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Bezos should put his billions in public libraries (wired.com)
247 points by steven on Aug 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 235 comments

I would much rather billionaire types take on large issues that governments don't want to touch, like space flight or specific diseases in foreign countries, than something already in service like libraries. Maybe I just have a bias due to having a library just up the street from where I live currently, but I have never not had access to an adequate library in my life time, and only see room for marginal diminishing returns in improving them.

Visit a library in a low-income area (where people need them the most) and see the kinds of computers people use to hunt for jobs, do their homework, etc. I've been to a library that was running windows 2000 on TWO ancient Dells with with CRT monitors in 2015. And the two computers they had were being used by adults and students. There is so much to be gained from improving libraries.

Let me give you a hypothetical company IT department: while you are allowed to work there with any education background, only an MBA can be a manager. How do you think they would perform at IT tasks?

Who runs libraries? People with Masters in Library Science. I expect severe budget and certification crises would come to any library that won't put a certified librarian in a head position.

Or, I'm a working class guy and it's Sunday, my traditional off from work, can I go to the library? No, it is closed because there needs to be Master Librarian on duty and they've negotiated a contract to never have to work Sunday. Now the facility sits there unused 14% of the time, during the most likely time it would be used.

> Who runs libraries? People with Masters in Library Science. I expect severe budget and certification crises would come to any library that won't put a certified librarian in a head position.

And you would be wrong. My local library is considered one of the best small-town libraries in the nation (I believe at one point it literally won an award for being the best) -- and does not have a certified librarian in a head position.

Also, to compare MLS librarians with MBAs in regards to the workings of what's under them is exceptionally unfair. Most librarians I know (a set which includes my father in law, who is a county library director, and two close friends, who hold MLS degrees) are extremely academically curious about new things they can do to make their libraries more accessible and attractive.

Libraries do not all follow those rules. The existence of my local library, as I discussed, shows that.

My point is that by and large, the parent poster was correct.

A lack of complete uniformity across the industry does not mean he's wrong.

But the person claimed that all libraries would be uniform when he said his expectation was that it would happen to any library. Therefore, he was wrong. The person you were correcting was right and you provided additional useful context.

There are MBA's who are also curious and interested in "going digital", "leveraging big data", etc. Left to initiate programs under these banners, and evaluate themselves I expect the MBA to perform sub-optimally.

My point is not to disrespect MLS, in fact as even as a programmer, I'd probably be terrible as a head sys-admin/tech-support for a library too.

I'm wondering why we've never heard of anyone making a good career move by setting up tech at a library (other than as a fat and easy contract)? If we can all relate to these deficient computer networks being run in public libraries, why has nobody succeeded in this space? I'm suggesting perverse incentives in management structure is why this much needed service isn't being filled by our extremely talented tech workforce.

> it literally won an award for being the best and does not have a certified librarian in a head position.

kind of my point, no?

>>I'm wondering why we've never heard of anyone making a good career move by setting up tech at a library

Because they are underfunded, Bezos seems to be addressing that.

>>kind of my point, no?

No, the provided example seems to be counter to your point.

When you make something free for everybody, instead of just those with a financial need, it's going to be chronically underfunded. We're the richest country in the world, paying trillions in taxes, borrowing trillions more and advocates for every expenditure tell us more funds are needed.

If those with the means paid a fair price for the library resources they are sharing, a library could be open for many more, have better resources AND cost the taxpayer less.

Libraries weren't always free. Like the one Ben Franklin helped establish. These didn't cost the taxpayer anything. And if you wanted to help someone without the means, you would just pay for their membership.


I'm not convinced it's that obvious.

Making something free for some, but not others could stir up resentment ("why should I pay for your use of the library?"), which would make it easier to cut funding in the future. This could lead to a spiral of increasing fees (or decreased service) -> smaller constituency -> less funding.

I'm also not sure that the marginal user costs a library very much. I doubt that a library with twice as many potential patrons needs twice as many books or two times the staff, for example.

Like food stamps? Are people upset about that?

A month's worth of food costs a lot more than using a book for a month.


In the US, Republicans have been talking about "welfare queens" and people buying lobsters with food stamps for literally decades. This strategy has apparently worked for them, even though benefit fraud is supposedly quite rare.

On the flip side, it's virtually impossible to cut Social Security and Medicare in the US, in part because the programs are not means-tested and everyone hopes to get something back from them.

Because libraries are underfunded, as is most public infrastructure. Libraries bring a lot of beneficial resources to a community, but they're the first things to be cut

Every library I've been to in every town I've been to had Sunday hours. This includes New York City and its surrounding suburbs, Buffalo and its surrounding suburbs, several towns in Conneticut and several more in Toronto Canada and its surrounding suburbs.

Even my university library has sunday hours.

Definitely not NY. The NYPL only has a few of locations open on Sunday. The vast majority are not open.

Multiple libraries in small town Iowa do not have Sunday hours. Just to hazard a guess at the nearest place to have a library with Sunday hours probably requires a minimum 60 mile drive.

In LA only the central library is open Sunday, for 4 or 5 hours.

While most of the 70+ branches are closed Sundays, there are some 8 or 9 that are open from 1-5 on Sundays. E.g. the branch on Robertson, a few blocks south of Pico.

The hours for all branches are on the following page; to find the ones open on Sunday, just search on the page for:

Sun: 1-5


Also, the Beverly Hills Public Library -- which is, of course, not part of the LA library system -- is open 12 - 6 on the weekends:


Yeah but that's an LA thing, not specific to libraries. Lots of stuff closes way early or has weird hours

Also, the main branches of suburban libraries in places like Glendale and Pasadena are open all weekend too.

Libraries in Canada have the same stipulations, but are actually funded and are open all the time. Our downtown library is open 9am-9pm every day of the year.

Hm, I'm East of Toronto and thought my small town library was closed Sunday and Monday... just checked - no, open 7 days a week. Pleasantly surprised.

The small, small, small town north of here though is closed on Sunday.

I live in Canada in a mid-sized city and my library is closed on Sundays. Just as a poster above, it appears to be the case that the librarians negotiated a great deal for themselves. (Closed on Sundays during the summer, open on Sundays during the winter.)

However, it is a great library. No arguments there. It's a pain that its closed on Sundays just when kids want to use it most.

Which city? I'm in a mid-sized city as well. I find it quite surprising since I've lived in many places around Canada from small towns to big cities from Toronto all the way out to the West Coast, and have never had access to at least one library that was open all the time.

That's a severe overgeneralization and I can tell you that is not the case.

Please do. Where is that not the case.

Why does here have to be a master librarian on duty? Do you mean it's in the negotiated contract, or are there legitimate reasons?

Being closed on Sunday is a bummer.

I completely agree. Where I lived at in Houston, trying to find a place to sit and study quietly was near impossible, which is something I certainly took for granted.

Libraries provide so much public good: giving the public internet access, allowing people to read classics and better themselves for free, and giving some quiet space for those wanting to study (and not have to pay for a $5 coffee).

not paying for a $5 coffee hurts the official GDP metrics. Reading a book in a library contributes $0 to official GDP.

Directly speaking, that's right. Indirectly, the latter statement is, of course, false in that libraries provide the means for anyone in society to raise their station and thus contribute more to GDP.

But I think you're making a good point that others are missing: The most valuable things in society are often things that aren't easily measured by straightforward means.

The libraries in my city offer legal advice, business advice and much more beyond storing books. Heck, the majority of books are put in storage in order to free up physical space for doing homework, computers, study rooms, etc.

