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What Can Libraries Do To Survive In The Digital Age?

The future of the library in the digital age.

Library books at The Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pa. (CCAC North Library/Flickr)

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 73 percent of Americans in the last 12 months say they visit the library to borrow print books, while 17 percent say they visit to borrow or download an audio book. (CCAC North Library/Flickr)

The American public library is a place for books. It’s also a kind of secular temple to learning, democracy, community values. Here lies culture, wisdom, and we want to share it with all!

But what will happen to the library as the world hurtles ever-deeper into purely digital territory? When everything’s online, what will be on the shelf? Will the library still be around? As a building? As a place? Will libraries, somehow, make the digital bounty of learning available to all? It’s an open question.

Up next On Point: the future of the library in the digital age.

–Tom Ashbrook


Anthony Marx, president and CEO of the New York Public Library.

Eli Neiburger, associate director of information technology and production at Ann Arbor District Library. (@ulotrichous)

Show Highlights

Tweets From During The Show

From Tom’s Reading List

New Republic: The Bookless Library – “They are, in their very different ways, monuments of American civilization…The first is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). The second is an iPhone. Yet despite their obvious differences, for many people today they serve the same purpose: to read books. And in a development that even just thirty years ago would have seemed like the most absurd science fiction, there are now far more books available, far more quickly, on the iPhone than in the New York Public Library.”

The New York Times: E-Books And Democracy – “E-book readership is rising much faster than readership of print books; digital books could soon be the most popular book format. Readership of our e-books soared 168 percent from 2011 to 2012; print circulation, while much larger, remained constant.”

Knight Foundation: Libraries Use Digital Technology To Redefine Their Roles In Communities – “The increasing prevalence and proliferation of digital content has pushed libraries to redefine themselves over the past decade. Knight Foundation brought together library directors from across the country this weekend to discuss this issue and hear from one panel of librarians tackling the digital question from different angles.”


“Library Card” by Melvil Dewey:

“Librarian” by Jonathan Rundman:

Extra: Commencement Address

On Saturday, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (@dickc) delivered his commencement address to University of Michigan’s class of 2013. Costolo graduated in 1985 from Michigan with a degree in computer science. He then attempted to make it as an improv comedian at Chicago’s famed troupe, The Second City.  Although it didn’t work out for him there, he learned a couple of lessons along the way.

At the end of our show, we featured an excerpt from Costolo’s speech:

Watch his entire commencement address here:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Ray in VT

    Despite the problems that many book stores are having with sales, libraries still circulate a great amount of print materials.  People come to libraries not just for the printed word, but for other programs, activities and resources as well.

    There is a great desire for information from the public, and it should be the role of the library to connect people to that information, regardless of the medium.  Libraries have been adapting for decades, since the online catalog and the article databases changed how materials were searched for and accessed, and that process is still going on, with libraries lending ebooks and downloadable audio.

    If libraries want to continue to be relevant, then they need to provide the content that users want in the format that they desire.

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      Well said ! I would like the library to offer more hands on, quick and mini courses on how to do things, Example: Home and garden tips, Examples 1. Grow a window garden. 2. Cut, tape and hang dry wall 3. Control unwanted pest. 4. Choose insulation. 5. Install a solar panels. 6 Learn the cuts of meat — Anything home and garden.
      Create short specialty courses in more advanced subjects, where focus is brought to a small number of particular intellectual pursuits, Examples: Find the nth root of a number ( by the way, you can use Taylor’s Expansion) , 2. Find the planets in the night sky. 3 Use a 3D printer.
      4. Draw a cartoon. 5 Give your self or a friend a “ make-over” . In general, anything that is intense and can be taught in 1 to 2 hours. Think of it at a “knowledge rush “, enough to get you started on a new direction and give you some clues about how things are done.

      • Shag_Wevera

        Don’t forget “Open Chess” on Wednesday nights!  Boards and pieces provided!

        • Wm_James_from_Missouri

          What about ” GO ” ?

      • Ray in VT

        Programs are a greater or lesser part of what libraries have to offer from place to place already, and I think that especially lately libraries have seen the value to the community of programs, as well as how those programs fit into the mission of the institution and also increase the worth of the library in the eyes of the community.

        I have seen some of the local public libraries plan in programming/meeting spaces when doing renovations/expansions, and it is my experience that they try to offer as much as they can with their in house talent, as well as drawing upon the resources of the community.

