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The last thing libraries need is Silicon Valley “disruption.” (vox.com)
411 points by naters on July 27, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 332 comments

I'm largely in agreement with this Vox piece, but I think there's much more to say in defense of libraries as well.

I have a friend who found a red envelope with some money in it in a book that he'd checked out of the library. He figured it belonged to whoever had checked the book out earlier, so he went into the branch and mentioned it. They said that they could find out the last person to read the book, but no more than that, because by and large, librarians (at least in that system) deliberately avoided keeping long term records of what people are reading, to safeguard privacy rights.

Can you imagine Netflix or Amazon, Google or Facebook behaving this way? Could be that I'm from an older generation, but there was a time when people considered the idea of an institution having a long and complete list of everything you've read more than creepy, it was terrifying. Add in cell phone tracking devices that show where we are, map apps that show where we go at what time and what routes we take, commence sites that show what we buy and consider buying. You know for a while there it was impossible to remove a film from your recently watched list on Netflix? (the tech advice was to just select a bunch of stuff randomly and bury it deep if you didn't want it sitting there for everyone else to see the next day).

Libraries don't play nearly as much of a role in making sure that people can access information privately as they used to, they've been shoved out of the way, but they were far more principled guardians of it than tech companies (I mean, night and day, they were guardians, tech companies are rapacious violators of this principle).

Can you imagine Netflix or Amazon, Google or Facebook behaving this way?

This is the difference between having a sense of civic duty and community vs. not. The customer/business relationship is a poor substitute for the real thing, even when they try to foster the trappings of false "community."

there was a time when people considered the idea of an institution having a long and complete list of everything you've read more than creepy, it was terrifying.

As it should be. There are institutions and cohorts of society trying to control access to information and opinion. This has been going on for quite some time. Noam Chomsky co-wrote a book about it in the 80's.

Libraries don't play nearly as much of a role in making sure that people can access information privately as they used to, they've been shoved out of the way, but they were far more principled guardians of it than tech companies

A librarian friend of mine noted that libraries had come into the business of de-facto social work.

> having a sense of civic duty and community vs. not

A sense of civic duty?

These words sounds like they are from another period.

I think this is low in the mindshare of the population of many western countries. As a society we're mostly concerned with personal progress, social influence and monetisation.

And this is the essential problem with society today - the lack of acknowledgement that there is such a thing as civic duty, or the greater good. It's all about personal advancement regardless of the externalized costs.

In the words of Toby Keith - It's all about me, it's all about I, it's all about #1...

Also, the kids these days wear funny clothes, their music is too loud, and they have no manners. We’re really going to hell in a handbasket. Also the JavaScript frameworks have too many plugins.

Kids today?

"“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. " Margaret Thatcher, 1987

Community died some time in the 1980s with the rise of "loads of money", and famous politicians stating "there's no such thing as society any more".

It used to be that people would make a living then give something back in later life - either public service such as becoming a politician or joining one of the many societies like the Rotary Club that performs philanthropic acts.

Now politics is a career, philanthropy is the preserve of the astonishingly wealthy and everyone cares about nothing but self, making a buck and what they can get.

We lost a huge amount in that process. I sincerely hope we see it rise again sometime soon.

People get shadowbanned on HN for using the the term that describes this phenomenon: neoliberalism. It’s exactly that: eroding of civil society while pushing the ideology that you can (and should) monetize everything. A sad development might I say.

>People get shadowbanned on HN for using the the term that describes this phenomenon: neoliberalism.

Nobody gets shadowbanned on HN for using the term neoliberalism[0].

I'm going to guess from the age of your account that you had a former account which was banned, and I would bet money that using the word "neoliberalism" was not the cause of it.


That's not really neoliberalism, moreover, nobody is getting banned for that word.

Neoliberalism is more of an academic, economic concept, it's not inherently anti-community, it just happens to be.

McDonald's and Starbucks don't want to wipe out civic cohesiveness etc., but it just might happen in some situations wherein everyone ends up working for 'large corps' instead of local businesses etc..

The opposite political ideology is called 'Communitarianism'. It does not have a current identifiable place in America politics.

The Christian Democrats (i.e. Angela Merkel in Germany) are of this philosophy, it's more of a culturally conservative kind of socialism, it puts families, communities, people and the wellbeing of said groups at the centre of political and economic objectives. It's done in a localist manner (in the same way the Catholic Church has given great local leeway to parishes etc.), i.e. local context matters more than top-down authorities etc..

Whether you buy into it or not, I suggest it's really sad that it's missing from the American dialogue because a lot of that is just what we need right now.

Inherently localist ideals have a hard fight against more globalist ones (neoliberalism, state socialism) for obvious reasons ... if there were more established Communitarian ideals, I'll bet Donald Trump would not be president right now.

Well, it is an economic school of thought, but you hugely under play the connection. Neoliberalism can't work without the abolition of community and promotion of personal responsibility. Community breaks down by disassembling any collectivist groups and giving them over to the market and the now powerless individual. Personal responsibility is often disenfranchisement - nearly all our freedoms came about through collective action and organised civil disobedience.

The personal freedom to buy your social housing (without building more), have a personal pension with individual charges (with no attempt to ensure "enough" pension or group benefits), the privatisation of community and state assets and on and on. The removal of community power by constraining the rights and budgets of local government, centralising ever more then privatising or closing in the search of market solutions and smaller government. At a higher level it enabled the rise of globalisation.

There was absolutely need to re-balance in the seventies and constrain the unions. Effectively abolishing them was perhaps too much seeing today's gig economy and zero hours contracts. Another example of personal responsibility! After thirty years neoliberalism appears to be a means to restore the pre-war gilded age inequalities whilst completely forgetting why the post-war consensus (social security, society and Bretton Woods) came about.

Hopefully Communitarianism will get its chance soon.

Not all unions are 'good' ... so abolishing bad unions was not 'neoliberalism' ... it was simply 'anti socialist' or getting rid of some of the bas parts of the system.

Government sector Unions for example need to be reformed.

And FYI 'personal responsibility' existed long, long before neoliberalism as an ideal.

Communitarianism fundamentally requires 'personal responsibility' as one cannot 'help the community' until one has 'one's own house in order' so to speak. It goes even further: Communitarianism implies that 'personal responsibility' actually includes responsibility towards the community.

My grandparent owned a large lumberyard and employed people fairly, and in their retirement, spent several days a week visiting retirement homes, playing music, entertaining, 'doing stuff' in the community etc.. That's communitarianism.

But yes - neoliberalism does require the 'breakdown of the community' in the classical sense. They would be happy if we were replaced with docile, human drones that work, consume, and don't have opinions.

Don't think for a moment all unions were good. A good selection were militant trouble makers thinking little of the good of their members. The miners in the UK came firmly in that category.

The Air Traffic union in the US seems, from this side of the Atlantic, much less clear cut. They seemed to be a middle class, white collar union. Reagan supported them during campaign, then after election crucified them.

Nonetheless both cases were the start of the neoliberal changes and the neutering of unions good, bad and indifferent.

I should have made myself clearer, I meant personal responsibility and choice as political catch phrase. It was the well worn 1980s selling point and justification of many of the changes and privatisations. Many of them in areas that were generally accepted as having a place in society, such as social housing etc. Which is not at all the same as real personal responsibility and civic duty.

My own parents did similar - neither of them talked about it much or felt any need to show anyone what good they were doing. They quietly did it as part of their beliefs, contributing to the community.

It's highly unlikely you could have been banned for just talking of neoliberalism. HN does seem to have a hair trigger for shadow banning newer accounts, meaning you have to use the self-serve unban link or occasionally mail them.

If you are criticising neoliberalism, depending on the conversation and thread, it's distinctly possible you may be downvoted to oblivion. That's a different, and disappointing, thing. :)

Examples requested.

And this is why the West is in decline. Modern society is based on the specialization of its individuals to perform tasks more efficiently and that in doing so, society as a hole benefits from this.

For me, it’s everything I dream of and yearn for. I will work for it until the day i die whether you join me or not. We have built a trash pile and treat each accordingly. Libraries are little pieces of harmony. When they close, I will go with them.

Library: A library is an asset to a community.

Company: A community is an asset to a company.

I don't the general populous' stance on companies having their data comes from a lack of civic duty. I think it's much more of a slow boil situation.

Cell phones happened and Facebook happened and everyone was like "Hell yeah this is awesome!". Later on, it became clear that all these companies were offering services were slurping up all kinds of information about us that given the choice we probably would say no to.

But when the cost of gaining back that privacy is giving up all these conveniences we've come to base our lives around, it becomes a pretty tough sacrifice to make.

This is a very important point. Libraries do more than just lend books. They are institutions that preserve and promote knowledge and have certain values "built in". They also often serve as local community centers of sorts. Having cheap books available in Kindle store does not fully replace functionality of a library.