This makes me think a recycle/reuse program should exist. "Our" old hardware is newer/better than what they have. I know this program probably does exists but I usually assume they are just breaking my device apart and pulling out gold/metals. If I knew the library needed a gently used device, I'd have no problem giving them my old stuff.

The best thing you can do is ask your librarian. Libraries are often poorly funded, very much so in rural areas. They are often partially funded with donations.

Somebody was willing to step up and rehab a local library. Had they not done so, it would have been forced to close. It is staffed entirely by volunteers. The town can barely afford to budget the heat.

Fortunately, the same person now donates regularly and there's no risk of immediate closure. They will have also left a small trust for the library when they pass away.

Around here, the library buildings are new, large, modern, and spacious. Those buildings were expensive to construct.

They lack books, though. The shelves are low, widely spaced, and don't occupy much of the floor space.


I've long since given up even looking for books there. I just go buy them.

Contrast this with Half Price Books:


It's crammed with books. (The picture barely does that justice.)

The KCLS has a lot of books though and it is super easy to get them transported to the library for pickup. Also the eBook selection is immense.

I still have a lovely, fairly local, shop. It is called Twice Sold Tales. It's a lovely place. I miss bookstores.

Thanks to the march of progress, it's cheaper to deliver new tablets and keyboards than to wrangle ad-hoc used hardware.

Yeah, I have about 75% of a computer from upgrading mine overtime. Waiting until I have more parts to buy a case to put it in and then donate it to a library or school or something. All of my parts are in good condition and from the last 10 years, I would hate to see them stripped for metals.

> where people need them the most

On the contrary, even the poor have their own computers and smartphones these days and these libraries don't see much sense in upgrading their rarely used computers.

If you're poor, you might have a limited data plan. In which case, you probably make use of public WiFi all the time to reduce your usage of your limited data plan, which should be reserved for when you need it on the side of the road or when you're running late to a job interview.

Using an old android device to browse the internet is browsing as a second-class citizen. When I job hunt, I open many documents, hundreds of tabs, visit hundreds of websites... all of this would be greatly hindered by a mobile device.

Have you been to a low income library where people are not using the computers? My previous neighborhood's library computers were being used almost all the time when I went there.

> even the poor have their own computers and smartphones these days

I'm curious what you've read that informs this opinion. The digital divide still exists, especially in rural areas but in general across socioeconomic class.


Physical libraries seem so inefficient. Can't the same thing be accomplished at a fraction of the cost by distributing laptops with subscriptions to KhanAcademy etc ?

Consider extreme rural areas. I've lived most of my life in rural Alabama and libraries provide an essential resource for many. Giving these people a laptop and a subscription doesn't help much if they don't have a decent internet connection (or one at all).

Perhaps the internet connection could be funded in a similar way to libraries, then.

There is still value in WiFi and a quiet place to work, especially if you're not wealthy and you don't have an office set up in your home, or don't have good quality internet, or home internet at all.

Libraries have such an enormous impact on people that need them! It's as if you read the article and completely ignored all the points the author made -- musical instruments, tools, and art being loaned out. Makerspaces, computers with internet access, free classes, resume help, job applications -- a politically neutral meeting space!

These are actually amazing investments because they're getting incredible duty-cycles out of all of those objects when they're being shared. One purchased instrument or computer for the library is access when it's needed for dozens if not hundreds of people. It's like the argument for self-driving cars being shared because normally cars are idle 95% of the time.

Think of the library as the efficient distribution center of Common Good.

>It's as if you read the article and completely ignored all the points the author made [...] Think of the library as the efficient distribution center of Common Good.

One can agree with all the positives mentioned in the article and your points as well but still question if there is an _even better_ investment than libraries that will result in the most good.

Even Jeff Bezos' wealth is finite so spending it is a zero-sum game. Donating to public libraries means money not donated to researchers needing $1m to find cures/antibiotics that would benefit all of humanity more than upgrading libraries. (Or whatever other recipient you can imagine that could have a greater multiplier effect of that money than libraries.)

Maybe libraries are the best use of his donation money. Maybe not.

Yup, jasode has got the right idea.

The meter-stick to compare all charities (or hell, government programs? Personal spending?) is that we can donate $3000 to the Against Malaria Foundation and save a child's life.

I might be a numbers-first globalist nerd, but $3000 per life? It makes me want to defund most welfare programs in the states because by comparison, they are horribly inefficient. And inefficiency of resources, in this scenario, results in dead children.


(The web design is a disaster, but the content is fine once you dig it up)

An excellent point, there's always the possibility of something better: but there's time and energy invested in finding the better too, not to mention risk. Libraries are most certainly not going to result the highest utilization of that money but I would argue that they should form a stable, low-risk, immediate, guaranteed ROI core to his philanthropic efforts.

I don't think anyone is arguing libraries aren't worth having. The argument is how to spend private money.

If libraries are underfunded, that is a problem you need to push through public channels. In the same vein as why a private company doing infrastructure makes no sense, if we can demonstrably show the benefits of having libraries (and we can) that breaks down the most fundamental barrier to public funding of anything - justifying the expense with demonstrable results.

The government has a hard time investing in space flight because without a demonstrable major goal like beating the Commies it looks to the uninformed like money down a black hole. It is really hard to justify, no matter the degree of information availability, bleeding edge research on the public purse because you have to explicitly detail it isn't a guarantee on results for any given years investment. In politics where the mood changes based on yesterdays news, few can weather a bad year if they are putting large amounts of money into important research.

Libraries, though? We got statistics for that. We are well versed in building and staffing libraries. They are functionally infrastructure - and that is supposed to be what government is good at. If you live in a country where it is not good at infrastructure, you got bigger problems to deal with then.

"The government" is virtually the only entity that has ever taken any interest in space flight. The cumulative government investment in space research, development, and operations is orders of magnitude higher than the the cumulative private investment, and even today in the supposed golden age of private spaceflight more than 80% of the money is coming from taxpayers.

And yet, with a small fraction of just one year of NASA's budget, look what SpaceX has accomplished.

I wish some tech billionaire or rich tech company invested in rethinking healthcare from the ground up (or like Elon Musk likes to say, from first principles) with focus on UX, state-of-the-art technologies and integration. Anytime I use our healthcare (although, this is the Czech Rep, could be different in USA), I feel like it should be easy to design a better service.

Basically, something what Tesla did, apply Silicon Valley tech startup mentality in a non-tech industry.

Many have tried, but my guess is that it's extremely difficult mainly because the government is involved, and decades of archaic systems (and minds) that you need to deal with. The word "fast" isn't in the vocabulary in this industry, and every decision moves at a snail's pace. Granted, there's a reason and you can't simply fuck up and prioritize into the next sprint that you'll fix the previous fuckup.

The other issue (at least in the USA) is a ton of compliance stuff you have to deal with. HIPAA compliance is such a pain in the ass. It's not "cool" or fun, so it doesn't usually attract great devs or people that don't want to deal with constant red tape and permissions for accessing things. Naturally, this business sort of attracts the bureaucratic minded people and the really efficient people end up frustrated/burn out and move into an industry where getting shit done is easily quantifiable in the short term.

Regardless, I work in the healthcare industry currently and it's a shitshow for lack of a better word.

Large part of the issue is any downtime of existing systems is generally considered completely unacceptable in health care.

Yep. The other thing is that generally any sort of screw up (apart from server down time) by a company will cause extreme distrust from partners to the point of failure of your business. It's extremely tricky.

I think rethinking healthcare would start with better nutrition education and a focus on preventing disease. Med school has almost no nutrition education and doctors are largely ignorant of food's role on disease. Most cases of heart disease and diabetes are largely preventable.