        I don’t think that libraries should have to justify their existence, because they are libraries.  They are the people’s university.  But alas, as Shag pointed out, even though by many measures libraries are being massively used by the public, they are under constant funding pressures, even though I think that they are an excellent value when you look at the per capita costs.

  • Duras

    I think the 33 years or so of American anti-intellectualism is the real issue.  I don’t care what people say, print-culture is a lot easier on the eyes than tech-culture.  I’ll pay an extra dollar for a book in my hand, let alone use one from the library, than read from a screen.   

    How hard is it to take your kid to the library?  I take my kid there.  We take advantage of the resources.  …The philosophy section could be better….  My library has college courses on DVD (I just wish the library housed more of the reading material that accompany the courses).   

    To me, the library is vital to our cultural evolution. 

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Some businesses have adopted a model of making themselves a ‘destination’ as a cornerstone of building clientele. I believe that libraries have traditionally done this through various programs. Perhaps there are new variations on this model that can help make the library more relevant and hip in the minds of modern youth?

  • Shag_Wevera

    The real question is, how can libraries survive right wing zealots and their politicians who wish to de-fund them all?

    My wife is a librarian in a small town in Wisconsin (pop 10,000).  Full funding of the library costs the taxpayers each a few dozen dollars a year.  The library budget, including staff reductions, benefit reductions, and pay reductions has been cut several years in a row.  It doesn’t help being in Wisconsin, with a governor that hates government employees and has destroyed unions in this state.

    Libraries are a pillar of civilization.  The price of one Abrams tank or one F-22 Raptor could fully fund a library our size for DECADES.  What are our priorities?

    By the way, patronage and circulation at our library are at all-time highs.  Often when I stop by, there are no spaces open in the parking lot.  Libraries remaining relevant really isn’t an issue.

    • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

      Do you mean one of those Abraham’s tanks that the army doesn’t want or need that congress is buying for them. That’s pretty darn sad.

    • William

       Actually, it is not the right or left but both groups that are not spending our taxes in a wise manner.

      • Shag_Wevera

        Possibly true, but I’m unaware of many lefties championing the cause of dimantling libraries.

        • Ray in VT

          I had a co-worker in grad school who was alright generally, but politically he was a bit tweaked.  We got to talking about public libraries, and he seemed to regard them as some sort of creeping communist movement.  It was kind of funny, but also just sad.

    • videmus

      I’ve volunteered at my local library, and it seems the only real work is finished before lunch. Pretty cushy for a $20/hr government job (mid-sized city here). There isn’t much need for library workers apart from a knowledgeable front desk person, a shelving assistant or two, and custodial staff. Checkout is computerized and automated, as is the inter-library loan/delivery system (piggybacking on USPS).  Library events are nearly all contracted to local artists and performance groups. There’s no longer a need for a branch manager at every location when you have instant communication via the internet.
      So why not be more efficient? Changing state and local spending is far easier than changing federal spending (and least of all what is categorized as mandatory spending). If the wise use of tax dollars is what we want, why not push for efficiency in all directions and embrace whatever we can get? This idea of “if you can’t improve neither will I” seems silly.

      • booklover21

        This must depend on the library and community you’re in; I work in a city library and our work is never done! 
        Planning and implementing programs, applying for and implementing grants, selecting materials, deselecting (“weeding”) materials, processing new materials, keeping track of spending (for materials, using different funds, for programs, using different funds), fundraising, networking with other community groups, and on and on and on!

        Not to mention all the “on desk” work we do, helping folks with research, with computers, with resumes, to find books, to pick a new book they might like based on the last few they enjoyed, unjamming the copier, and more.

        • videmus

          Good info, very much appreciate you pointing out the things I missed. It seems my view wasn’t complete in light of what you’ve written (or you have extraordinarily dedicated staff!). Hope this doesn’t take away from the last part of my above post, which I still believe and stand by.

  • RolloMartins

    This question is much like the one about newspapers: how can they survive in a digital age? I suggest that journalism and library science be joined: Information is key to both. Both succeed at the convergence and gleaning of information, one historically, one day to day.

  • gemli

    To think that libraries are just collections of books is wrong.  Without organization, structure and the ability to discern scholarship from nonsense, knowledge is hard to glean from on-line sources.  A friend once said that the Internet consisted of all human knowledge, in no particular order.  To that daunting pile I would add that it holds an equal amount of useless, wrong or malicious information.  Libraries and librarians make an effort to direct the user to trusted sources, and to assist in developing the critical evaluation and thinking skills that are the hallmark of the educated person.