A newspaper interviewed a local librarian. The interviewer pointed out a lot of people use the free wifi from the parking lot after hours, and asked if that was a problem.

"That's the whole point."

I've conducted many interviews from such parking lots. I would completely use the library more if they didn't block non-443 ports (though it's understandable that they do).

Yeah, the guy who wrote the original article(that this piece responds to) had obviously never set foot in a library, because he still thinks of them as repositories of books. That's a function but it's not the main function.

When I lived in a semi-rural area as a teenager the library was one of the few places me and my geeky friends could congregate for hours. They would let us reserve meeting rooms so we could play games together. If that library hadn't been there we would have had no third place.

Not to mention that libraries have curated collections, which unlike the Kindle store are not filled with bot-generated scammer garbage: http://davidgaughran.com/2017/06/03/amazon-has-a-fake-book-p...

> They also often serve as local community centers of sorts.

The public libraries in Seattle are an amazing thing. My wife goes to "kids play time" with our ten month old son at a couple of different libraries every week. And we can also bring him in to the kids play area any time and take the kids area books on the honor system. It's a really great way to interact with other kids until we start using day care or he gets to preschool age. And it gives my wife a chance to meet other parents and get a break.

The Capitol Hill branch of Seattle Public Libraries was the first Library I had been to in probably 20 years and I fell in love with the entire system. It made me read much more than I was in the past and the free events and learning they have are amazing. It is an enormous benefit to the citizens of the city, as well as the low income/poor who can charge their cell phones or use the internet so they can keep up with potential employers who may call them or send them emails, as well as look for jobs or complete online applications (as well as many more things).

They also provide a free subscription to Lynda with your library card.

Cool! Didn't know about Lynda.

You can also get free tickets to a lot of local museums: https://www.spl.org/programs-and-services/arts-and-culture/m...

If you haven't checked out the Living Computer Museum down in SoDo, it's an absolute MUST. SPL provides free tickets to it :)

I used to go to Bellevue Library every single weekend because my wife used to work around there. Just being able to randomly fall upon an old book was great. The atmosphere, a sense of community, a nice park besides. A library is a lot more than a collection of books.

I'm so damn glad King county does a good job maintaining the community libraries.

Agreed - besides obviously checking out books, my kids (8 & 10) do a range of activities (all free to attend) at our local library - they’ve done a creative writing workshop, a science workshop, an arts & crafts session, attended a biodiversity talk and will shortly do a couple of sessions to make a stop motion animation - and that’s just in the past two months. They also often see class mates there, which adds to the social aspect of development outside of a school context.

They serve as community centers 100%. Storytelling nights, after-school clubs, classes, dances, voter registration and voting booths... I am sure I am only grazing the surface of how libraries operate as community centers.

> librarians (at least in that system) deliberately avoided keeping long term records of what people are reading, to safeguard privacy rights.

Are you sure that's true? I mean, my local library (like most, I'm sure) has a fully digital checkout log which keeps a pretty decent amount of state for active records.

A pretty reasonable architecture, given the size (small) of the system, would simply keep this data around for as long as needed. Sure, they might not be particularly diligent about backups and preservation for stale/useless data. And no, they probably aren't exploiting it to sell you ads.

But I'd bet anything that they aren't deliberately purging old data. They probably have it all sitting around somewhere, because frankly that's the obvious implementation choice. Designing systems to affirmatively delete stuff (and not break in crazy ways) is actually fairly hard, and libraries aren't given to elaborate engineering.

I'm willing to bet that the quote you got from the librarian was aspirational: she doesn't keep data, she cares about privacy, and she hopes and expects that the people who wrote the backend do too. My intuition says otherwise.

The American Library Association specifically discourages the behavior of your local library:


> For example, if the LMS offers the ability to save the checkout history, this should be an opt-in feature not turned on as a default.

The policy also recommends libraries minimize collection of data in general, use HTTPS whenever possible, and maintain a warrant canary.

See also: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/privacy/FAQ

Checkout records are going to vary from library to library depending on which software package they are using as their ILS (“integrated library system”) and how that software package is configured. My library for example (the one I work at, not my home library) has no way of knowing the checkout history of any given item except for 1) who has that item out now, if it is checked out and 2) who had it out last. In our case the database is hosted remotely by our software vendor, so we really couldn’t get at checkout data other than those two points above as that is all that displays in the staff side client, and we don’t have any servers with patron data onsite.

I just checked my own library login, and it looks like they keep 18 months of checkout history and then purge it (or at least it is no longer available to me after that point, which means it is no longer available to the librarian because we share the same interface).

Yes, librarians deliberately destroy records to make sure they are not used: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/13/us-library-r...

But that's only for ILLs. CUNY's collections aren't that big to begin with ILLs are even fewer, especially in big cities with large public libraries like the NYPL, BKPL.

I worked at a much larger library system in the same city and I know for the fact that most do need to keep such transactions for years, at least for tracking and billing patrons for books lost or never returned. After another few years, they sell their overdues to (debt) collection agencies for a few pennies on the dollar.

Privacy is such an ubiquitous concern for librarians that most ILS software offers automated, time-based purging. Set it up once and it just happens without any staff intervention.

n.b. My company creates and manages library software.

This is probably not true at most libraries. I used to work at one of the largest library systems in the country and they had patrons' checkout logs for at least a full-decade (in a poorly designed, insecure database system, now outsourced to a managed provider at a great cost $1M+ per year). I also don't believe they had patrons' privacy or data security as their priority -- most libraries simply never had the kind of technical competence to protect such data.

Libraries are public institutions funded by tax payers and mainly employ civil servants and government employees. It would be terribly ironic if a public institution did not abide by the law or respect your rights. Not to mention they do not exist for profit.


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News?

It wasn't that long ago that every library book had a card, and when you checked something out, your name, or a stamp/imprint of your library card number was placed on that card, when you checked the book back in, the card would be removed from a file, placed back in the book, and the book re-shelved- making it trivial to match to the person... now, you would have to look in each book and see who had checked it out, but still not very private.

This is just nostalgia at play. When you borrow a book your name goes on the slip with a timestamp. The slip is reused until its full and then its thrown away. If the slip never got full it would most likely never be replaced. Anyone who checked out the book could read the slip.

Policies haven't gotten much worse. The ease of data aggregation has simply gotten much better.

I haven't been to a library in 30 years or so but it used to be that the list of people who borrowed the book were written in a piece of paper in the book itself.

So yes, I can imagine when it was normal to be able to know who borrowed a book last.

This was also common in Japan as it's important to the plot of the movie "Whispers of the Heart" (English title)

In my city, the libraries post signs that, immediately after you return a book and pay any late fees, they destroy all records that you ever checked any books out.

I think it's been longer that 30 years; the only thing I remember on the check-out slip was the due date.

Which was fascinating: "Wow, no one has checked this out in a decade!"

> Could be that I'm from an older generation, but there was a time when people considered the idea of an institution having a long and complete list of everything you've read more than creepy, it was terrifying.

I think younger people are just in general more relaxed about privacy.

Total agreement. Libraries are a public good. Any disruption is going to be at least partial privatization. If it's going to remain free for the end user and not funded from public dollars, the public just became the product (to harp on that meme).

The more time goes on, the more I think we need to nationalize libraries beyond just the ones already owned by the federal government. In the digital age, the framework that is a local library makes less sense than there being a place to pull audiobooks/ebooks from an organization funded through the national endowment for the humanities.

Oh well, we live in a world where people willingly and happily give all their privacy to a private entity just for the privilege to take a cab. So the future is grim.

Never mind that there's an app that combines social media and...a payment service.

I would say using Venmo is different but the idea that a social network could be built around a p2p payment service works surprisingly better than it has any right to.


It's the idea that P2P payments are PUBLIC BY DEFAULT on "social media" platform and what that says about people's idea of what privacy is.

I don't disagree but at the same time it's one setting away to make them all private forever. It could be much worse.

> Can you imagine Netflix or Amazon, Google or Facebook behaving this way? Could be that I'm from an older generation, but there was a time when people considered the idea of an institution having a long and complete list of everything you've read more than creepy, it was terrifying.

Wasn't that more or less part of the plot of either SE7EN or Along Came a Spider (or maybe some other late-90s procedural thriller)? tl;dr they tracked down the suspect because the NSA or FBI was secretly keeping records of library checkouts.

It was Se7en and I guess also Conspiracy Theory.

While I appreciate your idea, I think you should also see the other benefits people have from Netflix/Amazon like model.

Library's true customer is the reader and hence everything is designed to suite the reader. For Amazon the true customer (!) is the shareholder whose value needs to be maximised. That is why Amazon has astronomical market value where as libraries mostly depend on charity or taxpayer funding. There is a good reason why Amazon can offer you millions of products but a local library will have only thousands of books. There is a good reason why Netflix can afford to produce so much original content for your tastes but the libraries do not produce anything original. The factors you are citing are correlated.

