Shhh! People are trying to compute.

Steve Fesenmaier spotted A Column by Tim Whitaker who "kind of jests" someone should order the main branch of the Free Library at 19th and Vine streets gutted, all the passé books written by the long since dead and decayed--books that nobody looks at anyway, thrown out, and replaced with computers. When all was in place and ready (this could be done over a long weekend), the doors to the new Free Workstation Center of Philadelphia would swing open. There'd be great fanfare and hoopla. Thousands of city residents who'd been priced out of the Information Revolution for well over a decade would rush to the free computers to experience the online rush that comes with access to the Whole Wide World.
He says Amazon's new service "search inside the book" is the first glimpse of a full-bore revolution in the way research will be conducted and books will be distributed in the future that spells the death of libraries.

He bounced this idea off of Steven Levy, a Philadelphia native who writes about technology for Newsweek, and he says "It's not that crazy, The future of libraries is a hot topic with librarians all over the country."

"Once the Web has become a full-service digital archive of the whole wide written word, it'll only be a quick innovation or two before we'll have the technology to order and bind books on our own home book-printing systems. Ebooks will finally become reality. Libraries will become mini-museums, where old books are kept under glass, relics of the pre-"inside the book" revolutionary age."

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Joke?

Is this person considered well-informed? Is the next-to-last paragraph a punch line: "there's no profit in resisting it." LOL! Profit's the very thing that's resisting it!

He's missing one critical piece of information

People do not LIKE reading books on computer screens, period. Every poll I've ever seen indicates that people don't want to read an entire book off a screen. It's difficult. It's hard on the eyes, and scrolling makes keeping track of your place a nightmare. Those "musty" old books he insults are still the best format out there for simply enjoyable reading. Yes, research is changing drastically thanks to online databases and such. But he seems not to understand that some people actually read for the sheer fun of it, and reading off a screen kills that. Also... personally, I'm in childrens' services, and there are parents who take out enormous stacks of picture books for their preschoolers. Picture books are not and never will be as good on a computer screen. The author of that article thinks that because computers suffice for his needs, they suffice for everyone's... and he's wrong.

Re:He's missing one critical piece of information

Reference Books, now those you could lose and replace with computer based products. After all you don't (in the vast majority of cases) sit and read a whole dictionary, encylopedia, list of registered charities etc do you.But April, is right the author is an idiot (yet another one who has swallowed the free and easy pill of the internet solves all). All other books still have a massive role to play.I personally wouldn't like to read a whole book on a computer, and anyway can you really see enough terminals being available for 20 odd people to sit for hours and read novels online (if that was the only free access there was to novels)?

Re:Joke?

I wouldn't take articles in the Philadelphia Weekly too seriously. It's a free weekly paper, the primary function of which is listing movies times, concerts, and art gallery openings around the city. The bulk of the paper consists of ads for escort services.

Maybe Real Life, Too--if Librarians Don't Wake Up

I enjoyed the satire in the Philadelphia Weekly. However, the scenario just might end up to some extent as Real Life if librarians don't wise up, especially as Amazon and Google grow in importance in the book world. Check out TeleRead vs. 'Gut the library'. Remember, this is a mean, miserly era where politicians in many cities just might not be that enchanted with the idea of spending $100 million on renovations of library palaces. Why not look ahead to more economical ways of getting books and the rest out to readers? Also, mightn't some faithful LIS News readers prefer to see some of the $100 million going for their salaries rather than to construction companies? And how about the needs of neighborhood libraries, which, even in an electronic era, could prove invaluable for story-telling hours and as meeting places for local civic groups--and for many other purposes? I'm not saying to tear down the giant book palaces, but they're the past, not the future, in an era of rapidly evolving technology.

In the above vein, contrary to the wishful thinking of many a Luddite and semi-Lud, kids can go for e-books, too, not just the old-fashioned variety. It's a question of proper presentation of the material and use of appropriate hardware--factors that brain-dead researchers don't always take into consideration. I'd heartily suggest that people catch up with Tom Peters' recent LITA-published book on e-book functionality and also read E-Books in Urban Schools: Lessons from Chicago's South Side. While the technology has a way to go, it is usable now and this is even before e-ink-style technologies reach consumers. I myself spend hour after hour reading from a Gemstar REB1100 and a Dell Axim. Beyond that, the issue isn't just viewability. It's the number of books and their searchability, especially of full text, and that's where e-books can excel.

So will librarians plan for the inevitable future? Or will they remain in their denial mode and see their buildings gutted and turned into "Free Computer Workstation Centers" for the poor--while the affluent rely on Amazon.com and Google? Given the time involved, I myself use public libraries far less in person than I did before. If I want a book and it isn't just published, I'll order it used from Amazon or an affiliated dealer; the selection nearly always is wider than at my local libraries. For recreational reading I rely more and more on Project Gutenberg. If commercial e-books drop in price and if Draconian DRM schemes become less common--as I hope--I'll increasingly rely on them rather than used books. On the positive side, libraries offer at least some electronic resources, for which I'm grateful. I use them even if they're far, far less complete than they should be. TeleRead is about filling in the gaps and getting real books online, especially in an era of Net-oriented children.