    The problem is less whether libraries will survive the digital age, but if education will survive.  

    • Ray in VT

      One of my undergraduate professors once said to me that the attempt to create order in our inherently chaotic world is the essence of civilization, or something to that effect.  A couple of the things that I have always loved about libraries is the thought process that goes into organizing how to lay out a collection, as well as the classification scheme that is then applied to try to best group like materials together.

      The Dewey Decimal Classification is a very interesting, although sometimes flawed, system of organization.  It is possible to tell a fair amount about Melvil Dewey and his world by looking at how the system treats certain subjects.  For instance, Christianity used to take up about 80% of the numbers for religion, while everything else got crammed into the other 20%, with other religions getting only a few of those numbers.  That range also defied some of the other general rules of the DDC, although recent revisions have changed some of those oddities.  I think that such an organization is not surprising for someone like Dewey, an American of European ancestry who was likely Christian.

      • http://www.facebook.com/brian.briscoe.790 Brian Briscoe

        Your observations of Dewey are accurate. But not all libraries use Dewey Decimal. Most universities use Library of Congress Classification.

        On top of that, libraries do much more to organize information than merely put a label on it. They provide the ability to search collections for data by its subject or genre or other aspects. They also gather collections of specific information with specific focii for specialists. 

        And they provide instruction on how to find what you are looking for. I believe that the biggest drawback to digitalia is a lack of human interaction. There will always be a need for that.

        • Ray in VT

          LC seems to work better for libraries that get to be somewhere in the range of over 100k volumes.  It’s not just the academics, thought.  There are a number of large public systems that use LC, such as Boston and Seattle.  Dewey just happens to be the system that I have looked at the most, so I can’t speak to any sort of similar issues present in LC.

          You’re right that librarians do much more than just label things and part it on a shelf.  There is so much available digitally that sometimes the problem has become more a problem of how to narrow down a search rather than a lack of information, and a lot of thought generally goes into what is added, how it is described so that it can be easily found, and what tools are put in place so as to make the best resources more widely known about.  People seem to think that librarians just read books all day, but they put in a lot of behind the scenes work, and there is a lot of user education involved.  Some of that can be aided with digital tools, but I think very often nothing works quite so well as a trained, well informed professional at the desk.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Discriminators can be the key to success in market capture.

    The Internet is not unlike the Pacific Ocean: a vast sea of currents filled with massive collections of trash that make navigation problematic and often fruitless. Users of today’s search engines struggle against ignorance, marketing and ideological manipulation.

    A skilled librarian is a fantastic resource: a trained harbor pilot who can steer you clear from running aground and get you to your destination in minimum time.

    Perhaps educating children to understand this would help drive up patronage and education? Perhaps kids might learn some discrimination and critical thinking skills in the process? Could such initiatives help stem the tide of ignorance sweeping our nation?

  • wauch

    Here in Cleveland Heights, OH we have an amazing public library and it is just that because it hasn’t resisted creative destruction but it has resisted feckless change. You can gauge a city or town by it’s libraries.

    • Ray in VT

      It is my understanding that much of Ohio has long had very good public libraries.

  • J__o__h__n

    I love the Boston Public Library but they need to do a better job of maintaining a quiet environment.  Cell phones shouldn’t be allowed for calls inside the building.  We lack more quiet spaces than we do places where people can’t talk constantly.  The disruptive homeless need to be handled better.  I’ve seen them violently yell at people on three occasions.  People who haven’t showered in days should not be admitted.  The library is an information resource for the community not a homeless shelter.  The outside of the building is littered in cigarette butts and stinks of urine.  All the great collections, wonderful architecture, knowledgeable staff, and interesting programs won’t be fully utilized by the community in a less than desirable environment.  At a time of ebooks, the support of visiting citizens is very important to maintaining our libraries. 

  • TELew

    As a lifelong user of the traditional library, I find the trend towards digital books somewhat troubling.  That is not because digital books do not have their uses.  The problem is that digital books are created according to popularity and profitability.  But these two factors do not equal the worth of the book.  And hence many of the most important works won’t be transferred to digital status, because there is no market for them.

