Are the days of public libraries drawing to an end?
The internet is in high gear. The downfall of the daily newspaper and the increased web surfing from mobile devices has embarked us all on a new path. A path that is devoid of ink and wood pulp. Paper is a fossil relic of days past. The actual physical holding of media material and the obscene waste of space housing this media is an insanity that fortunately is drawing to a close. The local library will soon be exhaling for the last time… it’s final breath.
At last count, there are 120,096 libraries in the United States. That’s an awful lot of space wasted on the storage of a material that can be reduced to a kilobyte. Imagine what could replace a library. Maybe a low cost health clinic. perhaps a community day care. The days of the Dewey decimal system are behind us. The library of today is just a money saver for the cheapos of the world who don’t want to pay for something. If anything is deemed valuable , it should be knowledge but unfortunately we have decided as a society that knowledge should be free, or well in this case accessed by anyone with a library card.
Books are nothing more than words formulated into ideas and printed with ink on wood pulp. Ink is by far one of the most precious commodities in the world. An ounce of ink can retail for as little as $13 to as much as $75. Which, per gallon, ranges from $1664.00 to an eye popping $9600.00. That’s almost $10,000 for the Rolls Royce of Ink. Now, let’s think about the cost of other liquids. So, for one gallon of the good ink, we could have bought 2,791 gallons of milk or 2,652 gallons of regular gasoline. Not fair to compare ink with the price of gold because one is a liquid and the other a solid, but you get my point. Ink is BLACK GOLD. And we waste it printing words on paper when we can all access any material on the world wide web and save all that ink. Converting to an electronic media standard would not only save ink, but we would save trees. Imagine that.
Imagine all the trees saved because we as a nation went paperless. 4 BILLION books were published last year in the US by approximately 75,000 book publishers. It took 30 million trees to make the paper found in those books. 30 million is about 1,150 times the amount of total trees found in Central Park in New York City. Many of these sourced trees are taken from endangered forests and cause devastating impact on the wildlife that relies on a healthy forest. The production impacts to the environment are frightening. The pulp and paper industry is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases among U.S. manufacturing industries. The paper industry contributes 9% of total carbon dioxide emissions from manufacturing. Those are seriously unhealthy numbers. There are other dangers and that’s in the disposal of paper. Paper makes up 26% of landfills. Degradation produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon dioxide. Landfills are the source of 34% of methane releases, the single largest source in the U.S. Imagine if we just got away from the written word, how much cleaner the world will be. This accounting doesn’t even look into the practices of the lumber industry and the negative impact of deforestation on the environment. We need to stop the insanity.
Technology has enabled man to evolve. From writing on cave walls with charcoal, to using a feather pen and an ink well to a laserjet printer. The evolution is apparent. Now, the advent of the internet, the evolution is upon us to find a new way and to accept that way with open arms. The days of hopping in a car, driving to the library and perusing the stacks of books are over, at least they should be. The waste in time and trouble, not even counting the gasoline used to make a trip when an easier choice is available is a fool’s errand. Why are we so reluctant to not embrace the age of electronic media? Why must we hold on so tightly to the bygone days of a bound book and a huge building to warehouse those books? Why do we feel the need for every community to have multiple libraries, some towns have one of each side of the town. 120k libraries in the U.S., divided by 50 states is 2400 libraries per state. C’mon now, that might have been ok in the 1980s but things have radically changed on how we collect and share information. In a small area of Central Long Island, New York, we can find many libraries. All redundantly offering the same products. We could stand in Massapequa, a small community on the south shore of Long Island and be amazed at the amount of libraries all in a 5 mile drive in any direction. We have the two libraries found in Massapequa, we have two libraries in Farmingdale, one library in Plainedge, one library in Seaford. thats less than 5 square miles and we have 6 libraries not counting the libraries found in the local schools. All of this info can be easily found on the internet. Instead we do as these hamlets in New York have done many times over. We warehouse books in ornate buildings and then loan them out for free, subsidized by the tax revenue of those areas. That’s a plain and simple definition of a public library. What a waste of time and money, paper and ink, and real estate. Most of this info can be found on the internet.
The Google Library Project initiative was started in December 2004. It’s goal for the first 10 years, Google would create a library by scanning and digitizing 15 million volumes. As of April 2013, they surpassed the 30 million volume mark. That’s double the goal. That is now a huge amount of books that can be accessed just using a search word. No need for reference librarians, no need for people to reshelve books, no need to replace worn out copies, no need to spend millions on the actual places to store the books, no transportation costs getting the books to the library, etc, etc, etc, the list of benefits is almost endless. Wow, can you imagine, It’s an evolution or a revolution, that choice is yours. Sooner than later, Google will catch up and have scanned every book in the world. That’s a fact and it is just a matter of when it is finished. So, why isn’t there conversation going on about alternative uses for libraries. Why hasn’t the public demanded a more streamlined modern approach to electronic media. Because of money. The book publishers and the politicians of the world would keep us in the stone age if that meant the status quo wouldn’t change.
