This weekend there was another “woe is us, libraries are obsolete” post by a rich white man. (Who, if his comment about looking down on the library from his apartment on W. 53rd wasn’t enough of a clue, touts his everyman *cough* status in a comment to Magpie Librarian’s blog post, when he reminds us that he founded a company that was bought by the New York Times Companies.)
Now, I actually thought that he made a good point in his post. That is, if one read it twice and spent a lot of time pondering it, and why did he throw in a comment about book burning, and I’m going to be critical of the critics. In other words, his good point was not at all immediately obvious.
His good point was essentially this: we are getting rid of libraries, and what’s the difference between getting rid of libraries and burning the books that would be inside them?
But I don’t think he meant to make that good point. He hasn’t been to the library in 15 years. He won’t miss the library. Why should anyone go to the library? The Web is free! Google has everything! Why rebuild the public library as a gathering space (note that our rich white man of the hour quotes the architect who designed the to-be-built replacement branch on this point and conveniently ignores the word “just” in the statement that “it’s not really about just being a repository of books”) when there’s a Starbucks on every corner?
Why go to the library?
Because a home Internet connection is not free. Because not everyone lives in a physical setting where they are able to have an Internet connection. Because not everyone has a home. Because computers are not free.
Because Google doesn’t have everything, not by a long shot. Want to read the latest bestseller? Not going to find the full text online. Want to read an article from most scholarly journals? Not going to find the full text through Google. (At least not for free.) Because even what Google does have (and of course, Google doesn’t “have” anything*, it just links to pages) might be hard to find. Because not everyone has the advantage of a Williams College education to be able to craft effective searches. Because it can be hard to evaluate the quality of a source.
Because the latte I had on Friday morning cost me $4.72 and not everyone can afford that. Because Starbucks** doesn’t offer storytime or arts and crafts or a safe space for teenagers to go after school to do their homework. Because Starbucks doesn’t offer book groups. Because Starbucks doesn’t prepare kids for a college education. Because baristas aren’t librarians.
But you know why else one should go to the library? To see that not everyone looks like you, talks like you, reads like you, or — let’s face it — smells like you.
A collection of voices on this topic:
- ScrewyDecimal (and definitely read the comments)
- MagpieLibrarian (also linked to above) and Storified
- The New York Times on the new branch library
- Kelly (@rocza)
- more to come, if I get the time! Lots of really smart voices responding to this on Twitter.
*Google has a lot of stuff: metadata and code and money; those aren’t what I’m talking about here.
**Sorry to harp on Starbucks here. My $4.72 latte wasn’t even from Starbucks. I hope it’s obvious that none of this is intended as criticism; Starbucks isn’t supposed to provide the same things as a library!