    • Ray in VT

      I don’t know.  That might be somewhat true for current materials, such as the more academic titles, but there have been some very encouraging efforts to digitize materials and to make them freely available (Google Books, Hathitrust).  I also recently found an open access academic ebook platform that looks interesting.  I think that the library can play a role in connecting people to these resources, especially when that particular book is not available physically locally.  At least if the user will use the ebook, which some people just do not like.

      • TELew

         Ray, there are some initiatives to digitize important historical texts for the internet.  But the problem is that these really only scratch the surface in terms of the materials out there.

        Another problem is the maintenance costs of these digitized images–it costs money to keep these images on the internet.  So again it is feasible to only make a selected, limited amount of materials available on the internet.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kenderJ2012 Kendra J Wastun

        Personally, I’ve been through 4 different ebook formats, the latest being epub. The other three are now obsolete. Any books I had in the other three formats are now unreadable. Technology changes quickly, the “industry standard” today (epub) could easily be tomorrow’s obsolete program. Then what? Everything needs to be changed? Or is it just lost?

        • Ray in VT

          That’s one of the challenges with digital information.  The standards are constantly shifting, in part because the hardware keeps changing and real improvements in the standards have been happening, so it’s not like trying to sell someone a and LP copy, and a cassette, and a CD.

          Sometimes data can be migrated, if one is up on it quickly enough, but if one isn’t, then storage devices can quickly stop communicating with devices.  Proprietary devices can be tricky, as institutions often don’t want to get stuck having to get content that can only work on certain devices.

          One solution is to purchase access to databases, so one just has to have a compatible browser.  I think that a lot of this technology is so new that it’s still in sort of a shake down phase, and hopefully something of a more standard approach can rise to the top, but the current online information environment, at least for copyrighted or peer-reviewed information, is pretty chaotic, and it varies from vendor to vendor.

          One really good provider of long term, static, validated information has been the federal government.  They’ve been pushing government information to the web since the mid 1990s via the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and the Government Printing Office (GPO).

    • http://www.facebook.com/emily.h.lacroix Emily Harvey Lacroix

       I think the traditional publishing market is far more bound by profit. It costs very little to make an e-book, so it is the new way to self-publish or reprint a new edition with very little risk.

      • TELew

        Emily, I think you are missing the point.  Yes, businesses that publish books have generally been driven by a desire for profits.  That is as true of businesses that publish digital books as those that publish the old-fashioned hard copy books.

        My point has to do with the eclipse of the traditional library (TL).  If we become a society that no longer uses the TL, then the books stored in TL’s will eventually be discarded.  While convenient, digital books and the internet undermine the use of the TL.

        As for digitizing them, digitizing is an expensive process (I work in a library, so I know about it from that perspective).  As a result, only what is considered most important by the digitizers will be digitized.  A tremendous body of materials will not be digitized.  This body will undoubtedly include a large number of things of value not recognized by the digitizers.  So, a significant amount of materials–and hence knowledge–will be lost. (BTW, I am an historian by training, so old things are important to me.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=144800253 Joanna Mercedes

    If anyone has been to their public library recently they are chuckling.  Unfortunately the continued misperception of the library as a place for just books is due to subpar PR on the part of libraries themselves, paired with the media’s unwillingness to address any other aspect of the library.  Fear (of death) makes a better story. As everyone seems to have addressed, budget IS an issue, and getting the word out falls the wayside because of all that we are doing. 

    Take a look at Multnomah County’s events and class offering:https://multcolib.org/events/s

    Or the audience of Seattle Public Library’s:http://www.spl.org/audiences

    Or Newton Free Library’s learning resources:http://guides.newtonfreelibrar

    You not only can get books from the library, but ebooks, dvds, cds, language learning kits, and that’s typical everywhere. Some places you can get seeds, gardening tools, use 3-D printers.  All libraries offer online learning resources from test-prep to car repair.  Book clubs happen on boats and in bars (and in the library :). Outreach goes to prisons, parks, and neighborhoods. Partnerships are made with public health departments to offer (in the case of NYPL) free mammograms, or new parent CPR trainings.  There are bake-offs, readathons, craft beer programs, knitting groups, gardening workshops, stress management programs, and local history offerings. The list goes on. 

    The library is awesome, adapting, and not going anywhere. Anyone who likes free stuff, learning, community, and fun, isn’t  worried at all; because they go to their library and see how busy it is…all…the…time. 


