Monday, 28 February 2011

Library closures and books

I've been meaning to blog about library closures for a while now, but I thought I'd wait until traffic to my blog fell to single digits to avoid hassle.
The most concise thing I can say is "It would be so much simpler if it was just about book-lending", but its not. Its about all the other things that libraries do.
Books, they're cheap, almost free, try the secondhand sellers on Amazon and eBay, or FreeCycle, or charity shops, or downloading PDFs. There was some suggestion on one of the blogs what I read about how instead of paying for libraries it would be cheaper to issue a Kindle to anyone on minimum wage or less, and they can bill the taxpayer for any books they download. Maybe the sums work out, probably not, but there won't be much in it.
But that's not what the controversy about library closures is about, in fact it shows my middle-class, well-educated, right-wing bias. I ignorantly assume that everyone has access to the internet, can use computers and has the time, space and inclination for reading.
Libraries offer internet access and computer to those who otherwise wouldn't have it, they offer the space, the peace and quiet to read or do homework, they offer somewhere to get away from home.
I had this great idea for a website, essentially it was a peer-to-peer book-lending system. Lenders can enter all the books they own and feel comfortable about giving away, you just enter the ISBN or the title and their postcode, and borrowers can search for any book they want and it gives you the contact details of the people nearest to them who have that book, send them an email ask if they can leave it on a park bench or a coffeeshop or wherever
Users would get points and badges for what they've read, what they've lent, whether they have complete serieses of books,  and so on. If no one has the book, then there's an affiliate link to Amazon and a source of revenue for the website, and the grim acceptance that sometimes libraries don't have the book you want. It would be a warped hybrid website of Zupa,, FreeCycle, eBay, Amazon and FourSquare but for books. Actually, just making it an app for Facebook, iPhones and Android would be better than a website, using onboard cameras to scan barcodes.
I thought it would be great, public libraries become public, removing 'the state'  and any taxpayer burden from the equation.
But that just emphasises my bias, my misunderstanding of what public libraries are about, they're not just about book lending but the social services that such institutions provide.
On a similar note, I haven't been into a video shop in a while, but I imagine they don't really have many videotapes, they stock DVDs and computer games. Likewise for HMV, fewer vinyl records these days, more CDs, even more DVDs and computer games. Gor! Virgin Megastore died for it, diluting the brand. Maybe society moved on, and amazon killed the high street.
But the internet can't kill libraries, cos they represent the floor, that anyone can have access to the internet. Maybe libraries shouldn't be called libraries after all this, some other name for the service provision they provide. Its not just about books, its not just about books.
If I had more inclination, I'd do a pie chart. Something showing that libraries are 30% about books, 35% about computers and internet access, 25% about helping the local community, 10% about other stuff. Maybe my percentages there aren't right, but that's the right ballpark, isn't it?
If it was just about books, this would be so much easier.

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