CNET Editor: "The library? How quaint!"

Brian Cooley, CNET's senior technology commentator and editor at large, offers his view of libraries during a segment about Kindle's new library services on the April 20, 2011 "Buzz Out Loud" podcast (starting at 14:00 minutes):

I'm still a little vague on this.

Why would I go or deal with a library to borrow a book? You don't have to go there, right?

This is weird. Why would a library have anything to do with virtual books? It doesn't make sense. Locality is about physical books. They're physically available in a certain place, so your library houses them, but once they're virtual, locality goes out the door. It's weird.

The library thing is real divisive. We can start a hate storm. I mean, I'm sorry folks, but I don't get libraries. In this day and age, I don't get libraries. Great air conditioning, good place to nap, right? Libraries are for the very old and the very unemployed. I'm sorry, that's where it's at right now. It doesn't make sense anymore.

The local library's really starting to get shaky to my mind, unless it's for the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, and the very old. That's what libraries are for now. What kid in high school is going to get anything out of the library? Seriously, you've got some ninety-year-old reference librarian who's going to point you to what, a Britannica volume to look something up? All you've got to do is Google. For crying out loud.

Getting out is fine, but there are plenty of bars. You don't need to go to libraries to get out of the house.

How does the library "defend your right to free information"? The Internet's already got that done, folks.

What do you mean, "for people who read"? Who on earth needs to go to a library to get a book? Crazy town!

The library? How quaint!

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E-books are ephemeral

We are one Carrington Event (a severe solar storm) away from losing our electrical infrastructure. All our underground resources (oil, minerals) are finite. Just because we have e-book readers now doesn't mean we will always have the means to support this technology. Paper books are more durable and reproducible, as well as more recyclable than electronic readers. Don't get me wrong; there's a place for both forms of reading material. Let's just not be short-sighted.

Even if every single last

Even if every single last book on the planet were digitized and made available through an online archive accessible to all, that archive would still not be a library.

To say it again: a library is not merely an archive.

Librarians are not simply people who look things up or help people search. Librarians are so much more than that.

To say it again: a librarian is not merely a human search engine.

Libraries have long ago incorporated the Internet into their research capabilities and services, but we in the field and in the know, on daily basis, are sorely reminded how deficient the Internet can often be as a tool for finding even basic information.

We never simply "Google it."

Librarians classify information, identify potential sources and strategies for patrons, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

We are involved with intellectual, creative, and social efforts no search engine, no social networking website, and not even the Web itself can replace or hope to automate.

We must, as never before, as librarians and advocates of access to information in all its forms and for all people, educate the masses so that there will be fewer ill-informed commentaries about the supposed irrelevance or "quaintness" of libraries.

Technology is not knowledge. Technology is not power. Technology is a tool and nothing more.

Google was not nor will it ever be your personal friend and tireless advocate.

Librarians are essential, we are current, we are relevant, we are educators, friends, saviors to many, especially the have-nots and the technologically-challenged, and we are protectors of intellectual freedom and your rights to information.

Diminish or take away our abilities to do these things, and communities will be the lesser for it.

The time has come for librarians to stand up and let the world know what we do.

I do not mean to preach to the choir. I mean for us to be the choir.

Let us be heard loud and clear and never be doubted again. Be persistent and positive.

Let us speak in one voice against ignorance and informational tyranny.

Let us, as we once did, take our communities further than technology can reach.

Let us make them hopeful again and recommit ourselves to all that we do best.

And let no contrary voices distract us from these far more important achievements.

So much depends on our success!

We must succeed!

And we will!

Even if ever single last book

Even if ever single last book on the planet were digitized and made available through an online archive accessible to all, that archive would still not be a library.

To say it again: a library is not merely an archive.

Librarians are not simply people who look things up or help people search. Librarians are so much more than that.

To say it again: a librarian is not merely a human search engine.

Libraries have long ago incorporated the Internet into their research capabilities and services, but we in the field and in the know, on daily basis, are sorely reminded how deficient the Internet can often be as a tool for finding even basic information.

