In the Library Garden, Sunday Afternoon

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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64 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer
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    You are very welcome.

    I don’t see it as a problem at all that libraries loan out DVDs and CDs along with books and e-books. This is media that did not exist in the early 1900s and it seems perfectly within the library’s scope that they can offer music and film to take out because such things are part of our exposure. This might be ironic coming from me but it seems rather snobby to say it is wrong for someone to be exposed to an indie rock band because he or she took some CDs out of the library. Maybe they also took out a Shostakovich CD or got introduced to opera from the library. The SF Public Library system also has a lot of DVDs for Asian TV series because of our large immigrant populations. It serves a role by connecting them to what is going on in their home countries.

    As for demographics, my anecdotal experience tells me otherwise but anecdotes can be misleading. When I go to the library, I often feel like I am one of the youngest people there who is taking out books. Urban libraries are known to have large homeless populations as day residents (especially during horrible weather) and you see them in the bathrooms a lot especially at the main branch. A few months or a year ago I read an article about how many librarians also end up working as defacto social workers because of the homeless and/or mentally ill patrons.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to NewDealer
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      I’m okay with the DVDs and CDs too. I just want them to keep the books and keep getting more.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Rufus F.
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        Concerning this point, in larger library systems, such as Chicago Public Library and Denver Public Library, a given branch might not have a lot of books. But patrons can often order books from other branches to be delivered to the neighborhood branch. So there might actually be a wider range of books available than meets the eye just by entering the branch.

        One tradeoff is the ability to browse, however. I don’t want to discount that.

        Also, I don’t know how other library systems, especially poorer ones that might not have the same resources, fare.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
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        I love love love inter-library loans and World Cat! But, I also love wandering around stacks and finding unknown books randomly by their cool sounding titles, which is harder to do with fewer stacks.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Rufus F.
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        I love love love inter-library loans … I also love wandering around stacks and finding unknown books randomly by their cool sounding titles, which is harder to do with fewer stacks.

        The University of Denver rebuilt their library a few years back, moving much of what was in the stacks off campus (submit a request and at some point in the future the book is available for you to pick up) in order to make room for lots more electronics. For print books identified via the catalog, it’s easier to have it delivered to my neighborhood library via inter-library loan. I understand that the current students love the new arrangement; the faculty complained bitterly, as did I. I know, there aren’t a lot of us looking for that book from 1972 and really, really wanting it today, and wanting to look at what’s on the shelf above and below that volume. My alumni privileges are still useful, but only because no one enforces the “current students and faculty only” restrictions on e-resources if I go to campus and access through a university PC.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F.
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        My first few years at Berkeley, you got a stack pass to the main library as a reward for good grades. I spent many hours happily wandering through them, finding troves like a few dozen Wodehouse novels and the complete works of H.L. Mencken.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
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        I think the word I was looking for is serendipity. Probably half my library is books that I randomly chanced upon. It’s possible to do this in a really good bookstore, of course, but it’s a lot cheaper to do it in a really good library. Don’t even get me started on the uselessness of Amazon recommendations.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Rufus F.
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        I love the university library stacks, especially wandering through and finding books from previous centuries. I used to sit down and read 18th and 19th-century sections of the Hansard (British, not Canadian; our parliamentarians have no sense of oratory) for hours.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
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      For me, it’s not so much a matter of not wanting people to be able to listen to pop CD’s or watch popular movies on DVD. It’s more a matter of not wanting to subsidize that. If that gets them into the door to take advantage of the other stuff, though, that’s okay. But that’s what I would want to be looking at, rather than that we are helping them watch the Avengers movie.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman
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        I don’t think that libraries would choose a copy of the Avengers movie over a copy of War and Peace.

        Often they can stock both so why not? Who gets to decide what is library worthy and not?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman
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        The First Amendment requires viewpoint neutrality. Libraries have limited physical space and need to make decisions based on that criteria but they are not arbitrators off what is and is not culture and shouldn’t be. They can’t be held to 19th century media standards.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        I agree about viewpoint neutrality up to a point. I don’t want them barring movies with messages and politics with which they disagree. But I don’t think they have an obligation to treat all pieces as equally worthy of placement in the library.
        \
        My impression is that they are gearing more towards popular cinema than artistic cinema. If that impression is wrong, then my views change. If there is a movie niche in libraries, it’s by providing people with access to items that aren’t so readily available everywhere else. Not as much as a replacement to the local Hastings.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        As an aside, this is a really interesting role reversal for us.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman
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        @will-truman

        The SF Public Library has an equal amount of new popular fair, Criterion Collection, Hollywood Classics, Foreign TV and movies, etc (not all of which are high art, etc.)