Re:Maybe Real Life, Too--if Librarians Don't Wake

I don't really appreciate being called a "Luddite" for my opinion on kids' books. Scholars on early literacy generally agree that the entire experience of a book is important for young children, not just the words. Toddlers especially enjoy lift-the-flap books and anything with tactile experiences such as rough parts, fuzzy parts, etc. Very young children are learning a lot more than just reading from books, and a lot of what they get from such books simply can not be duplicated on a computer screen.

Also - you might enjoy using a computer screen for recreational uses, but in every study I've seen, most people do not agree with you. As I said above, reading on a screen is too difficult and impractical; it ruins the "recreational" aspect.

what are acceptable opinions on this board?

David Rothman's post is informative and cogent, yet it is rated at +1 while some posts that seem like kneejerk reactions are rated +3 or higher. This really seems like an effort by moderators to ignore unpleasant truths. This attitude will not postpone change, and may well result in librarians getting canned if they don't adapt.The political correctness displayed on this board is the reason I remain an Anonymous Patron, because I don't want my career to be sabatoged by somebody who dislikes my opinions. Sorry about the distrust, but I've read enough stories about computer people getting hacked for expressing unpopular views, and there's probably the same proportion of librarians who would resort to such tactics.

Re:what are acceptable opinions on this board?

While I can't entirely disagree with you, I'd say the main reason somethings are +3 while others are +1 has more to do with the number of people moderating than an effort by moderators to ignore unpleasant truths.There is only a very small number of people who choose to moderate. There have only been about 4 dozen out of 2600+ people who have ever moderated, and those who do moderate tend to do it often, which will tend to skew the results. Most everyone has the option to moderate every day.Anywho... I'll write up some more thoughts on this, but remaining an Anonymous Patron doesn't help correct any problems you see. It's very easy to remain unknown even with an account.

Philly article

Although this article is out of control it's not that unexpected. Our profession has done a poor job of explaining and DEMONSTRATING to the average person why our skills are useful in an age where it's just go to Google and/or Google is good enough. How can we blame people for not knowing what we offer if they haven't been told or still have stereoypes of the librarian. If you think about it one of the greatest abilities the information community can offer the end user is our help in saving them time, effort, and aggravation. Things will only get better when each and every info pro does his or her part in marketing our services and skills.

Another problem comes from a disparity of knowledge in the profession. In many cases it's a roll of the dice who you get to assist you in a library and his/her skills can be way out of date. Let's not forget that those of us who read LISNEWS and other sites to keep current are just a small minority of the total number of professionals out there.

Re:Maybe Real Life, Too--if Librarians Don't Wake

Yeah, right, the techies want to come out and help the unwashed masses. I don't think so."They'd be replaced by Web and tech support experts who'd be paid to patrol the floor, troubleshooting glitches and offering help to the Internet challenged."

Re:Maybe Real Life, Too--if Librarians Don't Wake

Plus, why would you have to direct patrons to their computers? Wouldn't you have an automated system of signing up patrons for the Internet. Many libraries already have these systems. Just goes to show that Mr. High Tech doesn't know so much after all.

Re:Joke?

well, that pretty well describes the Village Voice too, which wins a lot of awards.The primary function of the Wall Street Journal is to line kitty-littter boxes.

Re:Maybe Real Life, Too--if Librarians Don't Wake

April, if you care about those young children, which I'm sure you do, that's all the more reason to encourage libraries to spend more money on story-telling hours and similar activities at neighborhood branches, as opposed to lavishing fortunes on big central libraries. Let's see libraries more in terms of people and their recreational and informational needs rather than thinking, "Monument." I hate the callousness of so many techies, but the same would apply to certain upper-level library bureaucrats.

As for lift-the-flap paper books, I, too, think they're fun--and should be kept around forever, one reason I'm so keen on neighborhood branches where they would be more accessible than at a Library Palace. But that's a different issue from giving the children exposure to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, with vast searchability to suit the kids' needs and interests.

Now--about those studies. Again, I'd urge you to catch up with Tom Peters' book and to consider such issues as the right presentation of information and the use of appropriate hardware. I myself think that PDAs are rotten for detailed display of information in picture books. On the other hand, large enough tablet machines with good displays will be just great--far, far better than PDAs. Then again, if you're a young person and want something compact to carry on the subway to read novels, then you might love your PDA. Researchers who don't consider such variables, among devices and people alike, are not to be taken very seriously.

What's more, as I've said earlier, please keep in mind the improvements in technology that are on the way. What happens when e-ink blurs the distinction between paper and electronic books? Suppose affordable e-books devices can have flipable pages, as most in the e-book industry expect they will in the next five or ten years. Just how valid will past research remain?

The whole debate reminds me of some odds and ends I've run across in History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson, a book I've been enjoying, yes, on my PDA. Casson says many the "experts" originally dismissed the phone as a mere toy. Luckily more open-minded people prevailed, but this is as good an example as any of the follies of closed minds.

David Rothman | dr@teleread.org
TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home

Re:Joke?

Good point. VV also has writers who aren't brain dead.

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