  • andrea5

    Will the library still be around as a building, as a place? Yes, of course it will. Will books still be around too? Yes, again. I’m tired of books and digital being spoken of as an either/or proposition. Also, libraries in general are, and always have been, AMAZING places, providing all sorts of entertainment and information to everyone for free (they usually take up less than 1 percent of a municipal budget.) Not a bad deal!

  • Jasoturner

    People like bookstores with cafes.  It sounds odd, but how about allowing coffee franchises to set up in public libraries?  They’re often cool old structures that are fun to hang out in.

    You need free wireless, too, of course.

    • k_lib

      Libraries have been offering free wireless for years! And many have cafes too.

  • brettearle

    People, who never `knew’ LPs, found LPs–after using CD’s, MP3′s, and Internet streaming.

    That phenomenon will obtain, a thousand fold more, in the relationship between, for example,

    KINDLE, NOOK and Hardbound, Paperback Books

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Physical usage up, incomes down.

  • donniethebrasco

    As long as there are homeless and drug addicts, libraries will have people filling their seats.

    • andrea5

      “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar. ” – Molly Ivins 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

        Oooh! I Love this quote. Thanks, Andrea.

  • ToyYoda

    I’m worried that libraries will have to scale down to cut costs and there won’t be space for physical books.  All cool and relevant matters of our time will be published in ebooks first.  Most of the poor do not have tablets nor can they afford to pay for exorbitant phone data plans.  There will be an invisible divide in knowledge.  Those who can afford electronic formats will stay in front of the cutting ege of knowledge, while the poor will have to make due with outdated knowledge.

    • k_lib

      But libraries can (and are) put those e-reading devices in the hands of those people who can’t afford them. Public libraries have traditionally been an equalizer, and I see that continuing to happen with electronic materials as well.

  • Emily311

    There was a period of time where I didn’t have a computer. I’m not sure what I would have done without access to the Boston Library’s computers. Not to mention the number of events that go on at the library.

  • Jim

    Libraries are sanctuaries.. they must and will be saved at all cost for the sake of our society and humanity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      By whom?

      • Jim

        Tax payers like you and me

        • northeaster17

          Money well spent.

  • Emily311

    I frequently borrow e-books. The big advantage is that you never have to worry about late fees.

    • northeaster17

      Twice I’ve been tagged with $50.00 late fees. They were books taken out just before summer and then set aside. Ouch!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

        Ouch, indeed. I know that my local library has an amnesty week for overdue books once a year. Bring in a non-perishable food item for the local food pantry & get no fines levied against you, no matter how long the material has been overdue. Suggest this for your community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    I was the “last customer” to check out a VHS tape at my local public library last week. When I returned the material I was shocked to see that every classic film on VHS tape had been removed from the shelves. A librarian told me they had been placed in “longterm storage” & would no longer be available to the borrowing public.

    Not a fan of today’s big Hollywood movies with all that blood, guns & gore, I must seek out the classics online, now. There went the pleasant social interaction I so loved about visiting the library. I wil miss that. Guess I’ve got an old analog soul or something

  • MarkVII88

    With many thousands of people out of work, often unable to afford luxuries like internet or cable and with an increasing number of young people participating in online courses, does it not make sense that libraries are becoming more popular.    Where else can the unemployed to go search for jobs and students access their coursework for free?  I’m also sure that these libraries are on bus routes where those who don’t have or can’t afford a car can access them easily as well, especially in metropolitan areas. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Yes. I’m one of those folks. For awhile (6 months) I couldn’t afford my own internet connection. I’d walk to the library (no car anymore, either) and use the free wi-fi.

  • northeaster17

    21/2 years ago I bought a Kindle. I love it for novels and pulp reads. I’ve found that for issues of substance I need to go to print. Despite a great library I’m rarely in the library anymore. I’m not happy with that and feel myself being pulled back. We have a great library.

    Then there is a local A.M. Radio clown bellowing about the tax dollars wasted on libraries and how they should be more exclusive by being less common. Promoting ignorance as a public good. Our voting patterns fund the libray everytime they ask, despite the noise.