Preventing those 2 diseases alone would save the country billions, if not trillions, a year in medical costs.

One problem that can't probably solved by simply "focusing on the UX and better service" is that the service provider (medical professional) is both responsible for evaluating what's wrong with you (and what services you need) and the administering the treatment.

Judging the quality of the medical service is also often difficult. The true quality and the utility of the service you receive will often be apparent only years or decades later. Did a patient need for antibiotics for a basic viral infection? Probably not but it feels like a better service.

Except you can't just manufacture healthcare in your back yard and win with capitalism. The whole industry is deeply and systemically regulated - trying to stir the pot gets you sued, either by existing hospitals for your threat or by any patient dissatisfied with the results of your treatment. Or by state health agencies that see you not following the extraordinarily rigid rulebook on how healthcare is to be done.

We are as far from a market where you can experiment with healthcare as you can be aside from outright banning private medical practice.

FFS. Libraries?!

How about they pay their damn taxes.

I don't want "charity". No, I want these deadbeats to start pulling their own weight. Then we'll buy our own damned libraries.


"For economies to thrive, companies need to hand over a quarter of their profits.

But the Four Horsemen – Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook — pay far less than the average US corporate tax rate.

Loser: future generations, who will have to pay off the debt racked up by politicians unwilling to tax the most profitable companies in the world."

Agree that private money is best used where public money isn't available... Bezos purchased the entire Washington Post - the 8th largest paper in the country with national readership - for $250M. [1] By comparison, the two library systems that service the Seattle area cost a combined $190M to run just in 2017. [2] [3] The reach and impact that can be achieved by strategic investments like the Post surely outweigh what little incremental improvements could be made in existing library systems.

[1] https://goo.gl/QfbJG1

[2] http://www.spl.org/about-the-library/budget

[3] https://kcls.org/budget/

Libraries serve a very important function, preserving and distributing knowledge. Yes, internet access can mitigate some of the needs, but even then many use libraries to access the internet.

Though an interesting idea would be to combine the roles of a library with a traditional pub house.

Meandering through the stacks with a pint in hand.

That's either the best idea ever, or the worst idea ever. I'm not sure that it'd be very quiet, either.

I mean in terms of a larger gathering place of knowledge and ideas... Adding in meeting spaces and coffee/bar for beverages, etc would be a net positive imo. As for quiet, I'm not entirely sure that's always a positive either.

Oh... Hmm... It was much more awesome in my imagination. I'd even drink, just to make it more amusing. I've consumed alcohol in a library, but not openly.

This should be a thing. It might be a horrible thing, but it should exist.

> large issues that governments don't want to touch

Health care for all? Affordable housing? Food security?

How about reducing their size, removing redundant jobs, reducing regulation that does harm, cutting costs...

You mean like we've been doing since the Reagan administration? How's that been working for citizens?

How is 600B a year in global imperialism cutting anything?

Unsurprisingly, you can't just stick "size of government" on an axis and say one side is good and the other is bad. The way you spend the money matters way more than how much you spend. One dollar of state spending can mean anything from magnitudes of benefit to a negative impact on the economy or society from the consequences of that dollar.

Do you really believe that there are less regulations, is smaller government, fewer government jobs, etc., today than in the 80's?

Rhetoric vs reality. And yet people keep falling for it.

Politics for you.

It's still a good idea.

Let's talk about how regulatory enforcement can be compromised without actually shrinking government size, budget, or jobs.

First, there's regulatory capture[1]. In short, the regulated industry ends up writing its own regulations. As a result, the regulations just enshrine business practices as they are. The total size of the regulatory regime can even increase because of the second aspect of regulatory capture. When an industry captures the agency, it can seek to make the rules purposely byzantine and vague, in order to ensure that almost any business practice can be defended, provided one has enough legal muscle.

Regulatory capture is what people who root for Uber's business model demonize. The car-for-hire industry, they say, is regulated in such a way as to keep the taxi industry profitable even if the service is, they claim, subpar.

Second, there's policy that goes under the names "regulatory reform" or "regulatory relief"[2] Here, the regulations themselves are not subject to change or reduction, only the effort by the government to do meaningful enforcement is cut. This is what we see around the US role and reaction to the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. Laws that could have been used to prevent this event, or to prosecute the executives responsible, do exist. Violations are simply not prosecuted.[3]

For others who are asking about measurable ways government regulation has decreased[4], don't look as the size of the CFR, look at the relationship of the regulations with existing business practices and the current low-enforcement regulatory regime.

Finally, one might ask, if the regulations are so business-friendly and enforcement so lax, why hasn't the size of the regulatory workforce shrunk? Well, of course it has, but also, a big regulatory regime is a barrier to entry for competitors. The most profitable companies don't want competition, so they are happy to have regulators help them ensure that what they do is legal, while making sure that compliance is expensive and difficult enough to deter new entries into the markets.

[1] http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/dalbo/regulatory_capture_pu...

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/business/1981/11/15/u...

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/books/review/the-chickens...

[4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15023063

> You mean like we've been doing since the Reagan administration?

In what measurable way?

not well.

Bezos doesn't have enough money for that...as much as he has. It will be drained in a very few years IMO.

He could support archive.org to scan all the books for free, or just buy the scans from Google (if they sell them). Of course make that free for all. Eventually almost everyone will have a $50 Android, use some sort of wifi and there's your library.

> I would much rather billionaire types take on large issues that governments don't want to touch, like space flight or specific diseases in foreign countries

I have no idea what you're trying to express here, since space flight and disease are large issues that governments are really really interested in.

It should be acknowledged that public libraries are now defacto places of social work. This actually makes eminent sense, in a way. It should be acknowledged, so that the proper resources and funding can be delivered where it is needed and will do much good.

Well, Bezos already invests in space flight, so there's no much point in suggesting that.

The article also claims that libraries are getting defunded, so you may not have your library up the street for much longer.

> like space flight

Like NASA? Elon Musk is building on top of decades of government funding.

Govt should be in space flight and fighting disease.

Libraries are an excellent place to put some money. They provide learning opportunities, but many also provide resume and job search training, community meeting places, free internet access, and I think is one of the few "neutral" places in American society. Neutral in that there are few, if any politics involved, and it's an equal opportunity benefit to a community that most people can get behind. Even if they don't use the library, few I think would speak against.

I overwhelmingly agree with that.

I grew up in one of the poorer places in America - Appalachia. Despite that, we had a nice library, donated initially by a wealthy individual and then sustained by various forms of private funding over the decades.

It didn't always have the absolute latest books, the selection was decent though. It had Internet access very early on and was a valuable, inexpensive resource for young and old people alike. It was also relatively well maintained; pre mid 1990's Web, if you needed to really know a subject in-depth, it was easily the best local resource. The local community benefited immensely from it.

I'd like to see Bezos (and ideally matching contributors) put together an effort to modernize the concept for the 21st century. Virtual reality for example will become an important access technology over the next 20 years, that many lower income people won't be able to afford and will have future job importance in many fields.

It's much more efficient to move people from rural areas into the cities, than to build micro-cities all across the country.

Much of our civilization depends on food and natural resources that come from sparsely populated areas of the country. On top of that, real estate and rent are ludicrously expensive in most of the nicer large cities. It makes sense economically for people to spread out if they can find the employment, education, and services they need in smaller towns.

This is poorly thought out and edited, because I have to run, but I thought it worth posting. I've been thinking more about libraries lately. I really think it is time to reinvigorate and expand them. Pretty sure I'm preaching to the converted here about the power of information; I think what some folks miss is just how incredibly valuable libraries are. No, they aren't a panacea, but they are a cheap source of immense social good.

