company ought to “take over” libraries or be tasked by government to do so. The op-ed was off the mark. But the core issue is who will pay for them. The money can be “ordered” or “voluntary” or “mixed.”

        In my view taxes are never for the “greater good” because that is a vague term. Your idea of that term is different than mine. Taxes should only support a limited government (libraries are part of government) which protect individual liberties i.e., freedom.

        Libraries do no protect my freedom. They don’t protect my life, liberty or property. The police and courts do that. Libraries do not defend me from foreign invaders, the Army does. The Library does not house criminals. The Prisons do.

        The more voluntary we can make the tax system, to pay for limited government (not libraries), the better. Wouldn’t you agree that it reduces the tax burden on everyone?

        This is not about “access” to books, because, in the end someone has to finance that access. It would be similar to stating that John Doe should have access property, because he is destitute. The argument does not wash. There are other ways John can access property (books). He can visit yard sales and free non-tax supported book-clubs. He can borrow books free at those little boxes you see all over the place — at least in my area. He can use a cheap cell phone and free wi-fi to read free books on Google. And that, I think, was the thrust of the op-ed. That knowledge is so ubiquitous now, almost anyone can access it quickly and cheaply. The library seems to have outlived its purpose given that reality.

        But, at its core, the public (government) library argument is a fundamental one. You can’t escape it. The “common good” won’t defend it. Guilt that others are poor won’t do. The argument of “access” requires someone to provide such access.

        Should taxes for libraries be coerced? Or are community libraries, based upon voluntarily donations and private libraries (and the internet), the moral option?

        Frankly, (pun intended) I liked Benjamin Franklin’s “The Library Company of Philadelphia” idea. A subscription service. But there are far more options these days. I wonder what he would have thought about it now.

      • Deb Baker

        We do disagree about taxes. Thanks for your views. I also view libraries as defenders of the most important freedom of all, free access to information. I understand you don’t share this view and I appreciate your explaining yours.

      • And thanks for your views, as well.

        By the way, there is no “free access” to information. Someone has to pay for it.

  58. I hope libraries are never closed down forever. Some people think modern technology will take over, but I doubt it. There’s still tons of people now who try to relive the past and keep the “antiques” alive. But no matter how popular ebooks and blogs get, I doubt anyone would forever close libraries down. There’s just something about opening a book that’s unique and real. Plus, it’s always impressive to have a library and no one can stop me from having my own library one day.

  59. One time I needed to fax an official document. Library didn’t have a fax machine and sent me to a drug store nearby.
    Another time I needed to scan the document….
    …maybe SOME re-inventing would be nice, or else I’d rather have a drug store membership

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m not sure where you live, but in my area, the libraries have scanners. Faxes are generally going away here, although maybe not where you live. But it’s interesting that you expect those services. While libraries have always been a place to get books and other reading materials, and librarians have always been information specialists who could help people find what they need (for example, yours knew the drugstore had a fax machine), there does seem to be an expectation that today they are also people’s offices. We’re expected to keep up with technology — many libraries in this area are adding 3D printers, for example — but our budgets are often flat. It’s a challenge. I’d suggest you go to your local council or mayor and suggest they fund a scanner in your library’s next budget!

  60. this is sickening, of course — a pawn of big tech using their station to lob another one at public services. the irony being — of course — that he will certainly not be one of the beneficiaries of what can only be described as looming global technofascism.

    • Deb Baker

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Forbes actually put up another article after taking this one down, written by a scientist, about how important libraries have been to him. I think they figured out that the first article was not what most people would like to see happen!

  61. Great post! Libraries are so important they always feel like such a happy safe and exciting place

  62. siljajohadottir ⋅

    Way close library’s, even if there is maybe not as many people that uses that library there is still people using them, you can’t know if the things on the internet is correct information so having a library to go to to get the correct information or just sitt around a lot of books, I think I am not the only one that likes sitting down with a lot of books around you, inn all kind of subjects.

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  64. I don’t even want to live in a world, without my local library. You can’t hold the work in your hands, and enjoy the richness it provides to all senses, with a digital copy. Long live the library and book store. Great article.

  65. marymtf

    I carry an electronic library around with me wherever I go but I wouldn’t give up the hard copies. I’m of an age that grew up with well stocked school libraries that encouraged visits.
    What are school libraries like where you live, Deb? (high schools and primary schools). Where I live, there doesn’t seem to be enough in the budget for everything so school libraries slowly being edged out. Can you imagine it? No libraries in a place of education. .
    If you’re going to get outraged, make sure to begin with the educators.

    • Deb Baker

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I agree, it is an outrage — the same thing is happening in many places, school libraries are cut or understaffed or even no longer around. As a college librarian I find that many incoming students have little experience with using a library as a student. Fortunately many of them have a good feeling about libraries because they went to a public library as a younger child.