  • AC

    just the other day i had lunch at the BPL courtyard (super nice) and walked through & the entire first floor was extremely busy!! (most on computers…)

  • Matt

    Libraries are merely the latest institution to experience the sweeping effects of technology and automation that will, at some point or another, affect all aspects of our society.  We humans will have to learn to adapt and restructure our way of thinking about the axioms of that society.  The book and knowledge aspects of libraries will inevitably move into digital form, which may clear the way to restructure libraries simply as public meeting spaces.  As technology and automation take over tasks that we used to spend our days doing we will, some day, find ourselves with much more time on our hands and, potentially, much less direct human interaction.  To that end, it may be important to concentrate our efforts on creating spaces where people can, and want to, congregate and interact.  Libraries already have this appeal for many people and they may be the perfect test bed for creating the public spaces of the post digital revolution era.

    • TELew

      I rarely go to the library to socialize.  I do independent research and read–neither of which require interaction with other people beyond library staff who help me locate materials and operate devices such as microfilm machines.

      • Matt

        Hopefully tasks that will soon not require being physically present at the library.  In a fashion those aspects of the library will be available from anywhere, even the phone in your pocket.

        Also, I didn’t want to necessarily imply interactive congregating.  Some people seem to enjoy simply being around others, but engaging in personal tasks such as reading.

  • rexhenry

    The library will once again become the central meeting spot to facilitate learning and working. Throw in some coffee shops and the amenities they offer on top of the vast expanse of resources in the library and you can’t beat it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Would there be a “cover charge” for those who can’t afford to buy the coffee?

  • http://www.facebook.com/BGHooke Bruce Hooke

    When I here about a new book I want to read, the first thing I usually do is check to see if I can get it through my local library. Often I can’t but when I can that’s usually the route I go. I love my library! When I am traveling libraries are also great places to go with my laptop to get some work done and check my email.

  • Daniel Curran

    We would like to go to the library but do not because here (Newport News, Virginia) the libraries are very loud, the workers tend to be the loudest, and one often find a place to sit because of the homeless people.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Sounds like you don’t NEED a public library for intellectual enrichment. Not all public library patrons are homeless, by the way. We still pay rent & taxes like good little plebes. We just can’t afford to buy all the literary materials we’d like to own. That does not make us dumb or loud, either.

      • J__o__h__n

        He didn’t equate loud with dumb.  It is often the case but I doubt the library workers are dumb.  The homeless are a real problem for the libraries.  (I just noticed the original post was edited which I didn’t see.)

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

          Yup. He changed it after I had posted my reply. Nice try, no cigar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=144800253 Joanna Mercedes

    relax! not everyone wants to read a screen. many people prefer print!  why does it have to be one or the other?

    • J__o__h__n

      Last year I bought a Kindle Fire for cheap portable internet.  I downloaded lots of public domain books just to make sure that I’m never caught without something to read but I still read print books from the library.  I’ve only read one of the books I downloaded. 

  • Jim

    “if the library does not make money (profit) it does not provide common good for society”… 

    woman caller is very narrow… very very narrow. so, you think society and our community is all about profit?

    of course, it sucks up tax payer’s money… and i will be a strong advocate it will continue to do that as long as i live.

  • katmorgan

    Curious — why were both your guests men given that women accounted for over 80% of all librarians according to 2010 stats from the ALA?  (see: http://ala-apa.org/files/2012/03/Library-Workers-2011.pdf)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Good question!

    • andrea5

      I agree with your comment, but I also wonder why is it that only 20% of librarians are men? It seems strange to me. Don’t guys like books and information too?

    • ko

      true, but also around 40% of library directors are men. (http://www.ala.org/research/librarystaffstats/diversity/libdirectors)

  • Zach Newell


    While moving toward a new digital frontier, libraries need
    to play an active role in providing leadership and education to the
    community.  A study by the Pew Research Center
    that came out last week cited 94% of respondents as saying that libraries are
    vitally important to their children’s education.   Libraries provide access to information and
    resources not available at home; they offer guided direction and a safe place
    for kids to study, read and engage. 

    Libraries are strong
    partners to the community – to the schools and to parents – and will be for the
    foreseeable future. Partnering with the community to redefine and repurpose the
    space while providing leadership in the field of digital and information
    literacy is a high priority to towns and comunities across America

  • SamEw

    I live in area that probably has 80%+ web penetration in homes and the library seems to do just fine. People still need places to study or have meeting outside the house, e-readers are probably an improvement over bound books in someways but not so much in other ways and most people are never going to read a full book on a computer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grace.adams.3914 Grace Adams

    I was just at an author talk sponsored by my local library.  The author was Dennis Lehane and he credits his success to getting a library card which opened up a whole world to him. He is a BIG supporter of libraries.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Writers are readers, first. Imagine how impoverished the American literary scene will be when public libraries go the way of the passenger pidgeon.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    I miss Libraries.
    I’d visit one every day if the closest wasn’t a days’ walk away.