A lot of people see a building full of books and wonder why it can't be replaced by a bank of terminals and Google. I won't get in to the relative merits of dead trees vs. electrons, and largely don't care about it. What that line of thought misses is two-fold: the librarians and the community space.

Decent librarians are hugely underrated resources. Great ones can be incredible. Maybe natural language systems will become good enough in my lifetime to handle some of the vague requests librarians routinely manage to match to the right book, but the leaps of association to related topics, the knowledge of the edge cases of information classification to navigate them well, and the general mass of knowledge they accumulate is massively useful to have on hand. And so few people take advantage of it.

Meeting spaces in this context (both formal, sign-up-for-your-group and informal) serve an important role as well. It seems[1] like they're becoming rarer as government buildings use security as an excuse to close to the public, and in calling around to private groups with spaces that previously did that sort of thing have been much more reluctant to do so when I've tried to organize things over the last several years.

To personalize this a bit, I grew up in a poor family. One thing that was heavily emphasized to me was the value of learning - I think it was reaction to missed opportunities. Who knows what would have happened, but I do know that my college essays (written referencing library books, building on interests fostered in the math and the American Lit sections) would have been very different without them, and I kinda doubt I would have gotten a free ride to a top-10 school if I had been only drawing on what public school offered.

I'd love to see more experiments with libraries. I know some are playing with becoming more "maker-space"-ey, which is a decent thing to explore. I think finding a way to offer peer-classes in whatever - learn Javascript, fancy knitting techniques - would be an interesting thing to try as well. But I'm bad at seeing opportunities like this. I wonder what people with that super power could come up with.

[1] Anecdata alert!

4% of the world’s population lives in the United States. How about something a little more far reaching?


The author is not talking about a global project.

“Hidden in plain sight, the local libraries of America are patiently waiting for your attention”

Why not fund libraries all over the world?

And we all know that only the United States can have libraries.

The article was only discussing the United States and made no mention of a global project. However, if the numbers work, the world population is going to 9 billion by 2050, so we’ll need a lot of libraries.

If 320 million Americans can’t fund libraries, I’m sure several billion others are in great need.

The modern day equivalent of a public library (storing information history) is the internet archive.

I think donating to the internet archive would be a better donation which a lot more benefit to society than funding physical libraries.

Libraries solve one of the worlds most important problem - keeping societies important information history safe. Websites are not immune to this problem. They require maintenance. When a webpage goes down its gone forever. Without something like the internet archive, we would not have a modern day library equivalent for the web. We are losing a lot of important information. Physical libraries today are in comparison much less important than digital ones.

Archiving information is only one function of libraries. They are community spaces, social equalizers, educational institutions, and temporary shelter, among other things.

The problem libraries solved, mostly access to information, has largely been monopolize by the internet. Most, including the third world impoverished, have access to the internet. Therefore the necessity of a library has been largely diminished and inevitably libraries will disappear. Complaining about libraries when people have no sanitation and access to clean tap water sounds largely like a first world problem, as much as I dislike the term.

Libraries should evolve with the change of technology and move their function from curation and access to information to something that is able to benefit more people. Books occupy volume and removing them would make more room for desks and rooms where people with no access to quiet areas could use to be more productive.

Libraries are and have always been more than just about the books, and the information therein. They're also meeting places, community centers, and sometimes even double as soup kitchens. They are public forums. They are polling locations.

They're still, to this day, very important, and the fact that they're dying is a bad thing.

And to address your second paragraph, libraries have been, some more slowly than others, adapting with the times. My local library system has _three times_ the number of ebooks as they do print books. They provide access to things like EBSCOHost. Heck, the librarians in this system are even trained to help you find jobs.

In fact, all of this was addressed in the article.

Where is this place on the internet I can legally read the same books I can find in a library for free without paying?

Copyright law is crazy broken. IP in general at least needs dramatically reevaluated in the context of global information networks. Building more libraries to circumvent and subsidize an archaic model of corporate profit doesn't sound like a great use of societies resources.

A lot of people, even those in the developed nations, rely on libraries for internet access.

This is what I meant where libraries should evolve from being curators of books to adapting to new technology.

It also seems obvious that instead of access to libraries a better use of money would be access to the internet. SpaceX and Facebook are already working on solving this problem. It’s just a matter of technology and infrastructure. If it’s unfeasible to lay wires in remote areas maybe access to internet would better be served by satellites or balloons.

If a person is not educating themselves through the internet what makes you think they would educate themselves at a library? At some point it comes down to personal responsibility and as much money you throw at the problem it will never solve it.

I think this is a good idea. I would add YMCAs and similar places.

I think one of the best places for a mega-philanthropist to invest would be in the time and places that kids spend outside of public schools. Many of the biggest disadvantages in opportunities for kids are created when they fall behind before and after school and during summers, relative to kids who are better off socioeconomically. These disadvantages compound and are lasting. Safe places to engage in healthy recreation, productive endeavors, and getting something nutritious to eat that they wouldn't otherwise have access to would go a long way for underprivileged youth and have an impact for the rest of their lives.

This is an excellent idea.

Libraries are great. They should be funded with taxes by society, not the whims of charity.

Raise taxes and on people like Bezos and Gates for the needs of society.

Ehh i don't think Bezos and Gates are the issue; it's that services (like libraries and public transit) are raising the value of nearby land. We should tax the beneficiaries; ie the landowners who today profit off tax payer investments.

Subsidized public roads also raise the value of land around which they are built, by giving you access to build something there.

It isn't a specific group of landowners. These sources of profit created by public infrastructure simply and generally make people rich, so you need to tax the rich.

I'm definitely not convinced disincentivizing people from living in walkable distance from libraries and public transit terminals is good. Sounds more like we need the opposite - incentivize walkability, build more libraries and public transit, and more generally incentivize higher density residential to cut down on the total amount of infrastructure needed, because our current scale is unsustainable with current tax models.

As much as I hate books, I love public libraries. Our local library (Northside branch santa clara) gives a big conference room every saturday to a team of passionate locals trying to teach themselves programming. My friends and I go there every Saturday to help people who are stuck and give them guidance (what to learn next, how to prepare for interviews, what language is best suitable for what they are trying to do, etc).

Talk about diversity, the library is a place where you get to see people from all walks of life outside the silicon valley bubble (different race, age, handicap). It builds a learning community where people have the opportunity to help each other at a more human level.

So, you don't like libraries, you like the idea of cheap to hire conference rooms.

Here's a better idea...and one that will ultimately benefit libraries as well: start buying out all the evil academic publishers, overhaul their technology, get rid of copyright assignment, and offer free access to anyone.

Then do the same with legal records, although that is more of a legal problem than a money problem.

Even a modest level of support for high quality peer review of open access journals would have a big effect.

This is something I like. Correcting broken laws would be one of the more permanent contributions Bezos could make. We already know from the last ~30 years we cannot amass political capital to fix laws that create the broken journalistic and legal frameworks.

The article does not mention ebooks, which is a surprising omission considering it involves Amazon.

I don't know how it is in the US, but for instance German libraries offer to loan ebooks: http://www.onleihe.net/

Donating ereaders and rights to ebooks to libraries seems more effective than printed books.

Big caveats here are Amazon's monopoly position, DRM and copyright and loans for ebooks vs. physical books.

Yes, ebooks are important and English law changed recently to make it easier, although libraries are still limited by licensing terms: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/30/part/4/enacted

What's the point of libraries these days? We literally have the possibility for everyone to have a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in their pocket with all books that were ever written.

