As the slow-motion destruction of our nation’s infrastructure continues due to deficits über alles hysteria, we find this very depressing article from Camden, NJ about the proposed eradication of its public library system:
Camden is preparing to permanently shut its library system by the end of the year, potentially leaving residents of the impoverished city among the few in the United States unable to borrow a library book free.
At an emotional but sparsely attended meeting of the library board Thursday, its president, Martin McKernan, said the city’s three libraries cannot stay open past Dec. 31 because of severe budget cuts by Mayor Dana L. Redd.
“It’s extraordinary, it’s appalling,” McKernan said.
All materials in the libraries would be donated, auctioned, stored, or destroyed. That includes 187,000 books, historical documents, artifacts, and electronic equipment. Keeping materials in the shuttered buildings is a fire hazard, officials said, and would make them vulnerable to vandalism and vermin.
There’s a historical cost to this:
The libraries contain historically valuable materials, including phone books dating to the 1880s and newspapers on microfilm from the 1870s. If the library board chooses to save the microfilm, it would cost as much as $11,000 a year. And if the library cannot find a donor for all of its books, it is considering renting seven Dumpsters for $6,230.
Once you destroy a collection, you never get it back. And the human cost is considerable too:
In a city where less than a third of people have high-speed Internet service in their homes, according to the research group CamConnect, libraries allow people to go online, do schoolwork, and look for jobs. Closing the three branches would end the more than 150,000 annual visits – along with the daily chess games and children’s book readings. During extreme weather, the facilities provide a respite for the homeless….
Simmons is an unemployed single mother who relies on the library to apply for jobs; many workplaces now only accept online applications. She was busy Thursday applying for a job at Old Navy in the Cherry Hill Mall.
Next to her sat Timothy Thomson, 32, who was laid off from Verizon last year. He comes to the library twice a week to check out self-help books and apply for jobs. Despite having a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers-Camden and recently completing culinary training at DeVry University, he said, he’s still having trouble finding work.
And the plight of the poor is what disturbs me about this prediction by Nicholas Negroponte:
The physical book is dead, according to Negroponte. He said he realizes that’s going to be hard for a lot of people to accept. But you just have to think about film and music. In the 1980s, the writing was on the wall that physical film was going to die, even though companies like Kodak were in denial. He then asked people to think about their youth with music. It was all physical then. Now everything has changed.
By “dead,” he of course doesn’t mean completely dead. But he means that digital books are going to replace physical books as the dominant form. His argument is related to his One Laptop per Child Foundation. On those laptops, he can include hundreds or thousands of books. If you think about trying to ship that many physical books to the emerging world for each child, it would be impossible, he reasons.
“People will say ‘no, no, no’ — of course you like your libraries,” Negroponte said. But he cited the report that sales of books for the Kindle recently surpassed sales of hardcover books.
We can’t even bring ourselves to provide assistance to the long-term unemployed. Does anyone really think that we will provide a computer to every household? And will internet access be subsidized for the poor and unemployed?*
The great promise of our libraries is that, if you can physically get there (and for some services, even that isn’t required), you have access to the materials, rich or poor. And in the 21st century, that also means the internet, for those who can’t afford to access it. Personally, I use the library all the time, and it seems a pretty bustling place to me–if anything, it would appear library use is soaring, at least in Boston.
Books need to be accessible to all, not just those able to afford internet access and Kindle. To declare the need for libraries dead is just stupid technobabble.
*This seems like something USPS, with government support, could do. But that would require improving our infrastructure, and that’s, like, totally HITLER!