    • CM WP

      Still visit. We’d love to see you and there is so much to do.

  • http://twitter.com/von_Levi Seth Levi

    Libraries should be focusing on e-books. For lending purposes it’s just so much more practical and cost efficient than physical books. 

    The economic barriers people are citing are a bit overblown when you consider that about half of US adults have a smart phone, meaning, half of the population already has a device that can be used for reading e-books. Rather than continue to print books for people who cannot afford to buy an e-reader device, let’s subsidize e-readers for low income folks. It’s probably cheaper than all of the overhead costs associated with libraries. There should be a goal of getting an e-reader into the hands of every American. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Great & good until the batteries go dead in a power outage. Books carry their own infinite energy packs in between the pages. All it takes is a human mind to turn them “on”.

      • http://twitter.com/von_Levi Seth Levi

        And how often does the power go out? Once, maybe twice a year? And when it does go out, are you really reading by candle light at night? Further, the battery life of the Kindle ranges from 4 to 8 weeks.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

          Yes, storms took down power lines 3 times in one year, in my case. I did just fine with a few candles & my books, though, while everybody else was going buggy because their electronic devices had run out of juice.

          Books are a “quality of life” issue for people who were born before the onslaught of the digital age.   

          • http://twitter.com/von_Levi Seth Levi

            That’s less than 1% of the year. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

            Thanks for the soft sell, Seth, but I’m keeping my books, writing new ones & hoping that the next big blackout will lead the highly digitized to a new enlightenment- the old fashioned way: through the heart & mind rather than a small, corporately controlled electronic screen.

          • TheGruntler

             A huge swath of the Northeast lost all power for a week or more last year due to Hurricane Sandy.  I know that was a LONG time ago, but with a decaying power grid, worsening climate, and the crumbling of US infrastructure in general, we can expect a lot more of this.  Cost of e-reader, $80.  Cost of generator to power it, $2500.

    • TELew

       One of the major roles of libraries is to have “preservation copies.”  These are copies that will be available independent of technology.  The best preservation copies are ones with limited public access, ie. may only be used in a reading room and may not be checked out for home use.

      • http://twitter.com/von_Levi Seth Levi

        And how often are those actually used? 

        The problem with library policy is that it often stuck in the past rather than accepting current demands. 

        The New York Public Library system, for example, wants to move large parts of its collection which receive little use to off-site storage facilities and reallocate that on-site space to new programs and services that are actually in demand. Predictably, people were outraged, and are insisting that the NYPL keep underutilizing its finite on-site space storing books nobody ever touches. And ironically, those collections would actually be better preserved for future generations off-site. 

        • CM WP

          More often than you think.  Plus, I’m all in for everything digital once there is a complete annihilation of the all digital divides.

    • CM WP

      Obviously, you have never negotiated an e-book contract for a Library.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenderJ2012 Kendra J Wastun

    Everybody is talking about how ebooks are replacing traditional books. The reality is only a very small percentage of books are available in electronic format. Mainly, only US mainstream books are made available. Most of the books I read come from the library because I can’t afford to buy all of them and they aren’t available electronically. Also, research is still best done in a library. Many times, an internet search returns a ton of hits and it can be very difficult to determine the quality of the information. For an important paper, nothing replaces a good library and the help of a research librarian. Lastly, there is so much more to a public library than the current best selling fiction junk. The library has been, is now and  will be an important member of the community.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      The commercial bloat & distracting glut of useless, pseudo-info online is perceived as an obstruction to the ultimate goal by the curious mind. Mental fatigue is the enemy. Yet, the creation of mental fatigue & frustration seem to be job 1 for current day content programmers.

  • J__o__h__n

    Why end an interesting discussion early to air excerpts from yet another boring graduation speech?  I don’t want to hear more of these. 

    • Trond33

      Five minutes after graduation, I had forgotten what the graduation speech was about.  I spent four years actually enjoying lectures (well most of them), but the graduation speaker was lackluster at best.  I would rather have had one of the geology professors give one of his dullest lectures on rocks.  

