Saturday, October 24, 2015

Libraries and the Source of Knowledge

There still seems to be a lingering group who think the “Library” is still the old brick and mortar facility, controlled by a group of stodgy old lady librarians, and who keep tabs on all the “books” in “their” collection. The NY Times notes today[1]:

But today, the principal danger facing libraries comes not from threats like these but from ill-considered changes that may cause libraries to lose their defining triple role: as preservers of the memory of our society, as providers of the accounts of our experience and the tools to navigate them — and as symbols of our identity. Since the time of Alexandria, libraries have held a symbolic function. For the Ptolemaic kings, the library was an emblem of their power; eventually it became the encompassing symbol of an entire society, a numinous place where readers could learn the art of attention which, Hannah Arendt argued, is a definition of culture. But since the mid-20th century, libraries no longer seem to carry this symbolic meaning and, as mere storage rooms of a technology deemed defunct, are not considered worthy of proper preservation and funding.

With all due respect one should note that Libraries have managed to get an ever increasing piece of our tax dollars through mandated funding and no accountability. Take New Jersey as an example. The Stata mandates a percent of the gross Real Estate taxes go immediately to the Library. They state[2]:

The minimum funding statute for joint and municipal libraries (N.J.S.A. 40:54-8) sets the minimum funding rate at 33 cents on each $1,000 of equalized value of all assessable property in the town. This minimum funding amount is the total of what your local municipality must, at minimum, allocate in its budget, according to the law.

Thus consider a simple example:

Assume the home is assessed for $900,000. In our town that is the average assessment, they are done at market level.

Now for each such home the $0.33X900 or $300 of their property tax goes to the Library.

Now assume there are 5,000 HH in the town then the total to the Library is $1.5M. That is just the mandated “contribution”. Now add businesses etc and we get a hefty amount mandated and growing every year! This is for a library of some half dozen people loaded with old novels that are generally un-read.

The “Library” today is on the Internet, it is accessing primary sources, original documents, books themselves. It is “free” and knowledge is shared. Knowledge is consumed. One can tell a book has been “consumed” by it appearance. It looks devoured. Libraries do not have such books; one would be fined for such behavior.

The old brick and mortar library is an archaic establishment of the past. Free WiFi? You can get that anywhere; try the train station or any coffee shop. Need information on CRISPRs, try Google and definitely not some stodgy old librarian.

So what purposes do these old buggy whip Libraries serve? Meeting rooms, hang outs? It is not at all clear. I have been in our town for over 35 years and have never taken a book from the library. I use Amazon, ABE Books, or the used book shop in town! And yes, I use the Internet! Frankly the last place I would ever go would be the Library….It is Government controlled information….and they get paid by our taxes with no oversight.

Thus perhaps the writer from the Times should reconsider the facts of the 21st Century. As Alexandria was burned down by the advancing hordes from the sands of Arabia perhaps we should exult that it will be much more difficult for the hordes to burn down the Internet.