  66. I worked in a library for a summer in High School and I miss the smell of the books so much!

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  69. Regarding the topic of libraries— Libraries will live on long past those. who, wrongly, say that libraries are out. There are millions who use the library for actual books and there will always be millions who keep up the practice of using libraries as their “home of information” and as their last and best fortress of free speech in America. artfromperry

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting! You make a good point — libraries deliberately choose materials from a broad range of views, and there are few places where people can find that these days.

  70. For me library is refuge from the hectic life. To walk between the shelves, checking out the books is the most refreshing experience. And I know many who share the same enthusiasm. Nice article. I am totally for your view

  71. 100% agree , I love my local library and wouldn’t want someone to close it down because they feel it isn’t important enough for them.

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  73. invajy

    I don’t care what people say, I love libraries! It’s always good for your eyes to read it on paper than glowing screen of your smartphones. Healthy Libraries !!!

    http://www.invajy.com

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s true, reading on smartphones and other screens can impact us in unintended ways. Sleep can be disrupted by reading in screens, too.

  74. Hi – I’m late to comment on your excellent post, but I have to say, you are describing exactly what it is like in the library where I work. I am a library assistant in both the Reference and Children’s departments at a medium-sized branch library and, as you know, libraries are very busy places. People come in and browse the shelves all the time, especially the ones in the front with all the new releases. They stop by the reference desk and ask about books I’ve read or to tell me about a great book they’ve read. And just as you say, our library digital shelves also encourage browsing. It’s an interactive place and a valued community center, with many interesting programs. Glad to have found your blog and I’m looking forward to future posts!

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — and for working in a library! I’m glad to hear your experience is similar. I really think libraries are appreciated far more than is realized.

  75. ecopoet

    Libraries are a treasure, a step into time thoughts, words, and experiences.
    Thank you for sharing

  76. Libraries are still very much alive and popular. The first thing I did when I moved to a new state and city was get a library card with my lease agreement in hand. I can’t explain how many times and situations my library cards been useful – like slipping its thick plastic in the lock of my apartment building’s door because I locked my keys inside – seriously, but JK because I frequent the library and so do many others. I live in LA and the DTLA library is a place of entertainment, history, some networking, etc. The library has become more than just a place to get books — btw Amazon Prime is a way to go for e-books but many libraries across America have joined with Hoopla and Libby making it so e-books, movies and audiobooks are free! I love the library!

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. That’s a great point you make about getting a library card when you move . . . libraries are a great place to learn what’s happening in a community. There are also often groups for people to meet each other around a particular interest — from book discussions to knitting, crafting, gardening, writing, making, or even just coloring!

  77. Wrote about the viability of libraries not too long ago. They are still essential to a free society.

  78. Nobody goes to the library? Wow that is a ridiculous statement lol! I absolutely agree with everything you wrote here! My family and I practically live at our local library, the librarians know us on first name basis and that place is always packed. I find blanket statements like the one in the article to be completely ignorant.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — you make a good point that blanket statements are always problematic. And I’m so glad your family loves your library!

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  80. Grace Rorwick ⋅

    I love the library and books. I read regular books and electronic. I actually have some old collectors books. What kind of person closes our Libraries. It made me think of “Fahrenheit 451” by “Ray Bradbury” I for one love the Library. Thank You for putting it out there❤️😊

  81. Priscilla Jo ⋅

    Yes! Thanks for the article. I am a librarian at a public high school in the U.S. My library is a popular place to be. I still have student “browsing the shelves”..and yes, they are students, but some of them are actually there to find material they are reading just for fun. For their own enjoyment. Imagine that! I’ve also had students tell me that they want print books, not digital ones.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Your experience sounds like mine — students DO want to read for fun, and they don’t necessarily prefer eBooks. I’m glad to hear your library is a popular place!

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  85. kpv195 ⋅

    I have been using the library for events to pass time and meet new people in my teen years. That is the only reason why I learn its value. However, the only problem I have with your rant is the lack of evidence or resources to back up statistics. More example, you stated that Pew Research does state 1/3 of americans don’t have internet. Sure, but where does the statistic that most of them are old, poor, and minorities come from? Similar claims like libraries regularly turn parties away for space also bug me without a source.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. My claim about community meeting space is from personal experience as a librarian. I’ve never heard of a public library that has lower demand for rooms for groups to meet in than requests for those rooms. It’s a frequent topic in librarian discussion groups. The Pew information I could have linked to. Here is a quote from their report: “Racial minorities, older adults, rural residents, and those with lower levels of education and income are less likely to have broadband service at home.” And the link which I’ll add to my post: http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/

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  87. Renee ⋅

    Any Reader Knows that Libraries Will ALWAYS Be Needed And Desired……………………I Guess We As Writers, Researchers, Educators, And READERS Will, Once Again Have To Go Back And Reeducate The Populace.

