Across the Pond, E-readers are not Library Equivalents Edition

Leo Benedictus writes in Prospect Magazine about the closing of libraries in England and the rise of e-reading. Salient quote:

The talk of a future in which children cannot access books is also not just wrong, but backwards. E-readers—already available for £52 ($83), and falling—offer an incomparably more convenient way for anyone to find good things. While defending libraries, surely there is also time to promote the fact that, thanks to Project Gutenberg and Google Books, every child in the country can now download virtually any out-of-copyright book for nothing. (Piracy will doubtless do the same for most in-copyright books too, as may digital lending, though this is less cause for celebration.)

He goes on to argue that digital readers will be able to provide children with libraries of their own. I would agree with that notion if libraries were simply book access centers; who wouldn’t want to make it easier for readers to get a hold of books? But libraries operate beyond that capacity. E-readers do not provide the same internet access as current library computer labs; they do not have classes on computer use or other topics; nor do they provide programming for people of all ages.

A library also functions as a place, whether for old men to gather and play chess or teens looking for a safe space to be to do their homework and avoid the dangers of the street. It’s a community focal point, a space preserved for mental and social activity the same way parks are saved for physical activity. An e-reader is a poor substitute for an actual place where these ideas can congregate and be exchanged.

Mr. Benedictus argues that 2011 will be the year that each child will receive their own library through an e-reader. That may be so, but it will be at the loss of the discovery of books next to those titles on the shelf and a place that houses them.

(h/t: The Daily Dish)

Across the Pond: Massive Closures

From The Mirror UK:

MORE than 1,300 libraries face closure in the next few weeks as the ConDem cuts bite, a Sunday Mirror ­investigation can reveal.

It is feared that about a third of Britain’s 4,517 libraries are under threat, along with 6,000 jobs, as councils prepare to set their budgets next month. ­Local authorities are ­struggling to balance their books as the Tory-led Coalition slashes funding – but campaigners warn that library ­closures will “rip the heart out of communities”.

Oh, wait! It gets better!

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has refused pleas to fight for libraries to remain open – instead suggesting they could be run by volunteers.

Mr. Vaizey is certainly putting the ‘community’ back into ‘community resource’. I trust this is based on his previous experiences at the volunteer run libraries in his neighborhood, his early education at St Paul’s school, then later at Oxford. Those volunteer run libraries that were part of his formative education must have been so grand and impressive that it would be an excellent idea for all British libraries to be run by volunteers. I would presume the people within the 8% unemployment rate would be the ones taking on such duties along with retirees and students. Sounds like a formula for success to me.

I really feel for my English peers in this one. It’s one thing to have different parts of the country closing libraries here in the US, but to have it countrywide all at once? Damn. I certainly hope he is taken to task for his words and that people are pushing back. (Much as they have in checking out all of the books from one of the libraries as a means of protest.)

Good luck!

(h/t: @Geoshore)

From Across the Pond, Ctd.

From the Guardian UK:

Without libraries, another campaigner predicts, many of the uneducated, unemployed and otherwise forgotten former users will end up needing much costlier help, further down the line, inside job centres, doctors’ surgeries, advice centres, housing offices. But a more pressing problem is that "community-run" can only, where it is divorced from the prevailing library service, be a euphemism for permanently trashed.

Supposing every devolved library were to be taken over by a group which was, by chance, composed of kindly, discreet book-lovers with no family commitments, willing to travel and with a gift for incessant fundraising and building maintenance, there would still be no way customers – or beneficiaries – could depend upon it. How do users complain when the library is shut during advertised opening hours?

While I don’t know all of the nuances when it comes to British politics and their political scene, it’s a shame that over two hundred and fifty libraries are earmarked for closure. I’m really hoping one of my UK peers can shed some light on this commentary and give it the proper perspective. It sounds like the decision for closing is going to be regional, there is something about volunteers taking over, and it sounds like non-responsive politicians.

At any rate, take a look at the commentary and then scan the comments. Does every library funding article have the same kind of comments, or is it just me?

(h/t: Neil Gaiman)

From Across the Pond..

From the BBC News Magazine:

I live with the tensions between the world out there I want to see and even contemplate, and the inner world to which the book gives me access. It is the inner rewards of reading a book in a private and concentrated way that lead you into realms of your own imagination and thought that no other process offers. Something happens between the words and the brain that is unique to the moment and to your own sensibilities.

It is why, at such moments, it is so awful to be interrupted – and why I am frequently late at meetings because I find it hard to tear myself away. Any society that doesn’t value the richness of this encounter with ideas and the imagination will impoverish its citizens.

The author, broadcaster Joan Bakewell, discusses the deep cuts to government spending that being discussed over in the UK. This includes the closing of 130 libraries in London as well as in other parts of the country. Her overall concern is on the value of reading and its place in the public discourse as well as society at large. In closing libraries, Mrs. Bakewell worries about the future for the upcoming generations. It’s a nice “feel good” read, though for me it lacks the push for specific action that this issue really needs. Awareness is certainly important, but providing the first step as to remedy the situation is what gets movements rolling. However, I believe that is where my esteemed UK colleagues can pick up the message from there.

Best quote of the commentary:

My defence should not be seen as the attempt merely to rescue a small building in a particular borough, or any other particular places threatened with closure. Rather it is a rallying call for the concept of free libraries. In our culture the library stands as tall and as significant as a parish church or the finest cathedral. It goes back to the times when ideas first began to circulate in the known world. I worry where wisdom will come from.

You can also hear her read the commentary.