        Same for music from indie rock to country to jazz to classical/opera.

        We wouldn’t be angry with a library for having very popular books like Game of Thrones or Danielle Steele or Harry Potter. We shouldn’t do the same for popular movies or TV. Libraries might mainly be used by educated and wealthy members of the community but they have a mission of being for all members of the community including the poor who might not have access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, movie theatres, cable TV, etc.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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        @will-truman

        I remember when studying the Core Knowledge curriculum, I was put off by the elements of “pop culture” it included. Not because it included pop culture, but because it included such a seemingly narrow scope. Elvis. The Beatles. It seemed very culturally specific. Twenty-four-year-old Kazzy asked, “Why is it important that a black kid living in the South Bronx know who Elvis is?” My teacher informed me that my question was a common one but that the hypothetical parents of that hypothetical black kid from the South Bronx were some of the biggest supporters of CK, in part because it gave their children the cultural knowledge they might be expected to have to integrate into the “culture of power”*. That was a pretty powerful learning experience for me.

        I share this little anecdote because it’s possible that popular cinema — more so than artistic cinema — might provide tangible value beyond entertainment. “Water cooler” talk can mean the difference between getting a promotion and not. Being able to stay on top of things through the library can mean the difference between partaking or abstaining.

        Thoughts?

        *A loaded term, but the one we used in that class (and which I have at least some affinity for). But feel free to substitute your own if it gets in the way.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        @kazzy That’s a good argument, and helps me solidify why I see @newdealer ‘s comparisons between Game of Thrones book and Avengers in different lights.

        I guess I sort of see the function of a library as enabling access where it might otherwise be difficult or a hardship. So I tend to view different things differently. I have a bit of an indifference to people getting Harry Potter from the library, though I think that could be seen as important for the reason you outline. The same goes for Game of Thrones books. My initial thought at the mention of Game of Thrones was actually the TV series, which I actually have no problem with it being in the library because viewing it requires a subscription to HBO which a lot of people don’t have or a series of rentals that add up (or a box set, which is expensive).

        I tend to view popular movies in a different context, though, because they are a rental away. We have rentals available, at affordable costs, so I see that as something opposite of a priority. The same would apply to contemporary popular music, the most well-known of which is played on the radio for free. Historical music, on the other hand – say Elvis or the Beatles or Ray Charles – I do tend to view differently.

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to libraries on the basis that they have the latest Avengers movie. I don’t object to libraries at all, even if they do tend to be enjoyed mostly by people who can afford to buy the stuff themselves. I do have a bit of a sense – perhaps not fair, perhaps not more than a bellyfeel – that it is an attempt to remain relevant in a society that doesn’t read as much as it used to.

        (And now I am taking the tact of the impotance/superiority of reading. Is today Opposite Day?)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        I should add that the demise of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video do actually provide an argument for these movies being available at the library. I don’t presently know how had it is to go and rent a (lowercase-B) blockbuster DVD anymore, though I do know that the things that have replaced the big chains (RedBox, Amazon Prime, and Netflix) exclude a lot of the big movies.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Will Truman
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        Will, I think this is Harsanyi’s question too- what’s the point of us subsidizing someone’s Avengers rental? I guess to answer I’d have to know what DVDs actually cost libraries, how many are rented versus books, etc. However, since threatening to cut library funding seems to arouse paroxysms of public outrage, it seems easier to just push for libraries to house more educational resources. The problem to my mind is with things like “bookless libraries”.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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        @will-truman

        In their most basic form, it seems to me that libraries are a way of offering broader access to the world that might be unavailable to people otherwise.

        I wonder if this same conversation was had when libraries first started offering magazines and newspapers. Hell, did they always have a fiction section? Or were they initially limited to reference books? If the latter, how did that transition go?

        I can understand concern over shuttering the reference section to make more room for Backstreet Boy CDs. But I don’t think we are there yet.

        It is also my understanding that libraries cycle out materials based on how often they are utilized. I don’t know for sure that is true, but I know people who would periodically go and check out particular books just to make sure they stayed in circulation. Gaming the system, no doubt. But in a well-intentioned way.