We never simply "Google it."

Librarians classify information, identify potential sources and strategies for patrons, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

We are involved with intellectual, creative, and social efforts no search engine, no social networking website, and not even the Web itself can replace or hope to automate.

We must, as never before, as librarians and advocates of access to information in all its forms and for all people, educate the masses so that there will be fewer ill-informed commentaries about the supposed irrelevance or "quaintness" of libraries.

Technology is not knowledge. Technology is not power. Technology is a tool and nothing more.

Google was not nor will it ever be your personal friend and tireless advocate.

Librarians are essential, we are current, we are relevant, we are educators, friends, saviors to many, especially the have-nots and the technologically-challenged, and we are protectors of intellectual freedom and your rights to information.

Diminish or take away our abilities to do these things, and communities will be the lesser for it.

The time has come for librarians to stand up and let the world know what we do.

I do not mean to preach to the choir. I mean for us to be the choir.

Let us be heard loud and clear and never be doubted again. Be persistent and positive.

Let us speak in one voice against ignorance and informational tyranny.

Let us, as we once did, take our communities further than technology can reach.

Let us make them hopeful again and recommit ourselves to all that we do best.

And let no contrary voices distract us from these far more important achievements.

So much depends on our success!

We must succeed!

And we will!

God, some people don't get out of their digital ivory towers

Physical: Lending physical media is a broken, exclusive model.

It is. But the alternative requires money from the user in many ways, the medium (eg pc), the power to run that medium and ongoing costs to the delivery service (eg internet access) not to mention the cost of a new digital copy each time you want a new item. Yes you're not stopping someone else from accessing the copy, but you have to buy a new copy to gain that access.
For someone that works in the IT world you seem to have no idea of the basic ideas of copyright, licensing, legaility, the business world that you work for.

Wow. The library is still my

Wow. The library is still my best resource for research material to be completely honest. I had a hell of a time finding good online sources for my European history project a little while ago for example (seriously, try looking up Cape to Cairo without finding a damn tourism site), but I did a quick book check and got a good source in a cinch. Books are not outdated; the internet really didn't replace them. You can get good info dumps online, but if you want an actual, well thought out, well planned, easy to use resource, find a good book.

The thing is, it's about the kids

There's too much to say, and too many people have already said it. But I have to chime in about kids.

No parent, no matter how affluent, can afford to buy all of the books that a child might want or benefit from; hence, a library system is a boon to the family. A young child attempting his or her first research report quickly becomes overwhelmed and goes astray when attempting to find information on-line, whereas at the library, look up stations and knowledgeable librarians are available to quickly and painlessly guide the child to books, videos and other media specifically tailored to the child's age and reading level. This, without pop-ups leading to porn sites and malware.

My children (middle school age) do not understand that Google is a site without content; asked "where did you find that information?" they respond, "On Google." They do not understand that the search results come up based on paid promotion. Furthermore, books are copy-edited and fact checked; websites can be posted by anyone without verification. Just the other day, my son was at a school-sponsored website that contained incorrect information on his research topic. We cannot just set children adrift in the uncharted waters of the Internet and pretend that they are better off.

Children need books, and therefore, children need libraries. It is truly that simple.

I'm guessing that this guy is

I'm guessing that this guy is one of the (unfortunately) many people who rarely reads. Otherwise he would a) know what a library does, b) realize the issues involved in digital readers and digital lending (uh, legally, right now you CAN'T lend the same copy of an e-book out multiple times at once, hello, DRM?) and why even those people who could afford an e-book reader might not want one yet, and c) realize that you cannot support a heavy reading habit on even a good salary, particularly if you're paying e-book prices and not buying them used. I grew up in the country, in a poor family. The library practically saved my life because I could read as much as I wanted for free. And use the computers, because I didn't own one until I went off for college (where, guess what, I still used the library!). There were no bookstores in my town, no internet cafes. There still aren't. Libraries aren't quaint, you pretentious hipster, they're vital. Try stepping foot in one sometime and talking to the people there, and maybe you'd realize that.