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  89. im accually at the library now reading these articols and at the same time we still need these public librarys hopefully they will remain open to the public for now but i no it varies in difffrent citys. pretty good pretty good articol.

  90. Thanks for posting this article and I so agree! I have had this argument before with people who tell me “no one goes to to the library anymore.” My response is always “No, YOU don’t go to the library, but if you did you would see what a busy place it is!” For me, there is no greater pleasure than wandering the stacks and happening upon a great book that I never would have searched for online!

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting – so true, anyone who says that must not be going to libraries! And I agree that browsing is a great way to discover new books.

  91. “because people don’t use libraries, unless you’re a student.” I cant imagine her saying that – or truly believing it – it must be because she is a university librarian, as opposed to a public librarian? I think libraries are actually very popular, especially for parents with children, home schooled students, and older people. We have a great public library system in San Diego — the 23 branches are ALWAYS full. Since graduating college I think I use the library MORE, because I have more free time to read for personal interest rather than for a class. Not to mention libraries are evolving, and staring to bring in really modern technology. I think Heather Topcik would change her statement if she had time to rethink or rephrase her answer.

    • Deb Baker

      I do wonder if she was somehow quoted out of context? Thanks for reading and commenting and for us I your library. Use equals data that proves libraries are valued!

  92. I’m absolutely in love with my local library. There’s one location around the block from my work, and one from my home. There’s no time of day that you can enter the place and not see it filled with a large number of people from the community! In terms of contrasting it to other places where locals are gathered, you’re not likely to find any greater display of socioeconomic diversity, folks from all kinds of different corners.

    The truly mind-boggling thing is that the same people who actually celebrate the replacement of such establishments with isolating technologies would never admit how damaging this is to democracy. The people are no longer gathered to common spaces by common need. There’s very little commingling of populations. We rent movies from a digital space, shop in the privacy of our homes, have food delivered to our door, and keep a friends list that’s exclusive to the voices we want to hear from. Isolation keeps up ignorant and powerless. It keeps us from truly caring about each other. It keeps us from looking out for the interests of others.

    And that’s the danger to democracy. When the world has become so self-serving to the isolated, then we’ll vote for anybody who says they’ll do right by us as individuals. Even if it means voting for the wrong guy. Giving up your own principles just to keep the gravy train rolling your way. Save the damn libraries.

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  94. Jen Biggs

    There’s just something different about holding an actual book in your hand. I, personally, would rather have the physical book than an e-book

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree. I also like being able to look back in a physical book if i want to, if there are a lot of characters or I can’t recall a scene completely.

  95. Wow!
    I absolutely love this! And I support what you are saying. Libraries should never be shut down for the same of Amazon.
    From time to time, I like to allow myself to get lost among books. And I do it in libraries.

  96. Hi Deb, I found this post and your blog a bit by chance. I consider myself privileged, I can afford Amazon Prime and have a Kindle (somewhere in a drawer). However, one of the first place we visited, when we arrived in the USA, is a public library. It provided books, newspapers, local information, access to internet and other computer resources that anyone could need, at one point in life. But public libraries also come with … humans! Librarians know everything about the library, the neighborhood, how and where to get help and support if you need them. And, although public libraries also provide quiet places for everyone to focus, there are also interesting, non-virtual people who are always interesting to meet. I’m happy to read bookstores are thriving. I can tell the local public libraries in my neighborhood are also thriving!

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting — I’m glad you found the blog. And you sum it up so well, people need more than technology and access to materials. They need other humans! Glad your library is thriving.

  97. Thank you for writing this 🙂 really good article.

  98. Love this!
    I think some people would realise the importance of libraries only after they get rid of them.
    I started reading e-books instead of physical books, and I missed them so much.

    • Deb Baker

      It’s a good point that people often don’t realize how much they love something until they miss it! Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • I am totally with you. How often I have heard the same worn-out argument of “saving money” or “misuse of taxes which are spent on ‘unnecessary’ things” and I am so tired of it.

      From my point of view libraries bring people together – amazon-like online ‘libraries’ divide them. Another point for me going against readers and going for real books are that for me e-readers are kind of sterile compared to real books. Not that I appreciate much the idea of having coffee stains in a book I want to read…

      cheers
      Ulrike

  99. One of the greatest advantages of the printed word (may it be newspapers or books) in my opinion is that once a text is printed it cannot be altered afterwards. Can we be 100% sure that this won’t happen with e-papers or texts available only online?

    I once mad the experience that I found an article in a local newspaper which was delivered to every home in the neighbourhood, and on the same day the same article could be read in the e-version of this newspaper online. Guess what happened a few days later? The online article contained totally different words, and the following week it has vanished from the newspaper’s online edition.

    For me no e-book will never replace printed books – the real thing.

    Walking through a library gives me the opportunity to explore authors which have been unknown to me before, and I am so thankful for that.

    cheers
    Ulrike

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