The U.S. library system is Big business. Lets; just look at the Library system of the most celebrated city in the United States. The New York Library System. It is the second largest library system in the world behind only the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.. It was established at the turn of the 20th century and has currently 87 branches with 53 million items. Although New York has 5 boroughs, the NY Library system only serves the island of Manhattan, the island of Staten Island and the Bronx. Brooklyn and Queens have their own library systems. The annual budget is $245 Million dollars per year. Imagine that, one quarter of a billion dollars. Or $5 dollars spent annually on every item warehoused in the system. That isn’t even counting the other two library systems, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Borough Public Library. The Brooklyn Public Library system has 60 branches and 5 million items and a $140 million annual budget. The Queens Library system is similar. Comprised of 62 branches and 7.5million items, it operates on an annual budget of $125 million. Total of the 3 systems serving the City of New York and it’s residents is $510 million dollars per year. That’s a half Billion dollars for what easily could be accessed by all in the comforts of their own homes, or on their mobile devices anywhere.
Everyone starting to get the picture that the system is wasteful and archaic. It’s time for people to wrap their minds and embrace change especially when the pros exceed the cons so dramatically. It defies logic that people would choose to keep the brick and mortar library system. Once the books are scanned onto the net. It’s equal access for anyone. No waiting to take out a copy of a book, no fees for returning one late, no locked doors and restraint because of the hours of operation. Knowledge centers would now be open 24 hrs a day/365 days a year with no regard to weather or anything else. All one would need is an internet connection. All that cumulative time spent going to take out a book and then having to retrace the steps to return the item, saved. The three NY Public library systems combined maintain almost 200 brick and mortar buildings. Think about what these buildings could be used for in the public domain. Warehousing books is not the proper use for these buildings anymore. Not my call here, it’s evolution.
Things change. and That’s is a good thing. If not, we would all still be whipping that horse and bumping along in a buggy behind it, or we would still be starting the car by turning the crank in the front. It’s ok to write a eulogy for the Library system. Say your piece, bow your head and say goodbye. Like Blockbuster video, it has reached the end of the road. Everyone remembers the days of going to the local video store and renting a movie. No one thinking that one day, renting of a movie would be done in the comfort of their own homes over the internet at the touch of a button. But, alas, that day has come. People now subscribe to a myriad of services satisfying their entertainment needs such as Amazon Prime,Netflix, and Hulu. But the days of schlepping to the video store are over. Thank God!! Soon the movie theatres will be a relic of the past as well. People don’t want to sit in an auditorium of strangers watching a movie. If there were a viable alternative to watch new release movies from their homes. They would jump on it and leave behind the days of sticky floors, obnoxious people and overpriced concessions in a heartbeat. So, why does it antagonize people when others suggest evolving away from the brick and mortar library business. Why are people so reluctant to accept the future and the change that comes with it. Why is it so hard to change a certain generation? Why can’t they see the overwhelming benefits of electronic media. Why must they try and restrict the evolution and the natural progression of the way things change. Why won’t they just turn in their restrictive library card and subscribe to the future? Is it fear of change? I’m not sure, but I do know this. It is so much nicer and more convenient for me to google a topic and be offered many solutions that fit what I am searching for. It’s a hassle to have to hop in a car or a subway, brave the weather and restricted hours of operation to seek out the knowledge I need at a library. Isn’t life grand when you can in your pajamas google something that needs googling. Isn’t it great that the days of the morning and afternoon newspaper are behind us and the instant gratification for info is at our fingertips.
So, Why the reluctance to demolish the antiquated public library system. A high speed bullet train is to the internet what a steam locomotive is to a library in a brave analogy of learning systems. Who would opt for the steam engine over the 300 mile an hour train? No one except the fearful. So, let’s help the “fear change minded” people of the last generation, let’s forget and ignore the politicians telling us what we need. They have an agenda and that agenda is the publishers wanting to sell the libraries and Universities the books. Scholastic Corporation doesn’t donate millions in political campaigns because they are socially responsible. Nope, they are about increasing the black on their bottom line. Lots of people get fed cause of the book industry and it’s time for that to end. Society has never benefited by hanging on to an industry that should have been replaced because of an evolution of technology. Think of Film processing and Kodak. Kodak was one of the largest companies in the world but the invention of digital cameras and SD cards killed the film processing business All those 60 minutes or less film processing stores were closed in record time. Anyone miss those days where they had to drop off a roll of film, then return and pick up their photos? Nope, no crying there. So, why all the heel dragging and crying over an antiquated way to get a book? Time to embrace the future and shutter institutions that were invented in 1895. Yes, Libraries once served the greater good and were responsible for much individual success, but let’s face it, we have the internet now and wandering up and down stacks are a complete waste of time. More fun to hit a Starbucks, grab a latte and google the topic that interests you. If you aren’t gonna think of yourself, think how lovely life would be for the average student having to tuck an Ipad under an arm rather than haul a 50 pound kapsack of books.