        I also donate a ton of old books to the library. So my conscience is clear regardless of what happens… 🙂Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Will Truman
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        When it comes to CD’s and DVD’s and whether currently popular and rentable versions are or should be available, we ought to also keep in mind libraries’ role in preservation. Today’s rentable DVD’s are easy to purchase and/or rent. 20 years from now, the same DVD might be hard to find or rent. Today’s pop entertainment might be tomorrow’s primary source.

        I don’t know how this meshes with @kazzy ‘s question of how and when and whether libraries cycle out disused materials. Also, I realize formats change, and in 20 years today’s DVD’s might be as playable as a VHS from the 1990s or, worse, one of those huge videodiscs from the 1980s. (I’m surprised, by the way, that the OT spell checker doesn’t have a problem with “videodisc.”)

        As someone who works in a library department that focuses on preservation (we’re the part of the library that holds archival collections and rare books), I can also say copyright can intrude on preservation concerns. We *might* be able to somehow preserve the content of a DVD, but because we copied someone else’s work, we might not be able to legally let patrons view it (and they’d have to view it in-house, b/c our part of the library does not lend its items) until after copyright expires. Kind of maybe sort of. We’re librarians, not lawyers. So we might have more legal rights, but we might not and we have to weight risk with access.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman
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        Will,
        perhaps. But you must understand that by barring things ‘you don’t like’ you are DEFINITELY removing books of profound value and cultural influence. [Primarily Playboy — which is in every single law library, but not available for the layman.]Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Will Truman
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        @kazzy

        Re: “culture of power” knowledge

        That’s one of the reasons why I think it is still important to teach “traditional” political history, at least for US history. It’s true that focusing on the presidents and the national political debates obfuscates very important counter-narratives in US history, but I think it’s helpful to have a sense of what the “big issues of the day” were in order to get the social capital necessary to integrate more fully with those who have the power.

        On the other hand, I put “traditional” into quotation marks because there’s no such thing as “traditional” political history. Even the most high-brow focused intro-to-US-history class does a poor job, in my opinion, if it doesn’t take into account work done to explore the world of women and minorities and other marginalized groups, or explore the ways such things as sexual mores have evolved. But I think if we are going to teach, say, the gendered and racial norms behind Jacksonian democracy (and we should teach them that), we should also teach the “Bank War.”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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        @pierre-corneille

        I think a lot of it comes down to how the material is presented. If you teach the “traditional” stuff under the guise of it being inherently more important and the only stuff worth knowing, you are exacerbating the issue. If you teach it with the explicit understanding that there are important counter-narratives worth knowing but that our current cultural and power constructs demand a certain base knowledge and this is it, I think you empower students.

        I believe it was Lisa Delpit who, when asked if students from outside the culture of power should be taught within their own cultural context or be squeezed into the culture of power, said (paraphrase): Teach them how to work within the culture of power and dismantle it from the inside.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Will Truman
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        @kazzy

        I think I pretty much agree with your first paragraph. But I do think my use of the term “counter-narratives” overdetermined things a bit. I don’t think, for example, that the usefulness of learning about the Bank War is *only* to get the social capital (such as it is) that comes from knowing about the Bank War. It’s also interesting in its own right, it says a lot about presidential power, and might even give a whiff of the type of “discourse” over financial privilege and public/private corporations.

        Concerning your second paragraph, I’m not sure I agree with Ms. Delpit. She’s right inasmuch as the culture of power is something that needs to be dismantled. But what if the student doesn’t want to dismantle it? What if the student wants only to gain the power and not learn the value lesson that Ms. Delpit would have him or her learn?

        And the student might have an argument. What if it is indeed better to have a stratum of people with power and other strata with less power? I suppose to even venture a “yes” answer we’d have to talk about corresponding and enforceable duties on those with power. And of course, I realize that there are potentially severe racist and sexist (and classist) undertones when we’re talking about “strata.”Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman
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        Is today Opposite Day?

        Yes. So, no.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        @pierre-corneille

        You are right that there a variety of ways to determine the value of any particular learning opportunity. Whenever a colleague asks me some form of the “Should I do/teach this or that?” question, I always respond, “Well, what is your goal?” So the goal — generally the mission of a school — of an institution is ideally well-articulated and one which helps us decide which materials should be made available.