There is no value judgement here, but I think we need to appreciate the good both kind of organisations are doing to the world and they are not comparable.

If you think libraries are useless, try going to one a few times and talk to the staff about the services they provide. I'd personally say libraries are one of the government organizations with the best return on investment, because education and information are almost invaluable. I'll fight a war over libraries, no joke.

Last time I read a library-related discussion on HN, one of the sentiments expressed was basically ”I download ebooks, why would anyone need a library?” Boggles the mind. There was also a bizarre comment about libraries being only funded to keep a bunch of otherwise useless civil servants employed.

Let me steelman that argument.

Libraries were invented because information was only available on printed (or hand written) books, which were very expensive and scarce resources.

Now information can be available almost literally for free and instantly, to anywhere. If the institutional inertia of libraries didn't exist today, would they really be invented as they are?


We live in a fundamentally broken society today where rent-seekers want to break it further. No libraries would never be invented today. People like Carnegie who thrived in the industrial revolution recognized that and understood that education and social evolution was the path to prosperity and peace. When he studied recent history in his day, he probably pondered the decades of chaos and suffering kicked off by the French Revolution.

The modern plutocrat is mostly a strictly transactional affair, who has dumbed business down to resource extraction.

I became involved in my city's library system a few years ago when they did a branch expansion that I was initially opposed to for money reasons. I flipped and am now a library fan.

I discovered that it's an environment for learning, social interaction and collaboration. You have programs for little kids where they interact with books for the first time. The elementary kids start collaborating on computers and doing other programs. Older kids are building robots, reading manga, having fun in a meaningful, beneficial way.

The failed promise of the internet that I bought into in the 90s is that access to information will set you free. Yet we find ourselves dominated by propaganda via things like Facebook -- Internet is the new TV. The reality is that information in the context of a meaningful environment is the magic. The library adds value and context to information. It's a situation where the value is greater than the sum of the parts.

> No libraries would never be invented today.

Would you count Project Gutenberg, archive.org or SciHub? I'd also add Bittorrent and other p2p networks as media libraries. I bet there is plenty of lesser known archives like http://web.textfiles.com/

Why are you on HN? All of the information, all of the facts discussed here can be found places like Gutenberg, SciHub and archive.org.

But what you get on HN is curation, and a community of like minded people. The library is that in physical form, available to everyone.

More importantly, the library doesn't have an access fee. Computers and phones cost a nonzero amount of money; decent internet access, if available, can also be pretty pricey for people living check to check or worse.

> No libraries would never be invented today.

They did reinvent them, but in the spirit of the times they're mostly located in neighborhoods that are already more educated, more wealthy, and already have public library access.


Is the idea that “book boxes are replacements for libraries” widely held?

I have one and that idea seems insane to me. The book box to me is a nice landscaping feature, a place to drink coffee with my neighbors, a signal about my politics, a way for us to unload books & my attempt to get rad comics to school kids. I’d never correlate it to a public lending library.

Their messaging certainly doesn't discourage the behavior: https://littlefreelibrary.org/about/

In the face of funding declines for libraries, it also doesn't seem very ridiculous for someone to suggest. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/ameri...

Wait nothing about that Atlantic article suggests people are funding libraries less because of book boxes? I'd be shocked if there was a correlation there (I'm not at all shocked by the correlation with book boxes and affluent neighborhoods).

Also as an aside, if you are thinking about doing a book box there is no need to give the littlefreelibrary organization money. You can just put one up.

It becomes another quiver in the arguments of small-government zealots. Why do we need social services when good Christians donate to charity? Why do we need public transit when Lyft and Uber are here to save the day?

A more pertinent link: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/01/02/question-li...

> But Hale and Schmidt point to at least one place where Little Free Libraries are seen as a substitute for true public library services. When budget cuts caused the El Paso (Tex.) Public Library to implement a $50 annual fee for nonresidents to use the library system, the tiny town of nearby Vinton came up with a plan: five Little Free Libraries spread around the community. The town would build them, and keeping them stocked with books would be up to the people of Vinton themselves.

> When Detroit Public Library (DPL) closed its Gabriel Richard branch in 2011, 4th graders at a local elementary school installed a colorful painted bookcase and a sign reading “Outdoor Library” in front of the shuttered building. It was one of four libraries to close that year—two have since reopened, though only two to three days a week.

Again in both of those places the book boxes were reactions to changes in the library funding not causes.

I see the argument could be made. I’m wondering how often it is.

And I’d be shocked if it was ever made by people who are housing book boxes. Quite the opposite I’d bet they were generally strong proponents of public libraries.

> No libraries would never be invented today.

If libraries didn't already exist, I can't imagine the copyright lobby allowing them to be invented.

>If libraries didn't already exist, I can't imagine the copyright lobby allowing them to be invented.

Libraries legally own the material they lend out, and have the legal right to lend it. They exist because of copyright law, not in spite of it.

And if the "copyright lobby" (whatever that is) was so powerful, there are any number of things they could have stopped, like VCRs or photocopiers or even the internet itself.

I have to disagree that libraries wouldn't be invented today if they didn't already exist. Part of me feels that the trend of people moving back to the city is people seeking a greater desire to be a part of something greater than themselves and be able to participate in public life. It's more than simply an aversion to traffic.

Given that libraries are largely funded locally, should they not have existed, we would be seeking out the creation of more shared public spaces that don't require you to spend money to spend time there. These sorts of 3rd places are important, although I do agree that the modern plutocrat isn't the sort of person who is likely very safe when it comes to visiting these sorts of public spaces, and hence have an aversion to them.

Did you RTFA before you jumped into the comments? Here, let me give you a quote.

> Just this week, a woman stopped by our desk because she needed to be taught how to open a new tab in an internet browser. She returned a few minutes later and said, “Please write ‘stomach ache’ on this piece of paper for me. I don’t know to spell it.” The man waiting behind her had no idea how to open an internet browser to begin his first job search in years. I walked him through the process and helped him get to a job site. This was a few minutes of a 40-hour workweek.

> I can’t imagine where this woman and this man would go without the library. Would Amazon really be willing to help them with all of their needs free of charge?

Information is available “almost literally for free and instantly” to people who can afford a device that connects to the internet.

> Information is available “almost literally for free and instantly” to people who can afford a device that connects to the internet.

... and who have a sufficient working knowledge of how computers and the internet work in order to take advantage of that information.

In line with what you and others have said, what I've observed at the libraries I've been to is that the people who get the most value out of libraries are the people that would otherwise be left behind by technology. I don't think that's something we can or should dismiss out of hand just because I/we don't personally get a lot of value from them. That is, unless we want to develop an underclass of people shut out from the rest of society.


I can't think of any U.S. law enforcement agencies that have ever asserted (either as a primary or secondary mission) to take care of or otherwise manage the impoverished underclass. Can you cite any examples that you know of?

No, unless you are using "manage the underclass" as a euphemism for "protect us from crime, including that committed by subsets of the underclass". Because that is what I was referring to. Nothing more, nothing less.

The only downside of creating an underclass is when they commit crimes; but managing this downside is part of the police's job.

(n.b. income inequality isn't illegal; theft and murder, are.)

No, I do not think it a euphemism. The user you responded to (u/pandlet) gave no indication that his concern that “an underclass of people shut out from the rest of society” was related to fear that the poor committing crimes. You don’t think there’s reasons other than fear to be unhappy about the existence of a “shut out” underclass?

No. If I don't fear them, then they're of no consequence and I don't care about them.

Sounds like you fear for your physical safety if you immediately assumed u/pandler’s primary concern was crimes committed by a shut out underclass.

I'd add "...and know how to use it."

Immersed as we are in it, I think people forget that the internet is a skill. Finding things and filtering the results is the result of experience.

Free (except for the cost of bandwidth/internet access, including devices), instantly (unless internet service is poor or inconsistent or both), and anywhere (that has internet access), you mean.

There's nothing improved about the argument, it's just obfuscated better.

The internet, at least intermittently and slowly -which is enough for books, is more accessible than public libraries.

> The internet, at least intermittently and slowly -which is enough for books, is more accessible than public libraries.

No. The internet almost always costs the individual money to access, unlike public libraries. That means the internet is less accessible to low income people.

Also public libraries have evolved into one of the main ways that many people access the internet. It's foolish to advocate replacing public libraries with something that the public libraries actually provide for many of their patrons.

Not for everybody. I see a lot of poor and indigent people who are at the library using the desktops and loaner laptops to access the Internet.

Only if you ignore the cost of a device and service.

Compare internet to library:

Free: Transportation to go to your library (2x train ticket, or car + gas): minimum ~$5 / day so $60 a month, plus library card if not free

Instantly: ~30 minutes to go, 30 minutes to get back home, depending on where you live. Worst internet connection need a few seconds.

Anywhere: you have to physically go to the one library and hope you find the book you're looking for. Nowadays you have internet access pretty much anywhere.

