You can get that at your library

I was at a cookout today, and overheard some fellow guests discussing e-books. The conversation wasn’t surprising. I heard the usual benefits touted: you can carry more books when you travel, it’s easy to get a new book immediately, e-books are cheap to buy and for Kindle owners there are all kinds of “free” rentals and promotions on Amazon. The drawbacks, too, were familiar: if you forget your charger you’re in trouble, it’s harder to flip back to an earlier spot in the book, depending on the device it can be hard to read outside, it’s just not the same as a real book.

What did surprise me was that when I joined the conversation and pointed out that with a library card in many New Hampshire towns you can check out e-books on our statewide downloadable books site, some people were surprised. Why should it be surprising that you can borrow an e-book from your local library but not surprising that you can “borrow” one from Amazon?

Because libraries continue to have an image problem. Take the nasty situation in Miami, where the mayor announced a couple of weeks ago that his proposed budget would shutter dozens of library branches because “people” say that “the age of the library is ending.” Nevermind that running a city based on what “people say” is ridiculous. (Even crazier? He claims Fahrenheit 451 is his favorite book. For a fun diversion, take that link, but limber up your neck first because you’ll be shaking your head).

In 21st century America, where libraries are make it possible for anyone to access the internet, fill out a job application, get tax information, and soon, choose health care options under the Affordable Care Act, that anyone could think “the age of the library is ending” is just pathetic. Miami’s mayor, like too many other “people” who “say” we’re history, is thinking in terms of shushing librarians and dusty books.

Public libraries are a tremendous value, when you think of all they offer communities.   But what I’d to remind that mayor and the “people” who “say” is that  besides being the only place in many towns where everyone, even those without smartphones or computers, can get online, libraries are also fulfilling our core mission: to promote literacy and provide free access to information and books.  We’ve been doing that since long before the  “information wants to be free” hacktivists were even glimmers in their parents eyes. And we’re still making it possible for anyone at all to borrow books — real or virtual.  Yes, you can borrow e-books, and much more, at your library. And that’s a message we need to keep delivering.

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Sunshine on Book Mountain

Mountains in ancient times were considered the homes of gods, or places where man could draw near the divine. My brother sent me an article about a book mountain in the Netherlands which looks like heaven to me. 

Architecture firm MVRDV explains the way the 10 year project, actually named Book Mountain and Library Quarter Spijkenisse, ties into the town’s history and setting. They plan to release a book, Make Some Noise, in late 2012 that will be a “photo novel” about the project. The Library Quarter includes 42 apartments from studios to large family units. Can you imagine living here?

There are many more photos at both links above and at inhabit. Several comments at these sites mention sun being bad for books. On the project’s website the architects anticipate criticism on this point, noting, “damage to the books by sunlight is off-set by their normal 4 year life-span due to wear and tear from borrowing.”

Wow. Really? My unscientific research reveals that library books have expected lifespans of 25-50 check-outs (which shows that there isn’t much consensus on this topic). Mending keeps some books going longer. I am pretty sure 4 years is a low estimate. Does anyone know the average shelf-life of  books in your local library?

I don’t have any idea how much the sun damages books. But I looked up average annual hours of sunshine and Rotterdam, near Spijkenisse, averages 1542 hours, versus 2519 where I live in New Hampshire. For reference to notoriously rainy and sunny places, I found that London averages only about 1600 hours of sunshine a year and Seattle, 2019 hours; Miami, 2900 hours; San Diego, 2958 hours; Honolulu, 3041 hours.

Even New York City, which I would have guessed wasn’t particularly sunny since its weather is quite variable and it’s roughly in the middle of U.S. latitudes, averages 2677 hours. So if sunlight is detrimental to book life-span, Book Mountain might work better in Northern Europe than in many parts of the United States. I am stepping away from this post now, rather than spending the rest of my afternoon finding out which places in the U.S. have the least hours of annual sunshine. Because I’m tempted to look into that.