  • Trond33

    There is no doubt that libraries of all sorts play an important social role.  Although, when it comes to technology, libraries are only treading water while trying to keep pace.  These institutions have not transformed themselves into new types organizations or changed their organizational culture, as much as they have adopted technology.  Sometimes successfully, more often with poorly applied bandaids.  Many public libraries use the company Overdrive to supply e-books, this company has a horrible interface.  Try to do a search for an author or title, behind the scenes, the search algorithms are 1994 at best.  Overdrive is more about marketing than content, something the public library world has brought into.  Mainly because within the library world there are precious few innovators and creative thinkers.  It is an insular field that resists external inputs in favor of clones of the old guard. 

    I am not arguing that society does not need libraries, but I do assert that libraries should pay less attention to the ebbs and flows of the technology world, and focus more energies on equipping society to manage the technology world.  Assist people becoming masters of technology and not slaves to technology.  Teaching individuals information literacy.  There are too many college and masters graduates who’s research skills extend only to an elementary Google search.  This is only a drag on the US economy and puts the US at an economic disadvantage to foreign nations.  

    In short, too many librarians and libraries have jumped on the electronic content delivery bandwagon.  Forgetting that an equally important role of a library is to foster content creation.

    • De_safran

       Starting next week my college is starting a 3 credit course in information literacy.  It will be taught by librarians.

      I am a librarian and almost every day I work on innovation, marketing, outreach and managing technology.  We are on the bleeding edge of the collecting, curating, cataloging, storage, and distribution of information in many types of media.

      • CM WP

        And I’m teaching it!

  • Laura Schlett

    Digital media use might be on the rise, but private access to that media is not universal. Our public library (where I work part time) provides 20 public use computers. This past weekend, there was a wait to use them. Many of our patrons either cannot afford a personal computer (or home internet) or need guidance using the various online research tools and computer programs found online or provided by the library and school systems. Many students are required to complete assignments on the computer using programs and techniques they have not been adequately instructed to use. We are happy to sit with our patrons and teach them how to use these tools. We also offer free computer classes that teach everything from computer basics to program-specific skills.

    Libraries are gateways to knowledge. Librarians are the guides. A change in the terrain of information does not eliminate the need for these guiding individuals or access points.; it simply changes the path of the tour.

  • Metin Toksoz-Exley

    Libraries are not just a place for storing information, they’re a place where information is exchanged and ideas are created. Many people [young and old] go to libraries either to do their work or to meet up with other people [if their library lets them talk in certain places]. Libraries are places of thinking and knowledge. The Boston public library is a perfect example, people go there to meet up, talk, and discuss; but also to do work silently. Additionally, the beautiful architecture of some old libraries [BPL included] means they should be well taken care of for all. 

  • jniedererinsc

    Twenty years ago as a teenager and young adult I worked in a small-town public library and the biggest impact that I saw this library have was the way it encouraged children to read.  They made the Children’s Section of the library fun!  Especially during their Summer Reading Programs (with separate programs for young kids, school-age kids and young adult readers) there were games and prizes and activities that kids could do that encouraged them to read.  The library was an air-conditioned  destination for parents and kids on a hot summer day where kids got individualized attention for what they had read and with each new book, they moved further along in the activities of that year’s program.  Sure, Barnes and Noble has some really nice children’s sections too, but the variety of free books and the encouragement given to kids to read more and more on so many different subjects can’t be duplicated.

    • J__o__h__n

      I worked in the children’s room of my town’s library for all four years of high school and loved it.  I designed the summer reading program for two years. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.rundman Jonathan Rundman

    Hey Tom! Thanks so much for including my song “Librarian” in your program. Listeners can download the song here:http://jonathanrundman.bandcamp.com/track/librarian

Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

War moves over Syria, Ukraine. Burger King moves to Canada. Nine-year-olds and Uzis. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Aug 29, 2014
Beyoncé performs at the 2014 MTV Music Video Awards on Sunday, August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Getty)

Sex, power and Beyoncé’s feminism. The message to young women.

Aug 28, 2014
Some of the hundreds of earthquake damaged wine barrels cover and toppled a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A powerful earthquake that struck the heart of California's wine country caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them and toppling wine bottles in vineyards around the region. (AP)

Drought in California, earthquake in Napa. We look at broken bottles and the health of the American wine industry.

Aug 28, 2014
Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.  (AP)

The message that will last out of Ferguson with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

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