I did research before the internet had all this content. I lived on the east coast, so it was possible for me to take a day trip to the LOC. there I could spent all day and a sackful of dimes to execute 4-5 cycles of following references before they shut down for the night. then carry my box full of photocopies with oddly clipped margins back to my office for digestion.

so sure, that sucked in comparison, but no one was monetizing my activity. i didn't have to struggle against a suggestion machine that had decided I was in a different field. no one was showing me advertisements.

no question that digitizing and indexing the worlds information has been a huge benefit, but there isn't any fundamental reason why we had to invite all these sleezy business people into our lives in exchange. they just latched onto a new thing, seeped into any available crack, and presented themselves as part of the package.

a post internet library would be global, noncommercial, unfettered access to as many resources possible (hi Brewster).

I agree with you about the tracking/monetization problem.

My first comment was just about cost and (spatial/temporal) availability, in response to the parent.

Depends on where you live, really.

The main city library is like a 10 minute walk -- though I don't like to walk so I ride my bike when I want to go up there. Costs me zero dollars to get there and library cards are free for everyone in the county.

Admittedly...I chose to live not in the suburbs so pretty much everything I need is a bike ride away.

Are you dense? You ignored all of their points.

A homeless person won't have an internet connection or a computer.

A poor person won't necessarily have a computer.

Internet in some rural areas is not just slow, but also spotty.

No need for name-calling on here please.

For the large majority of people (95%+), as per my last message, the library is not always preferable in terms of cost, distance and availability, that's all. There are reasons most people don't go. But for some, libraries are still relevant. Please notice that I never said the libraries are useless.

Even a poor rural person, usually working a lot and living far from a city center, might not have the time nor the financial resources to often go to the library.

Also, I've seen homeless people with a cheap tablet in NYC streets using the Link NYC hotspots [1] for free charging and WiFi.

[1] https://www.link.nyc/

I’ll go the other direction. Public libraries have large and networked collections, physical and digital, that they let you borrow for free. Why do we need to buy from Amazon and subscribe to Netflix when in theory the libraries could provide all that content?


You've been posting mostly inflammation here and we ban accounts that do that. Please stop.


Sure! Can you point out what's been inflammatory? I mostly try to keep it to conversational fidelity, so I can see how what I post can be interpreted as trolling.

This is not informative. This is pedantic.

I am sorry, I did not realize I had an obligation to constantly inform you about something. I will do my best in the future.

If libraries were invented today, that would be immediately killed by the copyright and retail lobbies.

It's funny to imagine publishers making the case against them- "You're gonna just let people borrow books for free!? How will I turn a profit?"

It's also kind of sad that this logic is so prevalent with regards to software, films, music, etc.

A: Libraries buy lots of books.

Children's books would not exist with libraries. You'd probably find that without the library most of the deeper catalog for publishers would not be viable.

At risk of "+1, yes, this," I was naively but genuinely surprised at how valuable library sales can be to books when I was researching that a couple years ago. For indie/small press, even a few hundred extra copies sold could be a substantial revenue bump -- and only a small fraction of libraries in the country buying just one copy of a book could do it.

(Also, I'm pretty sure publishers know this, and I don't think anyone of them have made serious arguments against libraries. It's digital media and its zero-cost reproduction that gives everyone fits.)

To pile on — think of the Amazon Kindle business model. You often pay more for instant gratification.

Even for popular books, it drives demand. You can wait 8 weeks to read the latest James Patterson, or buy it now. But would you buy the previous books in the series @ $20/ea?

They're not incompatible at all. Libraries aren't given any special provision when it comes to copyright. Physical copies of media are single transferable licenses -- whether it's a book, tape, CD, or DVD. And when libraries buy digital books they negotiate a license with certain number of seats where patrons check out a license when they download a book -- exactly how a lot of commercial software is licensed.

Well, with regards to software, films, music, etc, lots of people work on those. Those people need to feed their families.

Are you arguing that authors/editors/etc don't need to feed their families?

Our economic system is fundamentally broken, in that we need to give creators more financial support. Throwing our books into our current Intellectual Property mess isn't going to fix that, just like it hasn't really fixed that for other media for the past 20 years.

We need to bring non-library media closer towards the library model, rather than the reverse.

"Are you arguing that authors/editors/etc don't need to feed their families?"

Not in any sense of the word. I'm rebuking the post's idea that those things shouldn't be focused on making money.

And authors don't?

When something becomes abundant how to manage that resource becomes more important not less. Otherwise you end up with the resource curse.

When information is free having somewhere to study that information, that isn't your shared apartment, becomes more important. Having somewhere to meet people to talk about the information, that isn't a crowded coffee shop, becomes more important. Having the expertise to find the right information, that isn't necessarily blog posts nor research pappers, again becomes more important.

Libraries are only useless to the extent that they haven't expanded. But in line with the resource curse it ends up being more lucrative to work in information technology rather than with information technology. So while many other industries are struggling the large tech companies are making bank by being part of the problem.

Information in itself is almost worthless. Knowledge is valuable. Libraries act as curated collections of knowledge. Sure, also entertainment but at least they are classified to distinct categories. The internet is chock full of information and almost all of it is garbage.

The counter-argument is that libraries provide vital services to communities as public facilities in addition to simply being collections of shared knowledge, and that physical space should not be so easily replaced by the virtual.

True, but I think of that as institutional inertia.

Libraries were formed to share very expensive printed books in a common space. Over the centuries, books and information became very cheap, and now mostly the common space remains.

It certainly has real value. Do we need to keep the pretense of the books as the real purpose for it?

As far as I'm aware, the only people pretending books are libraries' only real purpose are the people here arguing that the Internet should take their place. Libraries themselves certainly aren't pretending to be only about books; they're just physically built around the stacks because books take up so much more space than the other things they provide.

That said, access to books is still a vital service. Not all printed publications are cheap, and not all books can be replaced by Wikipedia (even if you completely ignore fiction, as that argument does by necessity).

> It certainly has real value. Do we need to keep ... books as the real purpose ...

Max Headroom, episode ABC.1.3 "Body Bags":

    Paula: "...what's that?"
    Blank Reg: "It's a book!"
    Paula: "Well, what's that?"
    Blank Reg: "It's a non-volatile storage medium.
                It's very rare. You should have one."

Books still work when the power goes out or the copyright cartels revoke - intentionally or not - your ereader's license. Widespread preservation of knowledge on non-volatile media is protection against future problems.

Libraries also have people who can help you find the particular information you want, or to understand it because of knowledge or language deficits. They offer a relatively safe and distraction-free place to absorb that information, which many lower-income people might not have at hime. They have works which haven't been made available online and probably never will be, often because of copyright. The list just goes on and on. Maybe the information you want and can use is available "almost literally free and instantly" but not everyone's as super privileged as you.

Free so long as you can afford the net and are happy to abandon your privacy then call it "free". If you're one of the 8% in the US without a bank, or 11% without internet, what now?

Libraries also gave net access for those without.

They probably wouldn't be invented as they are, but given those groups without access I would want them to be.

If banking and internet services are so vital that we justify the existence of libraries because they provide access to them, then the Government should be responsible for providing to it's citizens anyways.

It's possible that libraries are the best way to do that but it's also possible that there are other, better ways.

As they exist today: free access to computers and internet. Information is only literally free and instant if you have access to the internet, which isn't gauranteed especially for low income people.

In many places, libraries provide free access to computers and the Internet, especially for but in no way limited to low income people. Libraries adapt to the times, you know.

And they still have books.

For a librarian's salary, one could subsidize lots of internet for low income people.

Have you looked at public librarian salaries lately? A senior-- senior, mind you-- librarian at the Colorado Springs Library District is being offered $25/hr. I don't recall for certain by now, but I'm pretty sure I made more than that my very first year out of school and I'm practically decrepit by this site's standards.

For contrast, a cop makes 2-3 times that much per hour for directing traffic.

How many Netflix subscriptions could we subsidize if they were just replaced with a sign? /s

Libraries in the US serve an enormous homeless population. "Subsidizing internet for low income people" is easy to say but does not address the practicalities of providing internet to the homeless, for instance.

Or we could take the intelligent route and use taxes to pay for both.

Librarians do much more than look for and put books on shelves.

I wonder how many people saying, "We don't need libraries and librarians" don't get this. Probably all of them. Maybe if they were to shadow a librarian for a couple days, they'd be on the same page.

Hell, all I had to do was overhear a few conversations between librarians and customers to dispel the misplaced idea I had that librarians were an archaic form of Google's search product.

It's embarrassing to admit that, but it's the truth.

Now information can be available almost literally for free and instantly

Brilliant. I foolishly bought some books recently. Where can I read them for free instead, apart from the library? Is this going to involve piracy? I'm not sure I'm really into that.

It baffles me that people seem to regard ”information” as something fungible, as if blogs and social media and clickbait ”news” could magically substitute for a specific novel or textbook I’d like to read.