        To your point on Dr. Delpit, I would agree that there are a multitude of other approaches, many of which would eschew her message there. Again, it is about your purpose. If you think that the culture of power should be maintained, your approach would be necessarily different.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to NewDealer
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      Urban libraries are known to have large homeless populations as day residents (especially during horrible weather) and you see them in the bathrooms a lot especially at the main branch. A few months or a year ago I read an article about how many librarians also end up working as defacto social workers because of the homeless and/or mentally ill patrons.

      That’s the case in the downtown libraries I’ve been to. Our downtown library in Victoria has needle disposal containers in the bathroom stalls. The people rarely a problem, though, that I’ve seen. In the downtown Toronto library last year one man engaged me in a long, rambling conversation about the Arab Spring, but he actually had some reason to think I’d be interested in his thoughts (I was reading a guidebook on Egypt). Otherwise, everyone’s seemed pretty quiet.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko
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    Actual books need to be experienced and valued. Electronic books are fine and very convenient, but especially for people new to the world of reading, the weight and feel and smell of paper and ink carries a history. Also, a lot of e-readers excite rather than calm the eye (as does the tablet I am using right now). Makes it harder to fall and stay asleep, in my experience. A physical book is much better to calm the eye and mind before bedtime. I try to turn all electronic devices off an hour before I intend to sleep, although my Kindle seems not to have this effect on me.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Burt Likko
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      Tablets hurt my eyes for some reason, although people who love them tell me they shouldn’t. My other big problem is I love to underline, write marginalia, and mark up my books. Finally, I know my books will still be around in 50 years and I have no idea what formats will be obsolete by then.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Rufus F.
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        They bother my eyes, too. I like my iPad because it gives me access to pretty much all the classics for free (thanks, Project Gutenberg!) without having to take 100 of them out of the library, but if I read it for more than a couple hours I get a headache.

        The only e-readers available in Canada have 5-inch screens, which I consider too small to conveniently read a book on.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko
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      Kindles (at least the ones that use e-ink; are the newer ones backlit?) are ideal reading devices: restful to the eye, with adjustable font sizes and searchable text. Using a tablet as an e-reader makes their name ironic, because they cause headaches.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
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        The seach function is huge. Once ebooks start actually using the format to its potential, they’ll blow regular books out of the water. Being able to tap on a character’s name and being reminded of who they are, or tapping a reference to something that happened earlier in the book and being taken to where that happened. With enough enhancements, it’ll become hard to read regular books.

        Kindles come in both in e-ink and tablet format now. The e-ink ones can be backlit for reading at night, but it’s not the kind of lite that eminated from a tablet.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Mike Schilling
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        Other than the Fire, the new Kindles are side-lit as necessary (eg, not at all if you’re out in the sun). The LEDs are mounted under the edge of the bezel, and illuminate the e-ink display. I haven’t seen one, but if they’re doing smart things with how the LED output is coupled to the glass, they shouldn’t be producing any reflections that you can see. The effect on battery life is supposed to be relatively small.

        I’ve been reading on my Android tablet of late. I don’t often offer “this is a terrific bit of software” endorsements, but I’ve been using FBReader for epubs and love it. Three things in particular:

        1) Hyphenation. Which matters more than most people think.
        2) It honors my style preferences over whatever the author and/or publisher think. My font. My font size. My line spacing. My paragraph spacing and indent. S**t that I used to think the publisher had rendered unusable looks fine.
        3) Rotation. Graphs that are too small to make out in portrait mode are just fine in landscape mode, a simple rotation of the device away. At least if you picked “fit to width” as the display option.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Burt Likko
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      I’m a pretty big fan of my kindle. But it’s good for some things and not for others. I like copying, say, a bunch of blog posts and threads onto a word document and then uploading it and reading it all at my leisure. (Doing that has the added benefit of forcing me to wait before commenting on some posts. I almost never regret waiting to comment, but I often regret commenting too quickly and saying something I have to retract or apologize for.)

      When I was preparing for my dissertation defense, I downloaded it to my kindle and re-read it that way, which was a lot easier than reading it at my desktop.

      The kindle is also great for reading books that are out of copyright and that I can get for free online. I almost never actually buy books for it, though.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew
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    Should a library be more concerned with offering a collection of resources for reference and educational purposes or should it be competing with Borders Barnes and Noble? Because if a library is driven by market needs, we can do a better in the private sector (through a Netflix-type services, for instance); and if we’re aiming to make a cultural center where a diverse citizenry is excited about knowledge, we can still do a lot better. Right now libraries seem to offer a weird mix of what we don’t need and what we don’t want.