Wow

All I can say is that Brian needs to go into a local library. We have changed. We are not a warehouse for books. We are a community gathering place. We have more within our doors and on our shelves than dusty old books. We are a place for children to hear and experience stories and socialize with others. We educate and promote family and life long literacy.
We offer a free and welcoming space for the WHOLE community.

What the What!?

You are a sad, angry man. Spend more time at the library.

Wrong. Just...wrong.

"The idea of a librarian being there to personally help me do internet search on site is very odd. Internet search that requires personal assistance is broken search."

"Lending physical media is a broken, exclusive model."

"The library's central role in providing answers has been mostly replaced by Google..."

These comments, among others, made me grind my teeth in frustration. Bottom line: Mr. Cooley, do you REALLY not understand that there are people who still don't have access to the technology that you take for granted? And that many of these people will most likely NEVER have access to it, except through the library?

"What kid in high school is going to get anything out of the library?"

Did you actually talk to any high school kids? Did you talk to ANY library users before forming these views?

"Seriously, you've got some ninety-year-old reference librarian who's going to point you to what, a Britannica volume to look something up?"

Thank you for seeming to belittle the hard work, education, and passion that most librarians have. Thank you for making it seem like the needs of the many patrons who DO use the library are frivolous.

"It just doesn't make sense anymore."

You got that right! If you don't "get it," you now have the opportunity to learn. Librarians are there to help you do just that. (And I promise, if you approached my reference desk, you'd still be greeted with a smile.)

Thank you for reading.

Physical location, location, location... For eyes, mind & psyche

SANCTUARY.... Since childhood, Libraries are Home. Hopefully a second.

So I was glad to see others defending the collective value of tax dollars merged to pay for a SUM infinitely larger than its parts. Wireless or bound.

Aside from the technical offerings, don't disparage the physical. We need a BALANCE.
It's sometimes easier to search printed/bound materials, you're certain of your source's validity, and someone mentioned organization; books on the same topic are easily available on the same shelf. Not so easily available in full-text online.

And not so easy on the EYES ---- Don't discount the potential effects of up-CLOSE-and-personal long-term electronic-flourescence.

We haven't had this technology long enough to see if kids are harmed by too much close exposure to computers, overused cell phones... eyes or wrists.... Again, balance.

Parents who bring kids to the library to teach them to research fully among books as well as find materials for entertainment - and to socialize - may be doing them an even greater physiological service than we think.

Libraries are ideal for TEENS to work and/or hang out --- and stay safely out of trouble while exploring & enjoying all resources, print or wireless (without spending money). If they work as pages they really get insight into a library's offerings ---

We need to invest in greater YA (Young Adult) areas in our libraries --- Some are massively cool, with space for study areas, audio, maybe a movie screen -- Let them mural a wall every 2-4 years....

CHILDREN will hopefully never lose enthusiasm for the sharing of stories, the exploration of fairy tales, picture books that won't strain their eyes,
and a colorful, warm, welcoming library environment, introducing them to both imagination-inspiring entertainment and also proper research. Not just robotic copy/pasting.

We need to GAIN media, sure --- not to LOSE books. I'M A TREE HUGGER, BUT WE NEED TO RECYCLE FAR BETTER, IS ALL --- We need cheap electric cars & acid-free paper.

When online encyclopedias were new I heard of conflicts with accuracy --- with Wikipedia especially, it may be easier to "re-write history" to some extent. Erase a few genocides, no big deal....

GOOGLE searches only bring up the most *popular, not the most proven.

School library media specialists, another threatened species, are invaluable for assisting kids with online research as well as introducing them to the joys of the print Thesaurus.
Flip through & check out the entries before & after the word you seek... same with the encyclopedia. Kids are actually deprived today ---

If we become dependent upon instant-gratification electronic sources, and lose our print backups ("BACKUP" goes both ways) --- we're in deep trouble as a society. Physically, socially and intellectually.