As other users said above, libraries are a huge deal in poor communities. People use them to search for jobs/fill out job applications. These are tasks that are onerous to impossible on a low-end smartphone, if you have one at all.

I live in a gentrifying area of NYC. There's a public library branch a few blocks away from me that sees lots of visitors every day. I rarely walk by it and don't see people coming and going.

If these people are there for the space and the Internet, and not the books, that seems like an argument for a new type of institution that has a lot of computers, rather than an argument for libraries.

It's only a possibility at this point. For instance: law libraries. Currently, there is much legal info online but there is plenty that is not (e.g. Rutter Group law guides). Or maybe they're online but only for a hefty fee aimed at law firms (e.g. Lexis-Nexis access). For someone forced into self-representation for a legal matter, a public law library is a HUGE help. While the online resources that are available are very helpful, they are not enough at this point.

... with all books that were ever written.

All that and an electronic girlfriend application to replace the real one you could have picked up at the library.

Come on, book is just a medium, now we have a different form already, why put money into old-school stuff? For nostalgia reasons?

A book certainly is just a medium, but it's a particularly accessible and durable medium.

If you place a 50-year-old book written in English in front of me, I can immediately pick it up and begin reading. Books far older than that are equally as legible and, with care, accessible.

What are the chances that in 50 years that even half of the current ebook formats will be viewable by contemporary technology?

This isn't to say that other formats shouldn't be used or improved, but we have yet to see a medium that is as unfettered and easily used. It's hardly about nostalgia.

Probably for the same reason we didn't replace books with microfilm, which began to be used commercially in the 1920's. And microfilm can be "decoded" using simple magnification. No issues of software compatibility with document formats and whatnot.

Strengthening public libraries is an excellent idea, with lots of public benefits. Libraries are one of the most trusted public institutions in the US and provide a range of key social services including access to education, internet, health information. They also reach and support a demographic that is currently not well served through online-only programs.

I co-founded Peer 2 Peer University [1] a non profit that brings people together in learning circles to take online courses. When we switched from online-only to face to face meetings in public libraries we started teaching adults who had fallen out of the education system and who were not benefiting from online courses. And I can't say enough positive things about the librarians who we work with.

[1] https://p2pu.org

I’m sure thousands of people have ideas of how Bezos should spend his.

Bezos should spend (or not spend) in ways and things he values, to maximize what he gets out of what he’s earned.

(P.S. libraries compete with his book selling business! Why wouldn’t he rather sell a ‘library pass’ on a kindle for a monthly subscription?)

He sent out a request for comment on this. It's not just a random ask.

Kindle is very well integrated with library services already.

Also, they do sell a month-to-month "kindle unlimited" service. It kind of sucks though (last I used it, anyway).

It sucks as of last month.

The integration with libraries is super-cool though!

His company hosts a large part of the biggest library ever existed: Internet.

And public libraries are used to access it, so you could say the suggestion makes even more sense considering that.

Yet if I want to make a serious study of something, I hit the textbooks. The internet is, in my experience, a poor replacement for a stack of well written physical textbooks.

The internet may be a big library, but in many ways it's not a very good one.

Counterpoint: My friends all went through mechanical engineering WITHOUT reading textbooks - that was the secret to their success.

No one is going to touch the textbooks in a library.

Did a master's in maths with the internet in front of me the whole time. Learned almost entirely from textbooks on my desk. The internet was useful for discussing problems and ordering books from the local library.

The secret to my success was reading the textbooks and working through them. Had perhaps twenty days of formal instruction throughout, but when I added up the hours spent it was effectively me and the books for a time equal to eight months' full-time. Couldn't have done it without simply hitting the books. Can't speak for your chums. Maybe they learned in classes or lectures or practical sessions or some such. For me, it was hitting the books.

Counter-counter point. My wife went through a graphic design degree without ever buying a textbook (many of which were required for class). She borrowed them from our local library, leveraging the inter-library loan system when needed. It saved her hundreds of $$

How did MechE's succeed before the Internet?

Haha - my friends dad also did MechE in the 80s. He says MechE students now are responsible for learning much more material.

I'd say the internet has allowed more material to be taught in four years.

Alternatively, that could be an argument for digitalizing those textbooks and offering them for free.

Maybe Bezos should fund Libgen :)

I can't speak for anyone else, but every textbook I used during a master's in maths was available on the screen in front of me. I used paper textbooks instead. They're simply much better for serious learning.

It's sort of like a library, except that you have to pay to read any of the books.

There is countless literature you can find on any subjects on the internet.

I'm guessing most of the people here have not been to a local public library in a long time. They have basically become daytime homeless shelters. That is the reason they are no longer attractive for philanthropists.

Perhaps the libraries in your community share this property, but they certainly don't in mine. What communities are you referencing in this comment?

Mine have extensive multimedia selections available for access, music rooms with instruments for practice, 3d printers for prototyping, and a wealth of research staff who will help you find specific information that you need. All of the ones in my local area are well attended by the public, at least when I've gone.

With the deep budget cuts and transition to online (vs face to face) services, libraries have become many poor people's only access to their government.

This was widely reported in my area last time our trogs wanted to cut our library budgets (even more).

Holy crap what communities are you referencing? 90210? I'm in the south so basically any public library within walking distance of a metro area. As I said in my comment most people on HN are seriously out of touch with what the majority of the population experiences.

Depends where you live. Most of the suburban and rural library I have been to are what you would expect with zero bums. My local ones are quasi co-working spaces with tons of telecommuters and even a coffee shop inside.

Rural yes. There are not enough shelters or public assistance to support the homeless population. I imaging your mileage may vary based on the specific metro area. I'm specifically referring to the southeast. Also at least Chicago as well my cousin is a librarian there and constantly has stories about how her job is essentially running a halfway house.

I want to give a shout out to a charity called "Room to read". There is a book about the founder's story .. he was one of us (a tech leader at Microsoft). His book and story touched me deeply.

This is great, thanks!

Bezos still needs to focus on actually delivering the value that the world has priced into the expectations of his company. He can't just retire and collect income off of an existing machine like Gates.

What does that have to do with his personal wealth?

How is Bezos' situation different than Gates?

e: to clarify my second question: How is Bezos' situation different than Gates' when Gates left Microsoft.

Because Amazons stock price is valued strongly based on future potential. For Bezos to cash out now and do philanthropy, without a very strong replacement to realize Amazons potential, shares would fall 50% effectively halving Bezos' worth.

Regarding your second question, it is actually a similar scenario to when Gates left Microsoft. Right before Gates left, Microsoft was at one of the highest peak values, $58, almost it's Market cap today if you account for inflation, and a year after Gates left the stock had plummeted to $24 a share. Many would propose that Bezos leaving would actually be more detrimental, as Microsoft at the time was not a growth stock, but a well established money printing machine, while Amazon stock is still banking on future potential.

All shares are valued solely based on their future potential (cash flows). It matters not a whit what you did in the past, if your future is bleak, you share price will reduce to under book value

Bezos net worth is almost entirely Amazon stock, which is a growth stock.

Gates net worth is almost entirely cash (tens of billions in cash?) and other investments (there's like a holding/investment company that's actually just Gates).

Amazon stock would plummet if Bezos just upped and left and most of his wealth is tied to the company.

More than most companies, Amazon seems like it's actually worth what people say it is. It's the world's largest e-retailer, with a huge percentage of happy customers (due to their great customer service), with a booming membership program, making strides into local deliveries (Whole Foods), with the largest cloud computing infrastructure in the World.

Much better in my opinion than Apple, that is almost solely valued off of a popular phone that the majority of users could replace with a phone 20% of the cost and be just as happy.

