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OP's statement is a strong argument against libraries.

We're spending good money on buildings full of books that inadvertently provide some really important social services. If you've got a bucket catching drips from your leaky roof, you need roof repairs, not a better bucket.

Here in England, we have an organisation that does exactly what the OP is espousing - guiding people who don't know where to turn for help. It's called the Citizens Advice Bureau, it has been in existence since 1939 and it now has 20,000 volunteers working out of 3200 locations. The CAB provides impartial and confidential advice and assistance on just about any issue someone might bring through the doors. Crucially, the CAB is an independent charity, so is trusted by marginalised people in a way that no government agency could be.

I'd like to say that I'm surprised there's no equivalent in the US, but sadly I'm not. I just don't think there are enough Americans prepared to give up big blocks of their time to help people who we'd all cross the street to avoid. I don't think any society that still uses the word "ghetto" in the present tense is capable of building such an organisation.

I understand that there are agencies sporadically providing similar services, but that lack of consistency is half the problem - if your brand isn't ubiquitous, you're failing your most needy clients. Now please, go out and prove me wrong. Build an absolutely kick-ass advice agency and rub my limey face in it. There are few things that would please me more.

You are flat-out wrong about Americans and their willingness to give up their time for charitable causes [1].

Interestingly I am also British and my impression from American friends and acquaintances was generally the opposite to yours: many of them had volunteered in the past or were involved with volunteering, which is something I came across less frequently in the UK (I emigrated 4 years ago so this may have changed, I suppose). This impression is borne out by the report above.

While the social issues faced in every country differ greatly for any number of reasons governed by history, demographics, etc. etc., there are enough similarities between the two countries as to make you sound very insensitive to the issues faced by many inhabitants of the UK.

To use one small example, the Gini co-efficient measure of income inequality (after taxes) for the UK is closer to that of the US than it is for almost every other European country [2]. I don't think anybody would dispute that there are a lot of poor and disadvantaged people in the UK.

The main difference between the two countries has less to do with the willingness of citizens to donate time or money to charitable causes than it does to do with the "social safety net", provided by the government. That's a whole different subject though.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/sep/08/charitab... [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equ...

Both figures are disingenuous. American charitability has to be seen through the prism of religiosity. An exceptionally high proportion of American donation and volunteering is done through church groups and the vast majority of that activity should not reasonably be considered 'giving'. A church-sanctioned rock band will be included in the statistics as an enormous number of volunteer hours. A church organisation is a tax-deductible charity, regardless of whether it achieves any charitable aims.

Britain's Gini coefficient is substantially distorted because of London. The Gini coefficient is a pure measure of income inequality, so is massively influenced by the presence of people with exceptionally high incomes. It tells you almost nothing about the gap between the middle class and the working class in a developed country. When your country includes a megalopolis that's the world's most popular playground for billionaires and tax haven for multinationals, that distorts the figures somewhat. Factor out a couple of London boroughs and our Gini index changes dramatically. Likewise, France's Gini index would plummet if they had a territorial claim to Monaco.

Having in lived in both countries, and being originally from neither, I can tell you that's not true. I obviously don't know what percentage of the population would be willing to volunteer their time, but I don't think the English are any more altruistic than Americans are.

Your mistake is you think a library is for providing books. In fact libraries stand for free public _information_. The distinction is critical and vastly important.

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