Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books

From The Week:

Forbes contributor Tim Worstall wants us to close public libraries and buy everyone an Amazon Kindle with an unlimited subscription. "Why wouldn't we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?" he asks. Worstall points to substantial savings on public funds, arguing that people would have access to a much larger collection of books through a Kindle Unlimited subscription than they could get through any public library and that the government would spend far less on a bulk subscription for all residents than it ever would on funding libraries.

Is he right? Are libraries obsolete? He might be correct — but only if libraries were just about books, which they are not. Libraries are actually an invaluable public and social resource that provide so much more than simple shelves of books (or, for those in rural areas, a Bookmobile like the one this author grew up with). A world without public libraries is a grim one indeed, and the assault on public libraries should be viewed as alarming.

Humans have been curating libraries for as long as they've been creating written materials, whether they be tablets, scrolls, handwritten books, or printed mass-media. They've become archives not just of books on a variety of subjects, but also newspapers, genealogical materials, art, and more. Notably, early libraries were primarily private, with only wealthy individuals maintaining stocks of printed materials due to their expense.

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