In fact, my early 40-something eyes are tired of this screen --- I'm sitting down with a print book, and I look forward to finding its sequel in my off time --- in the Library. :)

Ignorance in, ignorance out.

Ignorance in, ignorance out.

clearly, there are people who don't need libraries

they've always been here. don't argue with them when they say they don't understand why libraries exist. but thank them for paying their taxes to keep the libraries open.

why would you keep trying to sell your product to someone who doesn't want it? move on to the next potential customer. libraries provide a great product(s). but some guy who's going to replace one of his testicles with a wireless transmitter/receiver to create his own wifi bubble as soon as the surgery becomes available does not need to be bothered. there are more than enough people out there who don't or won't ever adapt to mobile tech or even gonad tech.

libraries provide services to those who can't afford to pay for them themselves. and from what I see, that's still a hell of a lot of people.

Hello, LIS folks

Well, I certainly stirred it up on Buzz Out Loud the other day! Reaction has been roughly on par with what I get when I decry the space program, just with a different style of shoe thrown at my head. Seriously, I do appreciate the comments so I'll respond with a few amplifications.

Issues:

- Brand: Libraries, first and foremost, have a major brand issue. They span physical books, digital books, public search, proprietary search, research assistance, career counseling, literacy development, computer skills training, free internet access, movies, games, lectures, reading groups of various demos, community forums, book sales and more. Sliced another way they offer news, history, data, entertainment, elder services, children’s' services, entertainment, training and more. Either way, it’s a broad offer best summed up as "making society better". Unfortunately, like "saving the environment" you get more lip service than traction from consumers on that one. (re)Focus your brand as an industry and good things will happen.

- Place: Mobile, personal media is the biggest revolution we'll see since 1981 (introduction of the personal computer) and will heavily define the remainder of all our careers in media. Apps, cloud media and device-agile web sites are where the emphasis will be. Media & information tied to a specific physical operation doesn't make much sense going forward.

- Digitization: (really, the lack thereof). As long as important information remains locked up in printed books, most of it will just go increasingly underutilized rather than alter the trends in our relationship with media. I don't think non-digitized books can force many users to hang onto habits like going to a library shelf, finding a book, making notes or photocopies that must be manually keystroked later to make them fully useful. And eventually, many of those non-digitized titles will be superseded by a newer title that covers the same basic material and is digitized, searchable, or available as a direct download e-book that further pushes the print-only title into oblivion in many cases.

- Answers: The library's central role in providing answers has been mostly replaced by Google or whatever supersedes it one day. That doesn't necessarily equate the type or quality of answers -- sometimes the library is better, sometimes Google is -- but the fact is expedience, convenience and "good enough" have won the war for search. We're not stupid, we're busy.

- Social: The big, organic trend in recommendation & discovery is the social graph. People naturally gravitate toward their own networks rather than a small team of information professionals who don't know them. It’s just human nature. Yes, if I spend enough time at the library you will eventually get to know me, but see "we're busy" above.

- Depth: When I need to really dive deep into, say, 50 years of detailed information on the trends of fossil energy deposit exploration around the globe and its correlation to cost of living in various regions (or any issue of similar complexity and rigor), the library and its staff are invaluable. But most people will never be involved in a task of that type.

- Cost: Access to low cost media happens in a lot of places and ways beyond libraries: Bookshops large and small, book sales at non-booksellers, Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Google Books, pass along and other behaviors are all valid & inexpensive ways to discover, recommend and acquire media.

- Physical: Lending physical media is a broken, exclusive model. When I check out a piece of physical media, I have blocked anyone else from using that copy (or from using the media at all if only a single copy exists in the collection) made worse by the fact that that piece of physical media will spend the vast majority of its borrowed time not even being used by me when I'm sleeping, working, bathing, driving, or just busy with the rest of my life. But there it sits, on my nightstand 23+ hours a typical day for weeks, unavailable to others.

