No case for libraries in 2008

Lately in both my hometown as well as my work town, there has been a ton of talk about the cost of new and bigger library buildings, testaments to modern engineering and design, bastions of education and information access, etc…

Honestly, I don’t see any justification for the cost.  It’s 2008, not 1908, or even 1608.  For centuries we’ve marvelled at grand libraries.  But they’re also a sign of the times they were built in.  In 2008?  Libraries are obsolete, a waste of money, and misplaced efforts.

First, why have brick and mortar buildings when we could have large warehouses of books available?  Picture something like Amazon.com, only funded primarily by advertising (not tax dollars) where books are available for free to district residents and delivered next day like any other product obtained online.  Want too keep the book?  Go ahead, you can have it at a lower cost than Amazon too!  The ILL infrastructure is already there, built and funded by your tax dollars.  Lets just eliminate – or greatly reduce – the middle man!

Some people will always want to go to the library to get a book, who says we need massive constructs that must accomodate the average Joe?  Go to any modern business and ask someone where a product is, most will tell you – if not collect it for you!  “Yes, I would like a copy of ‘The Cat in The Hat.'”  Request goes into a computer, a worker in the back collects the book and sends it up front in a matter of minutes.  Ever been to B&H Photo in NYC?  Same idea, only instead of having a dozen patrons blindly roaming the stacks in the hopes of finding the book – it is in their hands with no effort.

But what about the Internet?  Many libraries offer public internet access for their patrons.  Sure, there are people these days who either by choice or lifestyle do not have their own computer.  Not everyone needs a system – and that’s why the ideal library is SMALL, cafe size.  Go to any large, modern library – where does the work, study, and Internet access take place?  Not in the stacks, at comfy and quiet areas scattered throughout the building.  Far less room is required, eliminate the aesthetics of the stacks and suddenly we have a very LOW COST and patron friendly solution.

We’ll always need hubs of information and education, even with easy access to the Internet – but it needs to be rethought, massively.  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars are wasted on dedicated library structures which are inefficient and rarely if ever used to their full potential.  As more of the world goes online and becomes accustomed to instant information gratification – they will become even more tired, archaic, and un-necessary.

The key is to modernize, simplify, and focus on efficiency.  Eliminate the stacks, eliminate all the added fluff jobs, get these wasteful monstrosities off of the tax rolls.  Build a small yet comfortable public area, and leave the books in a warehouse.  Who needs an overpaid librarian with a wasted masters degree when a $500 Dell can get you the same information in less time and keep your taxes down to boot?

Rest assured, any time a vote comes up for a new grand “statement” in the form of some artsy fartsy library structure – I’ll vote no, and you should too.  It’s un-necessary, inefficient, and insulting to our modern society that works best when we work with less.  Amazon, Gamefly, Netflix, those are the business models that will keep Libraries around well into this new century… the current setup, there’s just no case to continue it.

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