Bezos solicited public feedback on Twitter for causes he should support.

Or in school lunches. How about nice healthy food? Lunch should be a class where you learn how to eat.

“So far, you’ve concentrated on things that might benefit our distant successors” ... “space trave, cancer treatments, AI”

I would hope we’re going to make large strides in these in his lifetime. If we could effectively funnel more into R&D sooner, we’d all see the benefits sooner. Cancer(s), for example, might be cured in say 2060 with our current effort, but if we solved the problem by 2030, hundreds of millions would benefit.

Will cancer ever be solved? Isn't cancer many different problems that got the same label?

That's why I put an (s) on cancer to signify that I did understand the challenge.

Stupid question probably, but have any cancers been cured so far?

Libraries are many different books that got the same label :-)

We should solve general AI first, because then those other problems would be solved within two months.

Wait, didn't he already replace the need for libraries with kindle and kindle unlimited monthly service? Heh.

I think public libraries would be a wonderful beneficiary of Jeff Bezos' fortune, but I would hope that in the (admittedly unlikely) event that it happens, the bulk of the donated funds are not thrown at shiny "library of the future" initiatives. Not after-school STEM programs, not summer Minecraft redstone programming camps, not 3D printer labs.

Just books, staff and facilities: the three things that libraries always need, won't become obsolete in a few years, and are equally available to all patrons in an area.

Yes, public libraries need to evolve to meet their community's needs as they change. But just as a new coat of paint or solar-powered lighting doesn't strengthen an aging bridge, focusing on the flair rather than the core of what makes a library a library would be foolhardy.

So the books have link rot but what of the webpages? They are gone, yet the books are still around.

There is something interesting about that. Websites take maintenance and tools to read them. Books do not. If you want your information to be around a long time, maybe write a book instead? Or both?

> they're the only noncommercial places other than city squares where people meet across genders and ages


The Church has billions in assets... it's commercial.

I'd say that depends on the church (lower-case "c") and its affiliations. That particularly wealthy religious organizations exist in Rome and Salt Lake City (for instance) doesn't mean a typical small-town church can't struggle to pay its bills.

No offense to the author, but what a tremendously stupid idea.

With technology becoming cheaper and cheaper, right now, you can get a good enough computer to access all the world's information (the Internet) for $25. I can imagine that price being more like $5 in the next 10 years.

Since the goal of investing is planning for the future, it'd be an enormous waste to spend all of that money on the antiquated concept of a library. It will be about as useful as investing the money in VHS tapes.

Better education-related goals for billionaires: make more of the copyrighted information available for free public use. Help increase access to good quality internet and computers in poor communities.

By far the biggest barrier to books being available is perpetual copyright.

Libraries are struggling with an identity crisis as printed books become less relevant. It's an issue not solved by the injection of billions.

Carnegie's legacy, the example used in the article, doesn't translate to the present.

If Bezos wanted to democratize information in a comparable way, perhaps he could underwrite universal access to high-speed Internet. Many many parts of the country still do not have reliable, high-speed, low latency Internet connections.

Libraries are well aware of their identities, which have not changed as much as you think.

For many people, their public library is their only access to Internet of any speed. And they're using that connection, the same one this community constantly rallies around as a human right, on the only boxes that public library can afford.

As commenters have noted, libraries conflict with Amazon's business. How about instead mass produce cheap (low-profit or at-cost) kindles pre-loaded with a large amount of public domain and other free material (including wikipedia offline compressed database). And then bezos will still make money from some of them buying paid kindle books.

The thing is, libraries are more than just a place to put books. As still other commenters have put it, they are community centers, shelters-in-place, and work spaces.

The more personal overhead (like having to rent out a personal office if you work remotely, or having to pay for a computer and internet access) that people can offload o places like libraries, the more money they have to spend on Amazon.

My libraries cost $180/year through property tax. Most of the books I want to read are checked out. Most of the movies I want to watch are checked out. It takes a lot of time just to find something. I come to library to hang out. We then pick up something to read/watch randomly. The system is not very efficient.

If I were Bezos, I would start a vlogging platform and a competitor to Twitter -- one free of concerns of covert partisan censorship. There would be serious synergies for amazon.com and other Amazon products.

Or, you go earn billions, and then you can decide what to do with them.

Or maybe arm US public libraries with free to checkout Kindles that have no hardware for WiFi or LTE support and simply are cached with the latest videos from Khan Academy and a significant portion of the most read portions of Wikipedia. The cache would be updated over the air weekly at the library.

If the Kindle ever was jailbroken, well then the kid or whoever just learned about jailbreaking/hacking. Without Wifi or LTE support, likely no one would really bother.

I find this one inspiring: https://www.ted.com/talks/curtis_wall_street_carroll_how_i_l...

Bezos is putting his billions right where they are best. Re-inventing the supply chain for everything from retail goods to commodity compute.

everyone knows what to do with other people's money

I agree that billionaries could help society development, but Bezos would not have billions if he invests in public libraries. Nice try.

Is non fossil fuel energy research too hard to be funded? Gates and Bezos etc have funded just about a billion. Why not 20 billion

I was wondering if someone would put big money into fusion if we could make it happen sooner. My understanding is that the physics are reasonably well understood and now it's mainly a difficult engineering problem. I wonder if ITER could happen sooner with enough money.

Fusion research is actually very well funded. It doesn't seem that way because nearly all news stories about fusion are about the Q factor of the latest shot or experiment was. (Q is the energy gain factor.) The field is advancing on many fronts, using several strategies. ITER is but one of many efforts. Some results coming from NIF suggest that ICF is not as dead as it seemed years ago!

ITER itself is (iirc) the largest scientific project on Earth. It is funded by 35 countries, to the tune of billions. They have already had cost overruns (the perpetual curse of modern science it seems) but I doubt that more money would necessarily solve fusion engineering faster. They are currently building the reactor and are on track for first plasma in 2025. An ITER-scale tokamak is as close to a "sure bet" for Q>=1 that you can get. (Their goal is Q=10)

Interestingly, one of the major milestones for ITER is tritium production through breeder blankets - which would solve a critical bottleneck for future, enterprise fusion power systems. (Not to mention scientific research.)

i love libraries but i never go cause i'm not allowed to sip a coffee. i mean come on, where's the fun factor! Wouldn't you take the risk of spilling drinks on books rather than preventing people from coming?

Or maybe donate some of it to the poor? Like Bill Gates?

I find this titles very off putting.

It seems to imply that someone, who wasn't competent enough to make billions of their own, is somehow more apt to know how to better spend them than the one that actually did.

I find your comment very off-putting. First of all, Bezos asked for advice on philanthropy. Second, most wealth generated by the property owning class (including Bezos) is through extracting the surplus value of their employees. Those billions were made through force (by the state monopoly of violence through police defending the so-called "right to property") as his employees never had a fair shot in getting a reasonable share of profits because he had the luck or inheritance to obtain the wealth producing tools (business infrastructure) first while his employees, many of whom are probably more intelligent and hard-working than he, did not. So while his employees work 9-5 making minimum wage to $50 an hour, he gets to enjoy billions and not have to work.

> as his employees never had a fair shot in getting a reasonable share of profits

They get paid an hourly wage or salary. Thats their share of the profits. Why are employees magically entitled to profits other than what they agreed to work for?

Because they never had a chance to own the means of production and thus were not able to negotiate on an equal footing.

Oh yes, he did ask for advice, I forgot about that. Never mind.

Not being sarcastic, to me that makes all the difference.

The rest of your comment didn't make much sense to me, however.

We already have libraries, if you are going to presume to tell someone how to spend their money, at least pitch something we don't already have.