- Virtual: There are visions of the library becoming a mostly virtual operation which makes sense on many fronts but also subjects it to the high noise floor of the web. Tough to compete there without a service that is *disruptively*
innovative, not just in the mix of web trends.

- Segregation: We are in an era of "media uniformity", i.e., what I want, when I want it, where I want it. We're not going back. Yet many library resources are segregated by branch - even the digital resources, which are often further segregated by a patchwork of remote access permissions. This is the opposite of where we our expectations are being set.

- Search: The idea of a librarian being there to personally help me do internet search on site is very odd. Internet search that requires personal assistance is broken search.

- Time: Users have more media than time to process it today. For some that means they'll utilize the library's expertise to find the best stuff. For most, it means they're already too awash in media to have time for the library.

- Forest, trees, etc.: To dismiss my comments as being made by someone who hasn't set foot in a library in years is both grasping and missing the point at the exact same time.

Advantages

- Legacy: Libraries have a strong legacy of being welcoming, helpful, supportive places (though I doubt I would experience many of those at this point;) That's a brand position few other entities enjoy.

- Schools: Libraries are essential partners to schools in terms of resources, skills training and after-school attention focus.

- Socio-economic: Access to libraries is generally level for all socio-economic classes.

- Events: Libraries are well-positioned for public events centered on reading, author exposure and public issue discussion. City Halls & such are off-putting and what goes on there bores most people other than local gadflies and people who have a vested interest in a specific proceeding. This is a place where libraries diffuse mission and goodwill equity work in tandem.

- Entertainment. Being able to get the tasty stuff -- DVD's and video games -- without direct cost is a big draw and one that introduces patrons to other services during their transaction. Caveat: Movies and games will move hard toward streamed delivery.

- Rarities. This rolls up reference works, past works that won't be digitized, rare books and other media objects. There will always be a need for that, just as individuals will always want some CDs & DVDs long after streaming supplants their majority of their sales.

- News. The local news/newspaper business needs a new model. The library, its staff and its resources have many of the pieces in place to power that. The addition of a journalistic mandate could catalyze something good. Just blue skying here.

- Catalog: Everyone in digital media sees the need for single catalog of media assets. Even Google doesn't nail that. Who can see into every commercial and non-commercial media collection and pull it all together? Could this be a library birthright? (Note this is not the same as distribution, and is probably just a version of the LoC web interface which enables multi-vendor download/stream/purchase/borrow right from inside the tool.)

In sum, I see these broad trends as challenging the library’s role:

>Search
>Mobile & portable
>Social recommendation & discovery
>Anything, anytime, anywhere
>Streaming & on demand

I thank you all for your substantial comments and reactions.

Regards;

B.C.

In response to Brian

I was in the middle of writing a response to these comments on my blog when it just became too tiresome. Brian, nearly every one of your ideas here is either contradictory, debatable, or just wrong. All of them are underinformed.

Do many libraries have yet to grasp branding as the key to marketing? Yes. We're working on it. Ask your local library director. Are physical public libraries obviated by mobile technology? No. Patrons of every type of library rely on the physical space for myriad reasons. Ask one. Has scholarly research on library databases been replaced by Googling? No. Ask any teacher.

Brian, I know you're a former morning zookeeper--a radio person. Radio people talk. Perhaps you should ask a few questions before you start talking about things outside your field of expertise. At the very least, we would thank you to confine your public comments to topics in technology and leave the library discussion to us.

A comment in passing

Brian,

Stuff it. Let's face it, you're a punk, a pompous blowhard, a beta male who was on the bottom of the heap socially until you found a niche for yourself in tech, and now you're swinging your tiny dick at anyone with marginally less power than yourself. It's something we librarians see quite a bit, believe it or not. So I'll say to you what I say to the puffed-up little Mama's boys--who act a lot like you, actually--who enter librarianship because they figure they'll rise straight to the top: blow it out your ass. Get out of our way and let us professionals get back to our work. For someone who's obsolete, I actually have a hell of a lot to do.