Agreed, Library Genesis and IPFS simply haven't advanced that far.

I'd love to see digital archives of all the books ever written, but we're not there yet.

Nevermind the fact that reading a physical book avoids much of the issues with blue light that screens produce

As mentioned earlier, libraries now serve many other purposes. Delivery of information is not the only one. I recently used my library in an extreme heat wave as a way to get free air conditioning. It had the side benefit of giving my kid a place to practice walking, with many low shelves to use as handholds, and she got to chew on toys and books with other children and swap germs. And then I got to leave, and not bring any of that crap home except the germs, the kid, and a few good books.

Well, can you say how they actually are invented today?

Please be aware of the distinction between public libraries (as is the general semantic implication when speaking of ”libraries”) serving the whole of the public; national libraries serving the whole of the public, creating systems for the retrieval of information and preserving the cultural memory of the world together with museums and archives; school libraries serving childrens’ and youths’ education; research libraries serving students, scientists, researchers and professionals in, for example, law, medicine, health sciences, industrial research on conducting research, referencing and preserving research data; hospital libraries serving the physically and mentally ill and disabled; and special libraries serving domain-based interests of for example artists, industry professionals and cultural institutions.

Also be aware of the fact that Library and Information Science as a scientific multidisciplinary field researches topics such as information theory, machine learning, cultural heritage, sociology, linguistics, comparative literature, knowledge organization, information retrieval, computer science, pedagogy, critical theory, didactics.

I also suggest a systematic literature study on the term ”information literacy”.

At least in LA books are only a small part of what the libraries do. They offer free internet, law workshops, language classes, access to 3D printers and a lot more.

They are really community centers and in my view well worth it.

I'd be very curious where you get free computers, free electricity, and free WiFi. Plus shelter from the environment.

Oh. Right. That'd be the library.

And the steelman is a bit weak in its limbs - you could certainly make the argument that the point of original libraries wasn't the scarcity issue, but the discoverability issue. ("Just travel to Alexandria" is almost certainly not significantly cheaper than paying a scribe to create a copy)

We could also argue that they're the precursors of modern universities, because they offered a central place for scholars to gather.

Both - building a community, and making knowledge more discoverable - are still major purposes for today's libraries. (If you thought searching the Internet for info is helpful, try a librarian)

Even if information is free and infinite-- perhaps especially in this situation-- there's value in curation and expert research guidance.

In a different timeline, libraries might not be buildings full of books, but there'd still be a purpose for librarians.

I think it might be a net benefit if we rename libraries "community resource centers". The argument against the old, narrow function of libraries falls apart if they're named in a way that reflects their current purpose.

Downloading e-books etc. at a minimum requires a device and knowledge of how to use that device. Libraries are intended to provide information to everyone.

>”I download ebooks, why would anyone need a library?”

Pretty much the tech version of

"I am a W.A.S.P., I pretend everybody that has different economic, social, and cultural differences from me doesn't exist"

This comment breaks the HN guidelines, which ask you not to bring extraneous flamebait into threads.

If you could please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow the rules when posting here, we'd appreciate it.

Edit: looks like you've done this more than once and also posted a bunch of unsubstantive comments. Could you please fix this? We're trying for somewhat better here.

Except library usage correlates with the opposite of what you're suggesting: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/09/15/who-uses-libraries-and.... Different ethnicities use libraries at almost exactly the same rate, and lower-income and lower-education households use libraries less than higher-income, higher-education households.

Library use is declining across the board, but especially quickly in rural communities, among those with less than a high school degree, and among African americans.

That’s not really a counterargument to what the OP said. Most likely Internet usage is also lower in lower-income, less educated demographics, and the Internet and other media content that is consumed is of lower quality (tabloids, Fox News, etc.) It’s almost tautological that less well educated are, well, less well educated. And low-income-but-employed people often can’t afford to spend time consuming quality media, free or not, because leisure time itself is a luxury. There are a bunch of deep-rooted systemic problems here that the ”tech will solve everything” people conveniently ignore.

or, more typically in my experience, (and somewhat more worryingly), "I don't understand that people with economic, social, and cultural differences exist".

To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, it's like the traveling Briton visiting Afghanistan. "Sausage, egg and chips please... you do speak English, you just don't try!"

They’re not wrong when they say that the greatest privilege of all is the blissful lack of awareness of your privileges.

In case anyone else was confused like me: W.A.S.P. is White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Anglo-Saxon_Protestant)

Fun fact about WASPs: back in the day, they used to hang signs that said "No Irish Need Apply". Even though Irish people are quite genetically similar to English people, and indeed today in America most bloodlines are mixed, the English still felt a need to classify Irish and Italians as "Ethnic White".

Except statistically W.A.S.P.s are no less likely to use a library: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/09/15/libraries-at-the-cross...

Many libraries (including San Francisco, where I am a member) even offer e-books and audiobooks. I switched to reading almost exclusively on my kindle, but I still get the vast majority of books for free from the library.

My wife's father has been checking out audiobooks from the library to keep his mind sharp even though his eyesight isn't what it used to be.

I’d like to reiterate your last point.

Many libraries loan out ebooks!!! It’s very convenient and free.

The answer is because many libraries provide not only free access to ebooks, but you can also often time get actual e-readers on loan from them.

I download ebooks from my library.

> ”I download ebooks, why would anyone need a library?”

The "I'm alright jack" mentality

Let's phrase it another way. If all you care about is information access you could replace libraries with country-wide digital catalogue of media and software, a program to subsidize the cost of computing devices and internet for people with low-income, and some public internet cafes.

This doesn't at all capture what libraries actually do but the argument that we could be doing information access better and cheaper really just comes down to how the numbers come out.

I visited Vancouver's public library last year. The library offers wifi, internet computers, professional computers exclusively for stuff like Photoshop, recording booths, musical instruments, organizes weekly events and, of course, books.

If all you have is this library and time, you could pick up an instrument, learn how to play it, record a weekly podcast/vlog with your progress, edit the video, upload it to Youtube, and design your own artwork. Don't know how to do one of these things? Go pick up a book on it. You can launch an entire career for almost nothing. I'd like to see Amazon do that.

I bring this specific case because, to me, it's an example of all a public library can be when we consider them a public service rather than a burden.

Yes, this is exactly how I feel.

Libraries and the services they offer can be an instrument for people to bring themselves out of poverty and for people to be able to grow and advance through education.

I personally think of it like this - if I didn't have a job, where would I "go to work every day"? If I didn't have an income, and I couldn't get a job, I could go to a library. And a library could be the key to me finding a job, or work, or making it for myself.

A library is a positive place to go with something to do, when otherwise, maybe I would have nothing, which can help me.

My personal desire is not to disrupt libraries, but instead the opposite - to actually extend what they do until it gives even more people a chance to start their own business, find their own careers, or simply learn and educate themselves for work or pleasure.

Lest we forget, that library science is the foundation of information science!

My oldest daughter (26 years old) works at a library part-time in circulation. In December she will get her masters and be able to become a librarian. Libraries are more than books, they are maker spaces, community spaces, learning pods and so much more.

We are bullish on libraries. However, libraries have to keep updating their services and offer community engagement services.

It's a beautiful profession too. There's several librarians in my family across 3 generations, and they all love their work. I think it's something about helping people, in a calm, welcoming environment, the work is a real good fit for bookish but social people.

How does one become a librarian? I've thought about it my whole life. It almost feels like the vocation I've been called to but never realized.

A masters in Library Science or equivalent is almost always required. Typically (from my casual research) people are hired that have other prior library experience and can show a lifelong love of books. New masters degrees (master in information science at Fla State for example) have an ability to have more exposure to UI design, media creation, digital metadata and more.

That's interesting. I have exactly that degree (MIS), yet, the perception of my education has been much more technical / information systems. Most of the library folk I've spoken to said that information science today really isn't the same as library science and sort of discounted it. I'm not sure if that's some kind of bias that people like me are seen as being overqualified to be a librarian and therefore not considered. Or if the skill-sets really have diverged and these are no longer the same thing (library vs. information science).

Gosh, I'm sorry to hear that. I hope that does not work that way for my daughter. Her UG college library staff recommended Fla State for the MIS which used to be a MLS degree. She hopes to move from local government libraries to academic in the next several years.

I hope you find the employment you are looking for. And I hope she does as well.

Could be very dependent on the particular program. I had a background in hands on programming and building systems, so that might also be part of the bias.

Wish her all the best! :)

>Realistically, and I mean no disrespect to the profession or your daughter who is studying it, but why is a degree required here? And a master's at that? What exactly do they do that requires knowledge?

>My assumption is they shelve books, maybe make recommendations, and hold weekly community events? And nowadays, help with social services like helping people create resumes and what not?