Fix traffic and housing in Seattle.

Traffic and housing in Seattle are problems only the government can solve, as they're the ones that created the laws and incentives that cause the problems. No use dumping money into a pit.

What if they could fund an easier, more efficient way to lobby?

I actually see the value of lobbying, and think that would be an excellent idea. But lobbying has such a nasty connotation, I doubt it would pad the ego of a philanthropist (call me a cynic, but I'd wager 90% of philanthropy is just a way for people to garner attention and praise).

I don't think lobbying would be nearly as bad if a) we had publicly funded elections, which takes away the incentive for politicians to be beholden to the interests of donors, and b) we had a mechanism (possibly through a branch of judicial review?) to repeal or amend laws that don't achieve their stated goals.

How about pay some taxes.

what a ludicrous idea. libraries lose thousands of books each year to theft and vandalism. what would happen to all those bundles of cash?

just keep the money in banks. that's what they do.

Now, that would solve that problem now wouldn't it.

Whenever a topic like this gets posted, it feels like the majority of commenters feel 'entitled' to other people's money and think they know best how to spend it. Or the notion they have to 'give back.'

I'm not rich in the popular sense of the word (besides having the fortune of being American middle class), but I do have investments by virtue of almost never spending on consumer goods. And having no wife or kids. My coworkers realize after years of seeing me drive the same beater correctly assume I'm in better shape financially, and some have the audacity to jokingly ask me to put them in my will.

Now, I will not deny that I am an extremely fortunate person who is cognitively able, like Bezos or anyone well-connected with material wealth, but what's with the 'he should donate to this cause instead'?

It's his money. He could buy a fleet of yachts, set them on fire, and upload the video footage - why shouldn't he be allowed to do that? At what arbitrary level of wealth does 'his' money become everyone else's money?

You're missing the point. Bezos specifically tweeted requesting ideas for philanthropy. No one is saying he can't spend the money how he wants.


I guess out of quite a bit of other threads, I jumped on this particular thread in order to vent, which wasn't the best choice, since, as the article said (and you emphasized) that he was requesting ideas. Or maybe the word "should" always upsets me, and I envision a world where us common people are walking around believing that the more fortunate owe us just because they are wealthy.

> It's his money. He could buy a fleet of yachts, set them on fire, and upload the video footage - why shouldn't he be allowed to do that? At what arbitrary level of wealth does 'his' money become everyone else's money?

This is a good question to ask.

Typically arguments about the ethical demands of wealth are predicated on how that wealth is _acquired_. As a society we suppose that some wealth is acquired "fairly" (say through some amazing talent or hard work), while other wealth is said to be acquired "unfairly" (say through fraud or exploitation).

There's a separate question however that this does not address: regardless of how you have earned your wealth, to what degree are you morally permitted to _retain_ it? To frame the question is slightly different terms, if I am in possession of an expensive life-saving medicine, and my neighbor is in dire need of this medicine, am I morally obligated to give my neighbor this medicine? The question of _how_ I acquired this medicine is quite separate from the question of whether I have a moral right to retain it.

The same question may be asked of exorbitant wealth. If I have enough money to buy a fleet of yachts and set them on fire, and my neighbor does not have enough money to pay for her children's breakfasts, do I have a moral right to set those yachts on fire? Or am I morally obligated to surrender some of my wealth to my neighbor's hungry children?

Did you read the story? He made a public request for ideas about his philanthropy strategy

Admittedly, I made the cardinal sin of reading title only, the jumping to the HN comments and replying. I'm surprised I haven't been downvoted into oblivion.


Bezos asked for suggestions on how to spend the money. As the article clearly shows.

Should is a pretty insulting verb: who is to presume the wisdom to tell another what to do?

Bezos himself asked for advice. Here's the tweet:


A news story: "Jeff Bezos Wants Ideas for Philanthropy, So He Asked Twitter"


There's a tendency in some to add a bunch of hedge words to statements like this. "Humbly, I think -- and this is just my opinion -- that Jeff Bezos may want to -- I mean, it's up to him, but if he wants to! -- consider putting his money into libraries."

This is a misguided pursuit of modesty. It's less clear and reads as false, anyway.

Just say what you mean. We all know it's just your opinion without all the weasel words. Nobody is going to mistake it for anything else.

> Just say what you mean. We all know it's just your opinion without all the weasel words. Nobody is going to mistake it for anything else.

People on the Web will. They hate succinct, accurate, clear (so, good) writing and will settle for nothing short of explicitly disavowing association with or endorsement of any conceivable evil with which an intentional/incompetent misreading of your words could possibly connect you, absurdly hedging and qualifying every statement as if attempting to make a favorable wish with a hostile genie, and burying all opinions in wishy-washy garbage.

Although I don't like the government taking my money to subsidize stuff, I'd rather see them make basic Internet "free" than build and maintain libraries.

If I were a Billionaire like Bezos, and read this article, I would think: "it's my money. You can be as sure as hell that the last thing I will do is to put it in public libraries".

Seriously. Since when we pick someone else's pocket and decide what to do with his money?

Since Bezos specifically asked for ideas about how to spend his money philantrophically.

As you would know, had you at least skimmed the article before summarily dismissing it.

Why would anyone think libraries are important in 2017?

If things keep getting digitalized at the current speed, all knowledge of the world will be accessible online in our lifetime.

Unless you believe that a large percentage of citizens will not be able to afford a device for accessing the internet, libraries are a waste of money.

Oh and since librarians were mentioned, if AI keeps advancing, we will be able to have a conversation with a search engine within 30 years. So who needs a librarian?

A library is free, even if all of the world's knowledge is online it would cost money to access in addition to paying for internet. The point of libraries is to remove any barrier to entry for knowledge. I can go to my library and get access to journals and articles I would have to pay for otherwise. It is not a huge waste of money, it is a great way to save. Taxes are paid into the library and as a result the community as a whole benefits.

Ignoring all of that,you say people can get all of their knowledge online now. Please remember that you're fortunate enough to own a computer or cell phone with a data plan. Many people only have access to the internet at the library.

Libraries have survived through all of history for a reason, the internet will not kill them. If they are defunded they will be formed by people like Bezos who recognize the huge benefit they provide to society.

> A library is free, even if all of the world's knowledge is online it would cost money to access in addition to paying for internet.

I wish that were true. It's not.

Libraries cost money. Acquiring, storing, maintaining a book in a room, with climate control and a proper shelter, costs more than storing the same book digitally. Providing access to copies of a physical book, to just a million people spread across the US, is extremely expensive compared to doing the same thing digitally via the Internet. Someone should run an estimate on that, it's such an astounding gap in cost as to be absurd.

There are many good arguments for libraries. That they don't cost money or are somehow free, is not one of them. They're subsidized systems of knowledge, primarily for the benefit of people lacking resources to otherwise access that information inexpensively (along with other various community and peaceful space benefits they usually provide).

You are 100% correct, that was an incorrect argument to make. I guess that was the whole point of the article too, so I really got that one wrong. It is important to recognize the incredible amount of money and social benefit going into and out of libraries, and I don't think they should be so quickly discounted just because it is 2017 and we have the internet.

> A library is free

Those who aren't responsible for paying taxes always seem to think this

You are absolutely correct and this was my oversight. That being said, the net social benefit is still great and the parent commenter's opinion that they are not important because of the internet is a flawed argument. Still, you are correct.

# rant: disagree with comments not votes!

I disagree with that sentiment.. Are books a waste of money? In-person public speaking events? Museums?