Yours,

Heelbiter

I really appreciate the time

I really appreciate the time you took to reflect and write out this response; it certainly shows a deeper level of thought than your initial comments.

However, I would argue that you're still pretty clearly unaware of how hard libraries are working to maintain a public perception of relevancy. Your idea of branding is interesting, although, I think, counter to what libraries have always strived to be, which is everything you list as a "problem." Also, to task libraries with "unlocking" important cultural information from physical objects, when librarians are some of the most vocal about trying to do exactly that, seems particularly uninformed.

Unaware also, maybe, that the majority of library and information science actually happens outside the physical library; how many information architects and LIS degrees work at CNET? How many do you depend on to optimize user experience or turn your statistics into something you can digest? Like I said, thank you for your time and thoughts, I appreciate them, but it seems you are yourself "both grasping and missing the point at the exact same time."

I really appreciate the time

I honestly don't know why Brian used the term "brand" in that point. He isn't talking about branding at all. If Brian or anyone else wants to have a discussion about library branding, please seek the literature or come see me. I'd be happy to join or host a discussion about basic marketing where library brands are concerned.

CNET Editor: "The library? How quaint!"

I'd like to see the thoughtful people commenting here paste their comments at the CNET site. Our voices are much louder to the general public there. We're just talking among ourselves in here. Cheers.

It looks like they have been

It looks like they have been - the most recent comments there are slamming him pretty hard.

Plenty of reasons

There are a lot of people who come into my library who couldn't read this article without the library. Many people still don't have personal or home Internet access.

Not all are the poor or the homeless or the elderly or the poor -- certainly people that libraries serve and societies should want libraries to provide services for. We also serve teachers and businessmen and pastors and students and nurses. They are the types of people who use my library, and would not have another way to read this article if not for our services.

Who on earth goes to the library? Millions of people not named Brian Cooley.

Also ...

... how many of the devices and databases the author uses are subsidized by his employer or a tax break? Maybe he would appreciate a library if much of this stuff weren't given to him.

Free stuff

CNET editors, including myself, receive no free products or services outside of a short loan window necessary for testing and evaluation. And if there are tax breaks for buying my own tech gear, my tax guy has been asleep at the switch!

B.C.

Libraries

This makes me sad, especially because I refer patrons to CNET all the time (these patrons, by the way, are generally aged 30 to 50). It makes me sadder because its clear Brian Cooley makes these remarks from a completely ignorant point of view. Its obvious he hasn't been to a library in years. I could list all the wonderful things libraries provide for people of all ages, races, and economic strata, but I'll leave it to other posters.

Have you been to the library?

You obviously have not been to your local library or looked at your library's website. If you did, then you would see that the library is more than the books on the shelf, it is about providing information. Books were the original method of sharing information. Technology has provided us with more options. There are now databases, ebooks, rss feeds, etc. Excuse me, but do you know how to use all of these resources and teach others how to use them? Probably not, but a Librarian near you does and is willing to show you how.

Can I Roll My Eyes Now?

Ho Hum, yet another ill-formed, illogical attack against libraries by someone who probably hasn't stepped in one in 10 years.

I don't know about the library at Cooley's house but the library here is packed to the rafters almost every single day with all kinds of people. Yes "poor" people use the library but I also see lots of teens, working parents, homeschooling parents, and *gasp* professionals using our library. The library that is located in our wealthiest suburb (people who live in $400,000+ homes and are very affluent), has had increased number of circulations for the past 5-10 years and the people there adore their library.

Do you know how many teachers and college professors are telling their students that using Google or Wikipedia is not acceptable for assignments? More and more professors are telling their students they have to have actual book resources as references and articles from professional journals/databases. Which leaves libraries.

More and more government agencies and other businesses, like the Labor Department, IRS, law offices, CPAs, etc. are sending their clients to public libraries to access information.

