A Brief Word on Libraries

I find it strangely comforting that there has been so much public outcry over the budgetary cuts looming over Chicago Public Libraries.  Considering the economic state of the country, it seems that having a place that offers free classes, books, movies, music, and technological access would be an asset of increasing value.  Happily, Chicagoans seem to think so, too; however, while Rahm Emanuel has responded to the protestations, the reduced budget cuts are still severe and will result in over 180 jobs lost and truncated hours of operation.  An NPR piece this week, “Morning library-goers lose in budget plan,” included several testimonials on how these cuts will be felt throughout the city.

So, what exactly do I find comforting in all this?  People still love and need libraries.   In today’s digital climate, there is perpetual concern within the profession over how to keep libraries relevant. More and more libraries are making their holdings available online and trying to make their catalogues user-friendly with appealing interfaces; and while they aren’t to Google or Amazon standards yet, they are trying.  Most let you check out e-books and download audio books, but a growing number (with healthy budgets) loan out e-readers themselves.  I’ve put a list below of a few of these pioneers.  A few, including Chicago’s Oak Park Public Library, are even developing their own Apps.  I’ve only been in library school for a semester, but I’ve been impressed to see how much librarians care about getting people the information they need in the most suitable fashion, be it a print volume or electronic publication.

This brings me to my current issue with Amazon: the Kindle Lending Library.  This new service allows Kindle-owning, Amazon Prime members the privilege of “borrowing” an e-book a month for free.  The exclusivity and profit-seeking spirit behind this makes me furious.  It goes against everything a library should be.   Amazon exists for its own glory and only begrudgingly bows to demand asking for increased accessibility, if it bows at all.  It doesn’t care about the book industry or libraries. It’s the country club of the literary world, where if you’re not sporting the brand of e-reader.  Not only do you have to own a Kindle, you must pay the annual $79 Prime membership fee.  That they’ve usurped the name library for their money-grubbing purposes is fairly brazen, seeing as libraries are about freedom of information and equal access.

Oops!  There I go…

Yes, that’s a box of soap.  It’s the closest thing I had.

Savvy Libraries:

San Diego Public Library

Reddick Public Library District in Illinois

Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado

Bluford Library in North Carolina

Sacramento Public Library + Public Library Association Webinar

Calvert Library in Maryland


New York Public Library’s Biblion App for iPad.  Touted by Alexis Madrigal as, “one of the slickest media consumption experiences that I’ve seen for the iPad” in his article for The Atlantic.

Top 30 Library iPhone Apps: I’m linking you to the link in the Librarian in Black’s blog post rather than directly to Ellyssa Kroski’s list because TLB’s rant on Apple pairs so well with mine on Amazon.

Nation Library of Medicine: “Show Off Your Apps” winners

The British Library: Manuscript Images and Curator Videos


2 thoughts on “A Brief Word on Libraries

  1. It’s nice to be able to go to a real place, be it a bookstore, library or what have you, and browse among actual, physical objects. Physical objects can jump out at you and generally do things that bits of data cannot.

    On the other hand, things weren’t going in the right direction with the consolidation of independent bookstores into two, giant chains.

    For now Amazon seems to be leading the way, but there are other competitors close on their heels.

    Where do libraries fit into all this? I don’t know. I hope they find ways to continue to stay relevant in peoples lives. Just like the literary world is struggling now with the diminishment of the editing and literary agent gatekeepers, we’ll be in ever more of a jam, historically, if libraries and librarians lose their roles. It reminds me of a quote my father is known to say, “If you want to overthrow the government, first kill all the lawyers.” The same could be said, on a more long-term scale, of librarians.

    • As anyone who has read previous rants on my blog, it will come as no surprise when I say that I am right there with you on wanting to peruse physical shelves for physical books; however, I am a firm believer in the notion of “to-each-his-own.” I may frown at your Nook, but you have as much right to have that as I do my paperback–and maybe you’ll even get an e-book from your local bookseller. Amidst the trends toward globalization, mass digitization, online superstores, and sprawling social networks, there’s an increasing disconnect with one’s actual surroundings, whether this manifests itself as disappearing brick and mortar businesses or as fewer community services. It’s easy to forget to ask where products are coming from and what that convenience is really costing us. I hope more people do begin to ask these questions, however, before we’ve lost all our knowledgeable professionals and must look solely to the data clouds for advice.

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