Replying to mehblahwhatevs comment which does not have a reply link

No offense taken. The ALA (American Library Association) and libraries have deemed a Master required for as long as I can remember. In community settings, a Masters may not provide that much benefit, other than in getting the job. In academic settings, a Masters helps with taxonomy and other data classification issues and more. Reference librarians face sometimes challenging research problems. Digital librarians need exposure and some practice to tools and techniques. While a Masters does not guarantee that exposure and also that experience can be gained without schooling, libraries seem to like (as in require) the stamp of approval.

It's hard to make a proper living as a librarian when you have to get what is typically a liberal arts UG degree ($$) and a Masters ($$) for jobs that start at the low to mid $40s (US). Crazy huh? My daughter is lucky, her UG degree was 100% free other than room and board, she got in-state tuition for her Masters (VA to FLA because of an agreement that schools have) and earned some significant scholarship $ at Fla State. So her ROI will be more favorable than many other newly minted librarians.

Realistically, and I mean no disrespect to the profession or your daughter who is studying it, but why is a degree required here? And a master's at that?

What exactly do they do that requires knowledge?

My assumption is they shelve books, maybe make recommendations, and hold weekly community events? And nowadays, help with social services like helping people create resumes and what not?

Now the reply button shows up. See my comments above.

> I'll fight a war over libraries, no joke.

No kidding. One of the best(worst) ways wars were waged in the past were to burn the libraries. Without knowledge, a civilization quickly suffocates.

I don't think many would argue against, lending knowledge and technology as a way to help poor countries, rather than just giving them raw cash.

I'll be honest and say I don't go to the library very often. But, I too will fight alongside you to protect libraries.

> because education and information are almost invaluable

Citation needed.

Can we cite third world nations and past human history? Or do you want a detailed list of every time that lack of education or information negatively affected individuals, regions, economies, or governments? The list would be several billion lines long and no human could possibly compile it. I'm sure r/AskHistorians could give you a list of some of the more entertaining examples if you're interested.

OP didn't just assert that education has a value, but that it is "almost invaluable." In this context, we're talking about the marginal returns from more education compared to the marginal costs. I'm asking for evidence that, for our society, the marginal benefit from more education exceeds the marginal cost.

Just in economic terms, the value of education is pretty clear:


The value in terms of other benefits (which save financially and in other, more difficult to measure ways) is also pretty clear:


That's the end of the free research I'll do to prove you wrong, because frankly, it's extremely obvious to me and everyone else here that you're a troll and education is valuable to society and has a positive return on investment. Use google yourself, do a thorough investigation, or you aren't worth a damn.

It also occurs to me that you don't understand the meaning of the word "invaluable". Here's help: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/invaluable

The BLS chart shows correlation, not causation. The question is not whether people with college degrees make more money, but whether college actually provided something that inherently increased their earning capacity (beyond the signaling value of college).

In Germany, the plurality of kids finish school at Grade 10. Does it make our economy better and more competitive that we make kids endure school through Grade 12, and now are increasingly pushing them to do it through Grade 16? Or is it just a zero sum game?

Education system != Education

Libraries allow for all types of education, not just institutionalized education. This helps facilitate learning. I shouldn't have to provide you any stats that show that gleaning wisdom from the past attempts of others can result in learning. And to cut through the web of semantic bullshit you are building here, learning is absolutely invaluable.

> shows correlation, not causation

Oh boy, I guess I'm the one who has to tell you that causality can't actually be proven with regards to real events ever, and that correlation and repeated experiments don't conclusively prove anything, they just give us some very good authority with which to make a claim. Correlation doesn't prove causation, but it can suggest it very strongly.

And again, here you are arguing about university education in a discussion about libraries.

If what you're looking for is a brief overview of education as development vs signaling I would point here:


It's written by an education economist as a response to Bryan Caplan's recent book and I think it'll help give a basic notion of what people in the field think (and some understanding of the research.)

I also think a definition of 'invaluable' as 'unable to be valued' instead of 'infinite value' is necessary here. I see in another comment you've commented that opportunities shouldn't be locked behind golden gates. Even those of us who think education has a high value agree with that!

Furthermore the original comment mentions education and information. Surely you agree that information has value. But if I sat down and tried to read one of your amicus briefs it'd probably be difficult for me to understand and I'd almost certainly miss important details. So how do you learn to understand them? Education.

>Does it make our economy better and more competitive that we make kids endure school through Grade 12, and now are increasingly pushing them to do it through Grade 16? Or is it just a zero sum game?

I'm gonna quote from that link above.

In fact, signaling almost certainly is productive. Sure, in the simplest signaling model where there's only one job, education signaling is zero-sum (if you get ahead it's at the expense of others). But as soon as you introduce multiple, different, occupations, that changes! For a basic example of this, say you have two occupations, each with room to employ half the population, "Simple" and "Complex." In Simple, everyone produces 1. In Complex, smarties (half the pop) produce 4 and everyone else produces 0. In extreme-land where there's no signaling, people are basically assigned to jobs randomly, everyone gets paid a wage of 1, and average production is .51 + .5(.54+.50) = 1.5.

Now introduce a completely wasteful, no-HC education signal. Ed is free for smarties, but it costs 3 for everyone else because they'd have to hire tutors. Now, employers know who the smarties are, and they all get Complex jobs. Others get Simple jobs. Production is .51 + .5(4) = 3. Smarties get a wage of 4 and others get a wage of 1. Others don't bother going to school - they'd get a wage bump of 3 but they'd spend it all on school anyway, so why bother?

Here, signaling alone doubled production (this approach is generally called "matching"). There's a reason we call signaling outcomes the "second-best" outcome in game theory, and not "the really awful outcome" - because it can increase efficiency over NOT having the signal.

All of which is to say that education is some part signaling, some part development and mostly made up of parts that are impossible to distinguish between the two with current research methods. But even considering that it's still not a zero-sum game. And all of this is only considering the narrow range of economistic thinking about education, once you go from the frame of educating workers to educating citizens it gets even more important (and even more tangled.)

>The BLS chart shows correlation, not causation.

I mean this is almost philosophical but how would you ever distinguish actual causation there? I got involved in a thread here the other day about distinguishing environmental from genetic effects and the basic answer there was that researchers currently aren't able to distinguish certain effects. I suspect the answer here is similar

What will you give in exchange for that evidence? A differing opinion with sufficient evidence to back it, or merely a less-wrongian meta-comment on styles of discussion?

The former is valuable. The latter is worse than uninteresting.

> Citation needed.

Ask a librarian.

Isn't this like asking a cosmetic surgeon if you need a nose job?

Is a librarian going to give me sound statistical research, or regurgitate shibboleths about the importance of education?

There's something ironic about a lawyer and university employee decrying education. Perhaps we should hit you over the head a few times until you forget everything you've ever learned and see how well the rest of your life turns out?

Nothing ironic about it. Lawyers in the U.S. typically need seven years of education (a four-year college degree, and a three-year JD). In the U.K., they manage with a 3 to 4-year LLB. In the U.S., everyone is required to go to high-school through grade 12. In Germany, 40% of people finish at grade 10. Both the U.K. and Germany manage to have world class economies with substantially less education than the U.S. The U.S. is over educationalized, and part of the reason is that people are inundated with pablum like "education is almost invaluable."

We were talking about the value of libraries and education, not university education.

I should come clean, I'm also a university employee. I do agree with you that we require too much formal education in many cases, and would add that the financial cost of university education in the US is outrageous. However, education, independent of universities, clearly has great value. Libraries in particular are very cheap; a single library can service many thousands of people with only a few employees.

Personally, I'd like to see industry embrace educational resources like Coursera, so we can move away from the expensive, often predatory university model that locks many fields behind golden gates.

I agree with you 100%. However, I also think that libraries are one way that you can compensate for a lack of a formal education, and as pointed out here, they often serve as a physical refuge from the world that is important for learning. For example, I think that libraries should stock more textbooks in addition to regular books. Textbooks are, typically, a) very expensive, and b) very hard to track down, especially if they are older.

Democracy can't function (at least not well) without an educated populace with access to information.

> try going to one

This is probably the best hint that they might not be so useful. The truth is most people never go to libraries.

The truth is, plenty of people go to libraries. By my local library's annual 2017 report, they have 625,000 active library card holders which collectively visited the library over 10 million times. [1]

This is one of the busiest library systems in the country, but shows that, at least within a local region, libraries may be heavily used.

[1] https://kcls.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2018/03/2017-Ye...

>The truth is most people never go to libraries

The truth is, most people don't go to _any_ single place. A lot of people frequent libraries, but they're probably not in the same socioeconomic place as you. When you wrote that last sentence, did you stop to think that maybe you don't really know what you're talking about?

Some users of this website might never go to libraries, but every time I go to our local library there are tons of people there.

Every Seattle Public Library branch I go to is packed full every single day they're open, especially people using their computers.

Most people don't go to hospitals either. At any given moment they're probably serving less than .5% of the population.