I'm sure the pampered, perfumed Cooley can execute complicated Google searches but you'd be amazed at how many people, no matter what their background and access to technology, couldn't do a proper Google search if they had a gun to their head and their life depended on it.

Cooley is a jackass who is simply trying to get page hits by slamming libraries and here I am falling for it by responding. In his world everyone knows how to use a computer, everyone knows how to do a Google search and everyone is up-to-date on the recent technologies. That's because that's the only kind of person he hangs around with all day and interacts with. Sounds like a very sheltered life to lead. God forbid he might actually have to rub shoulders with a commoner.

Hi. I especially appreciate

Hi. I especially appreciate your comment because it points to the relevance of librarians in helping people evaluate both print AND online resources, and thus, I feel, does a really good job at taking aim at Cooley's arguments about the digital revolution displacing libraries. A well-positioned library accepts the mission of helping users evaluate information from ALL sources. In my own public library job, I am frequently called upon to help adults, and sometimes kids, seeking factual information online, and am able to help them to recognize that the first (or second or third) Google resource they see isn't necessarily the most helpful. For one thing, there's so much advertising within the results of this, or most other search-engines. Wikipedia seems okay as a starting-point for many reference-questions, but is best used as just that - a starting point. I sometimes find good "sources for further information" or footnotes within well-written Wikipedia articles, and thankfully Wikipedia is more likely to note which articles need substantiation than used to be the case. However, can people over-rely on Wikipedia? Sure - just like I used to see people over-rely on a set of print encyclopedias when I first worked the reference desk of a library back in the mid-'90s. Back then, it was up to patrons to be open to the idea of looking at alternative print-reference-souces (and the newly available Internet, which has its merits for giving "the latest updates" on things). In my experience, the same is true now that the digital revolution has made available both Google AND more in-depth databases, web sites from expert-sources in the given subject, etc.

Also, people interested in the future of libraries should take note of online reference help offered by many public and academic libraries - the online reference help means you don't necessarily need to visit the library in person, but you still need the services of a professional librarian. That having been said, the physical library facility still can't be beat as a place to browse entertainment and information, and as a community gathering place.

An Editor? How Quaint!

We have spellcheck and online dictionaries. What do we need editors for? That old-timey author guy also said that anyone can be a writer. All you need to do is string words together.

Okay, in all seriousness. I haven't been to a public library in 2 months. However, as a professional who provides tech services, I have to keep my skills up to date. I use the public library's electronic resources to access ebooks and databases to study up on my programming skills. I've also had to refer to academic research in a lot of my work, and these aren't readily available on Google.

I do go to the library occasionally for lectures. My library's always packed, and a lot of the patrons are college students and middle-class professionals (it's Seattle). It beats hanging out all the time at the bar, watching stinky, dumb people yell at a football game on tv.

libraries? quaint notions? not where I live

Sorry Cooley...I strongly disagree. Where I live, I see libraries being used by many enthusiastic people. In my high school 10 1800 kids. I see over 1000 each day. There are 30 or so every morning waiting when I unlock. Full to capacity every lunch hour and we circulate books- yes books- galore. Despite the myth, many teens are reading books and prefer the old analog paperback. The Kindle books etc you speak are great( I loan them out to students) but many kids simply don't have the money to buy these devices. According to my surveys, they don't like even reading textbooks on laptops or on their smart phones. Teens indeed do use the library because it is a 'geographical thing'. They'd rather be welcomed to actually sit on a chair and not a concrete floor or the sidewalk. Have you been inside a school lately? School libraries are more than just books.

Our public library, including many suburban branches, are very busy places. Yes, the poor and needy are drawn to the Library. ( not everyone is affluent like you ) Even the poor deserve access to books, computers and expertise. Our public libraries have toddlers, teens to grannies. I see all kinds of people there- even wealthy technology columnists with Blackberries and iPads! They all come for various reasons, including books. Some come to attend meetings or seminars. Some to just sit and relax for a moment. The public Library is a public space as important as a park or City Hall. The public library is more than just books.