The internet is a global Library of Alexandria, but it's absurd to suggest we no longer need smaller repositories of knowledge or physical copies/originals... Especially as the internet is increasingly fractured, censured, monitored, and otherwise limited.

They serve similar but not identical purposes. Libraries have always been more than the books, just like books are more than the facts contained within.

I think it's wrong, but it's not absurd. Let's argue, not shout down.

It's true that the Internet is often fractured, censured, monitored, and otherwise limited, but the same can be said of libraries, unfortunately; an example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_Awareness_Program

Who's shouting down?

Online foreign counter-government literature can be globally censored by a national censoring, corporate-critical websites can be taken down by invalid copyright/trademark notices while books cannot be pulled without thorough vetting, and most websites out there slowly decay into dust - far faster than books.

My point is not that books and libraries are superior - it's that they are different from the internet, both tools convey knowledge with unique strengths and weaknesses. I do think it's absurd to simply write them off as "a waste of money", an irredeemable tool that was waiting to be made obsolete.

We will rebalance our usage just like we rebalanced radio after TV came out and TV after the internet - the end-state is a very interesting question, TBD whether books follow the path of vinyl or VCR, but I think "complete elimination" is the most improbable path.

>Are books a waste of money?

For preservation and dissemination of information, definitely. They might be useful for education, especially children's ed, though.

> In-person public speaking events?

Don't need a library for that, there are many other places this can be done.


Libraries and museums are different.

> Especially as the internet is increasingly fractured, censured, monitored, and otherwise limited.

As if that does not apply to libraries: Once it is legal to censor an item online it will also be removed from libraries.

That's some weird straw man argument. He didn't say books are a waste of money, he said paper books and libraries (physical buildings) are irrelevant, he explained his position.

I agree with him. Libraries are one of the least efficient ways to deliver quality information to to the masses, especially up-to-date information. They are slow, expensive, require driving, paper books slowly rot, buildings occupy useful space.

It's not belief. It's fact that a large percentage of citizens are unable to access desktop computers for work/jobs, though they might have an internet-enabled phone.

Have you ever been to a library in the inner city, or in any big city for that matter?

The internet penetration in the US last year was 88.5%, it's higher now. What is this "large percentage" exactly? What important information can't you get through a cheap smartphone and public Wifi?

Not to mention, it's not hard to find a well-used laptop in the US for virtually nothing, and with things like Chromebooks, you can get something new for around $100. There are charities that furnish computer access either through directly providing a cheap laptop or by offering shared access at centers, etc.

It's absurd to suggest that we need to spend millions building and maintaining traditional public libraries just because some people do not have immediate access to a computer.

If that's the issue, why spend the money building libraries instead of making computers cheaper and more accessible?

Computerized/digital information sources are far more efficient than physical information sources by practically any measure. They are not only easier to use, but they are easier to store, ship, etc. One thick textbook is much heavier than a single Kindle that could store the information equivalent of 100 thick textbooks, and dust mites won't eat the pages of your Kindle. Pretty much the only thing it's missing is a built-in solar power source, but you can probably attach it to USB solar power source, and it seems it'd be easier to get that infrastructure in place v. a whole library.

Seems like we're missing the forest for the trees here.

I concede, I've only ever been in a large campus library in the US.

Also I agree, if a few percent of the population cannot afford to access the internet there is a serious problem.

I just doubt that libraries are an effective way to solve this problem.

So let me tell you about the last time I went to the downtown Seattle library.

I was there looking for inspiration - I wanted some interesting architecture to put into the background of a short comic I was nearly done drawing. Knowing that "architecture" was probably filed near the "art" section, I went up a few floors to where that was. I took my time getting there, as I was kind of there looking for serendipitous discoveries, not one particular tome. I browsed through the cartoon art section on the way and found something I'd always wanted to read. Put that under my arm and kept looking for the architecture section. I discovered that the art section also includes a big collection of file cabinets with Interesting Images clipped from magazines or whatever - visual inspiration, cool! I was looking for something more targeted in this case so I moved on after opening a few random drawers and peering in.

When I finally found the architecture section, I was able to wander through it looking at big coffee-table books full of beautiful photographs very quickly. No waiting for anything to download - I just went "ooh, here's a book on Istanbul, that feels interesting, lemme look at it", and was able to pull it off the shelf and flip through the pages to get an idea of what sort of stuff was to be had within a matter of seconds.

I spent a little while wandering through that section, ultimately leaving with books on the architecture of Cairo and Barcelona under my arm. I went up to the top floor of the library, which is a huge space with a lot of natural light, and a lot of desk lamps for the many times when Seattle is too overcast for that. It was the middle of a weekday, and there were a bunch of people from all parts of society hanging out there reading. Including folks without a home.

I read the book I picked up in the cartoon section, then settled down to the serious business of paging through the architecture books and finding buildings I wanted to borrow. Photographed a few candidates with my phone, then put them on my computer and used them as reference to draw a cityscape. I probably spent a few hours there doing this.

When I was done, I left the books in a neat pile on the desk I was using, and took the long way down. I passed through the fifth floor, which is a vast open space absolutely filled with computers: public access to the internet for those citizens who cannot, indeed, afford a device that can talk to it; a larger screen than a phone and an actual keyboard, and access to printers as well, for those who have a phone as their only privately-owned internet access. I don't need that, I'm sitting here in front of a 24" monitor, but there are a lot of people even in a rich town like Seattle who do. And it's also a place for the people who need that to get the hell out of the rain, and chill out with a book - maybe they're learning something, maybe they're just reading some escapism, whatever, both are great.

And who needs a librarian? Well, everyone who needs to research something right now, instead of thirty years from now. Or sixty years from now, given that most of these kinds of predictions tend to take at least twice as long to come true, if they ever do.

Having this big building that takes up a whole block of downtown real estate also makes a statement: Knowledge is something this city values.

I'd like to see some billionaire put a lot of money into abortions. The political fight over abortion keeps messing up other things, and a billionaire could fix that.

For example, I don't think many on the right disagree that funding prenatal care is a good thing--but some major prenatal care providers, such as Planned Parenthood, also provide abortion services and so some politicians want to cut all their funding to make sure none of the Federal money goes to abortions. A whole bunch of women's health services get cut in order to make sure there is no chance the money ends up helping abortions.

So I'd like to see some billionaire, or some well-funded charity like the Gates Foundation, build several clinics that provide free abortions around the country in the states with the least restrictions on abortions, and fund a program that provides free travel to and from those clinics for women in the states with restrictive laws that have forced most such clinics to close.

Then organizations like Planned Parenthood can get completely out of the abortion business, taking away the major excuse that is used to cut their funding.

State legislators can stop spending a lot of time coming up with new ways to try to shut down abortion clinics in their states (because shutting down such clinics will no longer stop the abortions), and state attorney generals can stop wasting time defending those attempts in court, and maybe they will finally realize that the best way to reduce abortions is to make it so people don't need them in the first place. Maybe then states like Texas can drop their idiotic "abstinence only" approach to sex eduction (which has resulted in soaring teen pregnancy rates...) and switch to something actually effective.

Edit: any down voters care to name specific objections? That Planned Parenthood provides a lot of useful women's health services that are not related to abortion should not be controversial. That abortion is the main reason Congress wants to completely defund PP should also not be controversial. That "abstinence only" programs are a massive failure is pretty well documented. That many states keep passing abortion restrictions which then get challenged and often struck down as unconstitutional is not controversial.

I didn't vote for your post either way, but...

If you're pro-life, you probably don't like the idea that someone is spending billions to fund abortions.

If you're pro-choice, you probably don't like the idea of Planned Parenthood conceding their abortion services because of political pressure.

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