Almost everyone in Georgia has and uses a PINES card, and they're very happy about it.[1] The library here in Winder just re-opened after renovating to add and expand a bunch of non-book services and make room for all the people who go to it.

You know nothing about libraries. Go to one.

[1] https://www.georgialibraries.org/lib/statistics/

"Most people," huh? Got a source for that?

>>> try going to one

>> This is probably the best hint that they might not be so useful. The truth is most people never go to libraries.

> "Most people," huh? Got a source for that?

His real name must be "Most People" and what he said is entirely an anecdote describing his own personal habits and preferences.

My town just built a new library to replace the overcrowded old one a few years ago.

Just this week, they bought more property adjacent to the building because the new library is running out of parking.

That's a lot of people not going to a library. :)

> most people never go to libraries.

Perhaps, but most* people would benefit from doing so.

* >= 50%

Librarians sometime have to fight to defend their patrons privacy. Some might remember that in the wake of 9/11 there were thoughts that libraries could tip off law enforcement by tracking patrons reading preferences [1]. More recent treatment of the issues - and laws - about the privacy, or lack thereof, of library patrons is discussed in [2].

[1]. https://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/FBI-checking-out-Ame...

[2]. https://www.thenation.com/article/librarians-versus-nsa/

>in the wake of 9/11

Patron privacy has always been a bedrock of librarianship:


>Horn was jailed for nearly three weeks for contempt of court after refusing to testify for the prosecution in the 1972 conspiracy trial of the "Harrisburg Seven" anti-war activists.

Personally, I cannot fathom finding it preferable, or even acceptable, for Amazon to attempt to displace my local library; Much like bookstores, there's an essential soul to them any corporate invader like Amazon lacks utterly. I have fond memories of summers spent trawling the stacks, afternoons at a table with friends working on homework, DnD sessions in the private meeting rooms, and browsing old stock auctions for the eclectic. Libraries and bookstores are some of the few holdouts of the bibliophile, and remain the best place to get recommendations or spend a quiet evening immersed in a novel - even if Amazon could somehow fulfill each of the numerous services of a modern library, the idea of losing such a wonderful refuge to corporate uniformity is abhorrent.

Expenditure of public money on an endeavor should not be driven by romantic notions like whether something has "essential soul." Tax money is a scarce resource. Money that's spent on libraries is tax money that's not available to offer better lunches to needy children. That's the calculus.

Our county library system gets $22 million a year in tax dollars to service 2.4 million visits. Could Amazon meet those needs more cheaply? If so, that is a win.

According to politifact[1], education spending accounts for just 3% of all government spending (mandatory and discretionary). Using libraries as the target for cuts so that we can feed the school-children, and citing logic, is ignoring a lot of other much more 'logical' choices we can make first. Military spending (16%), or Health spending, which is a whopping 28% because of our horse-by-committee system here in the US. We spend $10,348 per person [2], while Canada spends $6,604 per person [3], and the next highest countries reportedly spend $3,000 less per person than we do [4].

[1] - https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/aug... [2] - https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Sta... [3] - https://www.cihi.ca/en/health-spending [4] - https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/health-costs-how-the-us-...

Education is a wonderful return on tax investment that a lot of these people claiming "we spend too much on it" don't take into account.

Just a quick example: How many of these libraries allow poor/low income/homeless to learn new skills or use their free internet to find jobs they wouldn't otherwise be able to find, in the end becoming tax paying contributing members of society?

They are an invaluable community resource that absolutely returns what goes into it.

> Education is a wonderful return on tax investment

Eh, I see both sides of the coin. Education is a great place to spend money. But American governments are really good at throwing money at things that look like education, but do very little in terms of measurable gains.

Case in point: my Cupertino public high school now has ten times the number of assistant principals as it did when I attended, but maybe 10% more students.

I definitely agree.

It's worth bearing in mind that as education is primarily a state responsibility, the vast majority of education spending is at state and local levels. Libraries also tend to be budgeted for mainly below the federal level and thus mostly don't show up in the federal budget. The Politifact article you have so wisely provided speaks solely and exclusively to the federal budget.

You're absolutely correct that education spending at the federal level is ridiculously low! There just might be an important qualifier to that.

That's a good point! Most of the funding does come from the lower levels of government, and is worth bearing in mind.

As a result, it might be possible that statements such as "Education accounts for 3% of all government spending" might benefit from the wonderful opportunity to become more congruent with salient facts.

This is wrong. Most education budget comes from your state or local (often in property) taxes, not from the federal gov't. According to US gov't spending, the fed spends $111B, but local and state about $1T in FY2018. (https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/us_education_spending_2...). NYC has the largest enrollment in the country for instance and spends whopping $24K per pupil.

Instead of worrying about whether school lunches or libraries should be prioritized let's focus on getting Amazon to pay its fair share in taxes so we can have both.

In Alameda county we recently had a vote to raise taxes to fund libraries and it passed overwhelmingly - 76% voted yes. The people here think they're valuable.

Amazon operated under a loss for so long they have a ton of carryover tax credits

The fact they are not paying taxes right now is not a bad thing. We've benefited from them pushing commerce for the last decade

It's a bad thing. They're actively avoiding tax and hiding profits. It's not accidental and it's not all because they are reinvesting. They have decided that they shouldn't contribute to things that don't directly benefit them while using the tax payer built infrastructure and lobying to keep it that way. They're using this tax advantage to kill competition.



Getting "Amazon to pay its fair share in taxes" is a pipe dream. The United States is, by design, a race-to-the-bottom internal free market. Any given county has to balance tax rates with attracting/keeping businesses in the county. So the tax money coming in is what it is. Especially if you're one of the 99.9% of counties outside the Silicon Valley halo. The policy question is how to spend that tax money, and what modes of analysis you use to justify your spending. Romantic notions are not a valid mode of analysis justifying expenditures of tax money.

I think your discounting of a romantic notion, or the concept of "essential soul" overlooks the fact that this correlates highly with how the service is perceived, and thus used, as well as how it is run, which is something you can see discussed various other places in the comments. Replacing the library, whose purpose is the best interests of its users, with a business, whose purpose is the best interests of its shareholders, and expecting it to go well, seems like the real pipe dream to me.

This is exactly right. There are two ingredients to making money: providing value and externalizing costs. When the value provided by an entity is essentially that it doesn't externalize costs -- that it's a sink for societal costs -- it doesn't make sense to commercialize it. We fund libraries because we want them to do unprofitable things.

The romantic notion of a functioning free market where the largest corporations aren't subsidized by the tax payer and lobbying the government for tax breaks? The romantic notion that corporations can be used to run social services more effectively?

Hey, if Amazon's going to start providing story time every Friday morning for kids across the country, homelessness services, adult day care, job training, maker spaces, meeting rooms for community groups, and free AC in a time of hotter summers across much of the US, I'd love to see it! Especially if I don't have to pay a cent more than I already do!

And my library system already works with the schools to provide free lunches to any child, anyone under 18, all summer long. So. Have your cheese stick and carrots and eat them too, then read a book :)

As someone that obviously is a proponent of free markets, you should also be aware of the fact that granting a monopoly to a 3rd party to offer government services isn't exactly a recipe for lower costs.

Put another way: when's the last time you saw Amazon, or a company like Amazon, do something out of the "goodness of their heart" ?

> Could Amazon meet those needs more cheaply? If so, that is a win.

I question your premise. There are other KPI's in this world besides numerical financial efficiency.

Wrong. Spending on libraries is not what is causing us to not be able to afford lunch for needy children.

"Could Amazon meet those needs more cheaply? If so, that is a win."

Only if those who currently use the library are able to use Amazon with the same regularity. Is Amazon providing children's summer reading programs? Is Amazon providing an air conditioned space during the summer heat waves and a heated space during winter cold snaps? Is Amazon actually helping you do research?

Librarians at public libraries offer assistance to poor people who don't know how to use a computer and apply for jobs. They don't just wrangle books.

Amazon couldn't and shouldn't do this type of work.

To bad Amazon bookstores are such a disappointment.

If you're going to have copyright and intellectual property, then you need libraries, period. You can't charge money for such goods and completely cut off access to those that can't afford them. You need a balance between compensating the hard work of the creators and making sure that all citizens have access to their own culture, especially children.

I also host a software development meetup at our local library, and I'm pretty sure that this is commonplace in the software meetup/user group world.

Even Thomas Sowell, a man that isn't fond of government ventures, frequently talks about how important libraries were to his intellectual development as a child.

> If you're going to have copyright and intellectual property, then you need libraries, period. You can't charge money for such goods and completely cut off access to those that can't afford them.

i strongly agree with this point. Freedom to educate onselfes without using institutionalised education is also VITAL for a democracy to function properly.

People seem to forget libraries are one of the only places one can gain new knowledge regardless of their economic state or status. (atleast, that is how it works in my country).

The Library is literally the last place I can go as a homeless person to be left alone... I've been Tweeting about just this recently.