Your assumptions are quite flawed in another aspect. Patrons of libraries go to a physical library for more than books-true. Not because they are poor or old! but rather because they desire support and service from a qualified friendly human being. Starbuck's is more than the coffee.

It's not just geography, or convenience or your lifestyle that needs to be considered. Obviously you don't get it but I am very offended by your statement that libraries(ie friends of /librarians) are divisive! Every where I turn I experience just the opposite. I witness collaborative, progressive and caring people concerned with the literacy of their community. I think your calling libraries 'quaint' is divisive and mean spirited. Just because you are not a patron of a library doesn't mean someone else of more humble means is not. I'll take quaint over bravado any day.

There is another flaw in your 'how quaint' argument. You praise Google as all a poor kid needs for information. Well, that's just wrong too. Google is fine for a quick reference query like Britannica once did, but today kids usually are asked to process and create much more sophisticated responses. They are asked to filter out the huge amount of bullshit that is available online. Finding facts and more importantly the truth is a much more challenging task than it once was.

Your vitriol also misses the concept of information management. Just because you can download something doesn't mean it is worthy or honest. When you read text, knowing the source or the author is critical. How do you vet the 'true lies' just from the printed text? How do you find specific kinds of information amongst the terabytes of data? Even with Google-like algorithms, content needs to classified and arranged for easy access. Even the programmers are required to make decisions and process metatags for search engines to work. Information needs to be selected and acquired by someone. Authors, scientists, publishers, etc aren't just randomly tossing all their content up onto the internet so you can torrent the stuff. Content doesn't work that way and never will. Did you get paid for your column? Does CNET make money on content? The debate over 'digital locks' and copyright isn't coming from quaint librarians Mr. Cooley. It is coming from commercial content creators and producers like your parent company CBS. Simply downloading information because it is technically possible does not address all the economic or social variables. Information is hardly quaint Mr. Cooley! Ask Apple and Adobe what they think.

Whether digital or print, content is organized by people and housed on computers or libraries. Whether you see a building or not, libraries and librarians are every where. Whether visible or virtual, whether public or private, skilled people are being asked to organize the explosion of information. Information needs of our society go far beyond the wants and desires or Apple, Google, CBS or some kid ripping off a torrent. Our society requires that libraries exist to serve the broad information and literary needs of a diverse and complex society. Library of Congress, CIA, National Geographic, NY Public Library, Harvard University, Podunk River Elementary or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame need information management and circulation. Digital or analog is really irrelevant. All these institutions also require a physical space and serve people face to face at one time or another. Serving people is more than a phone app or a zip file!

The evolution of technology does not remove the need for social contracts or institutions. I recognize the same faulty assumptions in medicine. The ever increasing reliance on new diagnostic gadgets has removed the physician from the patient. Despite the sometimes amazing power of a technology, it does not solve our health needs. Human interaction is too often devalued. Just as in your livelihood, writing about and reviewing technology gadgets, someone else is writing to caution people about the hazards of poorly designed cars. Technology in isolation is just stuff. Just as books without knowing how to read is just stuff.

The Library is not just geography or bricks and mortar. The Library is an attitude as much as anything. The 'library' is more than just books.

"Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague."

Al Smith
Kelowna BC Canada

Unfortunately Cooley's

Unfortunately Cooley's position is commonly held. I can't count how many times I have found myself at a cocktail party defending the worth of libraries. The general public simply doesn't see the value in what we do. They don't care about the millions of books and magazines being published or how inaccurate a Google search may be. The public does not value the reference interview, readers advisory, or collection development because they believe a google search is just as good as a trained librarian.

We need to lure non-users, like Cooley, into our libraries with stellar programing, friendly and helpful staff, and a killer PR campaign. We need to ask ourselves "what can we provide that is valuable to these non-users?"

If we create value for the Cooley's of our community then the case against libraries evaporates. Not to mention, budget cuts might not be as deep.

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