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Libraries Under Threat: My Response to Mike O'Hare

I e-mailed Joe Smith, publisher of the Aardvark and owner of Manual Publishing blog, November, 2009:


Joe:

 
I wrote the following comment on your blog entry, November, about library closings.  I tried to enter it in the comments text box, but there was this scroll down menu I was supposed select something from that I didn't understand.  I tried various choices, but it kept saying I got it wrong in red.  Not complaining, just explaining.  My usual incompetence.  Hope this is the right e-mail address.  It's the only one I could find.  Anyway, here's the comment.  You're welcome to post it yourself if you want, but I won't hold it against you if you don't want to.  I'm just trying to "support the scene".

 
I saw a segment on ABC News about how public libraries were going to start de-emphasizing paperbooks and offering free e-books.  Like many an old-school bibliophile, this saddened me (and irked me, hearing Charlie Gibson's smug, mock sympathetic, final words on it).  But then my "fair-minded" side thought, "Maybe I ought to try an e-book before I knock them."

 
I've never seen an e-book or an e-book reader.  I guess they run on batteries, but given the slow, desultory way I read a book, would they run out and need recharging inconveniently often before I finished one?  Would it be a frustrating and often confusing experience to try to read one, like the Internet often is for me?  Like so many questions of paper vs. screen, it's hard to put my finger on my doubts about the latter.  It seems like electronic/screen advocates always have a quick, easy and glib answer to any problem or concern I have about them.

 
I used to have a great fondness for libraries, but especially from browsing the ones I've visited recently, that fondness has all but died.  For years most public libraries have been having a tendency to "cull" their old books for newer, trendier ones.  It seems to me that the content has gotten so much shallower.

 
I may be as guilty of adding to the decline of the book industry as the e-book readers, since for decades, I've gotten about 90% of my books at library and yard sales and second-hand shops, ultra-cheap (many just 10 cents a piece, some even less).  By doing this, I have many, many more books, very enticing ones, I'll be able to read in my lifetime, so if e-books kill the good-old paperback, I'll have a pretty good cushion for that sad event.

 
What I'd like to see more of is "private" libraries, not in the elitist or exclusivist sense, but in the sense of zine libraries and info-shops.  Why can't we old-school bibliophiles and "retro" technology-admirers do with books, vinyl records, cassette tapes, 8-tracks, VHS video, etc. what's already being done with zines?  I don't want to bug anybody by getting on my libertarian soapbox, but one hurdle such a strategy faces is the tight control government has,even at the local level, over "venue"---building codes, zoning, occupancy restrictions, etc., etc.  How  many times have we read about this, that or the other zine library or info-shop having to face the grinding task of re-locating because of the city-hall harrassment?

 
We bibliophiles (and respecters of all the "moribund" technology) just need to keep networking and figure out our own strategies to keep these good info/entertainment media alive.  I've been trying to do just that, but maybe I could do better.

 
James N. Dawson


Mike,


Both you and I, by using the Internet even at this moment, and you, right or wrong, necessary or not, with your involvement with on-line publishers, and your "shout-out" to visit you on "Twitter", with millions of others, over a period of 15 years, have been putting our 2 cents worth in, to chip, chip, chip away at paper publishing and distribution.  What you, even I (although more out of being manipulated and maneuvered and bare necessity) have been doing, day after day after day, couldn't have resulted in anything other than the toppling of libraries.


There was a story on CBS News a few days ago on how e-books, now 9% of all books sold, have resulted in a record number of bookstore closings.  If more and more people---are they mostly "youth"?---prefer e-books, then why blame callous old government for closing down libraries fewer and fewer and fewer people are using?  Certainly at some point you've got to realize it comes down to hard economics.  In socialist or mixed-economies, even the most generous budgets have to be balanced.  Healthcare certainly would take priority over libraries.


I've been guilty myself.  I have located a few important books in a couple of  my local libraries I want to read, and at least one DVD I want to watch, and I hope to follow through and support them by checking them out, but as usual, maybe irrationally, I'm procrastinating on it.


I put an ad on Craigslist inquiring about old, storefronts at "rock bottom" rents, to possibly start my own alternative lending library, but so far, all I've got in response is spam from greedy, predatory scam artists, that seem to swarm the Net like so many disease-infested flies.  It's a bit discouraging and depressing.


June's almost mindless response to you was all Greek to me and I don't think it made much sense anyway.  I fail to see how "tweaking" the library system to conform to an Internetized society would work at all. If millions of titles can be stored in an e-book, and more and more people prefer e-books, then pragmatically, libraries as we know them, are destined to become irrelevant and obsolete.  I wouldn't want her version of a "library" anyway.  I think the abandonment of traditional books and libraries is a huge mistake, and it really disturbs me.  But it's not callous government, it's shallow, superficial-thinking people, and these people seem pretty much unreachable.

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Comment by Mike O'Hare on February 18, 2011 at 1:56pm

Hi James,

I was in the printing game for more than 30 years and know above most others how technology has decimated the old regimes. I'm now trying to keep up with the electronic world -- an unreal world where all matters physical seemed to have drowned in there efforts to stay afloat. What I was indentured for, trained and worked for does no longer exist except for the remaining relics that you will find in a museum.

 

It would seem that the younger generation don't really appreciate what has gone before them and why should they? The problem is that there are remnants of the old world trying to survive this chip, chipping away as you describe and it highlights the legacies that have been left behind. I'm in full agreement with many people when they say you either use it or lose it. This applies to the way that libraries are being used today. However, it has always been the minority of people who use libraries so there is no change there. Apathy has always existed and it has been the hard core of users that have justified the existence of the library. Now that times are hard, local government is looking for the easiest ways to cut costs. My fight is to retain the status quo and not let the local politicians balance their books in other departments. In other words robbing Peter to pay Paul.

 

We all have our agendas. I think we're singing from the same hymn sheet, only language is getting in the way. I'm trying hard to ensure that libraries in the UK still have a place in this modern society. If things are balanced, there is a place for both ideals.

 

Mike 

Comment by Malcolm R. Johnson on February 18, 2011 at 1:38pm
I don't know why libraries can't start using zines in their regular shelves. Of course, it will be important for zine makers to create more 'subject oriented' zines. Look at the current books on the shelves and write smaller versions (about 72 pages per zine). Zines would cost less than the current high priced commercial books. It looks like the only way to keep libraries from turning into one giant video screen (remember the Apple "Hammer Girl' Super Bowl ad!

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