The idea of Amazon taking over the library literally has tears in my eyes right now, in the middle of a public room: absolutely not.

I grew up with no resources, uneducated parents, and the library was my refuge and why I made it to a successful position the first time.

Take the Library away and I'm done for, and poor people never have a chance.

> We give them a running start in helping improve their lives.

Oh, you can check out books there, too.

I was never homeless but I was in such a bad place, mentally, when I was a teen and the library was my sanctuary. The 4th floor of the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. :') I have so many really fond memories of that place. Finally getting peace and quiet away from home. Having a place where I could read things and study. Or just hide away from everything and myself.

It makes me sad that there are people who want to get rid of these places. And what's worse is that they'd use exactly these reasons to get rid of them--the homeless and the recluses hang out there!

I'm sick of people going after things they don't use or understand that are valuable to people of lesser means while spewing the efficiencies of the free market.

Amazon only makes as much money as it does because it manages to avoid paying tax while utilizing the infrastructure built and maintained by collecting taxes.

This is a Prime example of why tech workers are despised outside of our bubble.

The bubble of tech workers is only equaled by the bubble of anti-tech activists. Most people don't have a stronger opinion about what you do than you do about whatever random thing they do.

I'm sure bankers believe the same thing about themselves.

Except there's survey data about this, and tech companies are the most respected and banks are the least: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/wells-fargo-...

Respecting Alphabet, Apple, and Amazon as companies is very different from respecting tech workers as a whole.

At least it’s some sort of data and not just a bunch of people in a bubble talking about how people perceive their bubble as though participating in the bubble doesn’t obviously influence how they view outside perception of the bubble.

Most people don't have a strong opinion about writing software. They do have strong opinions about how tech companies think they can bypass the law and "disrupt" things.

>Amazon only makes as much money as it does because it manages to avoid paying tax while utilizing the infrastructure built and maintained by collecting taxes.

It would still make a lot of money without all of that, though.

Amazon is top of mind when it comes to simplicity when shopping on the internet, period. You can't take that away from them with the torrent of anti-amazon memes you are clearly quoting from.

Our shitty governments have not successfully taxed them, and have been literally giving themselves up to Amazon for the "jobs they create" for the last decade. If you wanted Amazon to turn all of that down so they could make less money you are fucking kidding yourself.

> It would still make a lot of money without all of that, though.

Exactly. They can afford to pay taxes.

> Amazon to turn all of that down so they could make less money you are fucking kidding yourself.

Do you think the government's inabilty to effective claim taxes is in a vacuum and not driven by these large corporations? Amazon is not just innocently taking advantage of these loopholes because they happen to be there. The are actively fighting to keep them open and create more.

But hey, drones will solve the road use problem!

I would like to see a library drone delivery program. I can already order a book from almost any library in the state and have it delivered to the local one. Having a drone take it the rest of the way is the next logical step. That would also help with accessibility for people who can't get to the library.

Don't forget about their pursuit of the lowest possible standards of employment and working conditions.

As a kid prior to this Internet thing, I used to spend hours in the microfiche section reading interesting articles. If I had some money, I'd print a couple to take home and let the toxic chemical smell follow me back when I read them later.

Later on my little community library had cassette music to rent, so I enjoyed Paul Simon, the Manhattan Transfer and Alan Parsons.

The magazine racks had all the back issues of computer magazines I could never find.

I learned so much I would walk there on weekends and just spend an afternoon. I went back there a couple years ago and the microfiche area was now a bank of PCs and I didn't see the music section, but even though such things change, I'm glad my community library is still around for this generation to use. There's no means of discovery quite like browsing racks and finding some interesting journal or book you never knew existed.

The interesting thing on this thread is that while there is a general agreement libraries are high ROI government institutions and worth preserving, I don’t think anyone has defended the libraries role as a repository of books.

I personally I am glad that these neighborhood book warehouses exist, we personally take our kids to checkout books about monthly. But as an adult? Almost all my check outs are via inter library loan, and even then my county’s selection of books as limited. Need a recent copy of a “home construction costs” estimator? Good luck. Looking for an obscure 70s novel your dad told you about? They threw it away in the 80s.

A “national library” inter library loan system would be AMAZING. I know my college had something like that, but a single loan could cost $35-50. If a Seattle company (because, come on, Amazon isn’t Silicon Valley) could create a system that lowers that price to pennies per loan that disruption it would be a positive thing.

And then we’d be even further along path we are on now-that we need libraries, but do libraries need books?

Your experience mirrors mine exactly: we would go broke if we had to buy all of the picture books we checked out for our kids (sometimes on the order of 20/week). And for myself, the inter-library loan has been incredibly useful (especially for recent popular science titles).

I also appreciate being able to browse the small selection of fiction/non-fiction at our local branch. As with the bookstore, I often pick up things I wouldn't dream of searching for online and would therefore never have found.

I likewise wish my library system had more of a "long tail" stored somewhere.[1] Older books (no matter how popular and well-known they were at one time) are often simply not available.

I had practically written off libraries when I was in my 20s:

* The hours didn't mesh well with my work schedule

* I could afford to buy whatever I was interested in

* They never had the up-to-date programming books I wanted/needed

That has changed completely now that I'm a parent. And yes, I do think libraries need books. Communities need books. This stuff needs to be available, even if just in principle.

I was skeptical but surprised to find that my local library system has one copy each of:

* Introduction to Algorithms

* The Art of Computer Programming (vol 1)

* The Pragmatic Programmer

But the list of computer science classics they don't have is far larger. What they do have are a ton of of titles like _Teach Yourself Visual Basic.NET in 21 Days_ (real) and _Excel 14.2.32.rev13 for Boneheads_ (made up). No doubt it reflects what patrons are requesting...but I would personally wish for a collection that leans a little more heavily on the perennial classics.

[1] http://www.dlib.org/dlib/april06/dempsey/04dempsey.html

They might accept donations ;) I'm only half kidding - there's a local library in a place I used to live that has a very solid collection of epidemiology books thanks to downsizing my collection.

I think your loan idea has some merit, if instead of replacing libraries they acted as the delivery boy for libraries, free of charge and didn't take the tax right off, that would be a net win. Because my guess is the biggest cost for that interlibary loan was the shipping.

I think there is a growing sentiment of disdain of Silicon Valley and tech in general. And I can see why, and it is getting more and more justified.

As this article states, that arrogance to think that everything should/can be "disrupted". Usually the argument for disruption is always around another version of "making the world a better place", while it is very clear that the main motivation is to make a couple tech CEOs and tech workers even richer.

Ime, the “disrupted” products I’ve purchased were way over priced and fragile or worthless. Not just from amazon either. Oh and of course they come with daily spam.

Don’t forget they also phone home with too much data about you and try to second guess you. I’m about ready to throw away my “smart” thermostat and replace it with a model from the 1980s with a dial that stays where I set it and no unnecessary internet connectivity.

After trying a couple of the other "internet" thermostats (not Nest, though, that was too obviously creepy), I ended up springing for a Proliphix IMT550c, which I had to wait for a while to show up on eBay, since they stopped selling direct to consumers quite a while back.

It's not exactly open, but it's reasonably hackable, and works just fine with no direct access to the Internet. I've never tried the wifi model (replace the "c" in the model with a "w", IIRC), since avoiding wireless issues was part of what drove me to this model in the first place.

Security's almost completely absent, so you'd want to keep it on an isolated network with no direct Internet access, anyway.

This isn't an SV thing, This is the political mindset of those that oppose government services.

There’s sort of an assumption that the status quo is some how morally superior though. And you have to keep in mind that journalists are a part of that status quo. We have one group of elites and their spokespeople bitching about the newcomer.

Personally I’d take the tech douche over the academic or the bureaucrat.

There is a lot of value in introducing new valid useful ideas. This is what Silicon Valley did 20 years ago.

Now, the way a lot of people see it is as a set of elite smug overly-paid tech bros arrogantly trying to change every single unneeded part of life by "disrupting it". Which usually translates into yet another stupid useless app on your smartphone to order pizza.

You’re really throwing the baby out with the bath water here, though. And you have to focus on either straw men or specific anecdotes of “disruption” in order to paint this negative overall picture.

In the case of yet another app to order pizza...if nobody uses it or cares about it, then who gives a fuck?

“We should be hostile to people who are in the business of creating technology because they might make something nobody wants to buy” does not make sense.

Sure, maybe they’re smug and elitist idiots doing this stuff. But does it matter? And who is it that’s so interested in maligning tech as a whole? It’s their competitors in trying to accumulate wealth and power. Who, for what it’s worth, are even smugger and more elitist.

Overall, my opinion of this article is that it’s too narrowly focused and while it’s opinionated it’s also shallow. This is all typical of media now though. Ultimately this is part of a larger political context, and I think the underlying motivation for this articles and others like it is no different from Alexandra Pelosi’s “San Francisco 2.0”.

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