    I definitely highly value the cultural center side of this. But I hardly saw the extension of the opportunity to take a book home with you for free as unconnected to that function. And – a public utility to allow citizens to borrow books for free seems highly valuable on it’s own terms as well. So I guess I don’t really see the issue with combining these, even f we’re not absolutely maximizing either experience. (And again, in any case I think the cultural knowledge center experience would be diminished if you couldn’t borrow books there, so in my view that’s not even an accurate diagnosis of a problem.)Report

  4. Avatar Maribou
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    “All of this, however, leads one to notice the tremendous shift that has taken place over the decades, from the library and other cultural institutions traditionally serving as somewhat rigid voices of authority, making demands to which members of the public answer; to fairly malleable service industries that answer to the demands of the public.”

    Actually, this isn’t a new or tremendous shift, it’s an ongoing tension that started pretty much at the very BEGINNING of public libraries (as opposed to private / institutional libraries with very limited memberships) and hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Trying to balance between what some people think libraries Ought to be for and what other people Want them to be for is pretty much the public library status quo. The idea that there was ever a monolithic, authoritative public library doling out wisdom to the masses is a myth (deliberately cultivated at the time – especially by Carnegie and similar philanthropists; typical golden-age-of-yore-style now).

    There were, for example, gaming rooms with card games and billiards in some 19th century public libraries (granted the intent was to get people to curb their drinking – but they were still playing billiards in the library).Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou
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      tl;dr: the tone of the prevailing propaganda has changed, but the actual behavior of librarians and patrons is the same (and just as complicated) as it was 150 years ago.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Maribou
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      There were, for example, gaming rooms with card games and billiards in some 19th century public libraries (granted the intent was to get people to curb their drinking – but they were still playing billiards in the library).

      That’s fascinating, and not something I would have imagined.Report

  5. Avatar Damon
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    “Nonetheless, it seems that those using libraries are somewhat homogeneous: they’re mostly wealthy, well-educated, and well-informed.”

    Ah, so basicially it’s a wealth transfer for the middle and higher classes. Like we need more of this…Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
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      This is why we have Bookmobiles and Beginning with Books — a lot of people have physical trouble getting to libraries…Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Damon
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      It’s not the case in Canada, as both Rufus and I have observed, so it’s likely to be more related to the way the US library systems are managed than to an inherent characteristic of libraries. The solution is to make libraries more accessible and attractive to lower-income people, not to stop funding libraries.Report

  6. Avatar NewDealer
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    @will-truman @rufus-f @pierre-corneille

    and others.

    This thought occurred to me this morning. I think the problem is not with the libraries housing the Avengers DVD (which to be honest takes up very little space) but with a conservative and liberal divide over libraries in general. There are also problems with what happens when you know your stance goes against the mainstream or what is popular.

    It occurs to me that someone writing for a publication called The Federalist is going to think that it is not a properly constitutional or governmental exercise to operate public libraries. This is going to go against their concept of what the Constitution allows governments to do. A Federalist writer would want a specific and explicit provision in federal and state constitutions mandating libraries and a general welfare clause will not cut it.

    However, the Pew data shows that libraries are really one of the most universally popular government programs out there and this cuts across all demographics. The same is true for Public Broadcasting IIRC.

    What is a Federalist-conservative-libertarian to do? They are going to look at the data and come up with a populist argument about how it is a wealth transfer. That way, they get their no libraries and seem more populist than they really are. They are also incorrect about the use.

    Honestly, this is just one of those things that I am surprised people get so angry about. Is it really important to die on a hill over libraries? I get that liberals and conservatives will always disagree about the scope of funding and what government can and cannot fund constitutionally but libraries seem to be taking this fight to an absurd level.Report

  7. Avatar Dan Miller
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    I think one thing people are overlooking is that libraries are one way around the inherent inefficiency of intellectual property. There are a ton of books that I’ve bought, read once, enjoyed, but will never read again. The world would be better off if there was some way to share them once I’m done, and society has evolved the library as a tool for this (and this argument applies equally well to the Avengers as it does to War and Peace). A world without libraries is not Pareto-optimal.

    On a less theoretical note, libraries are great for kids. When I was a kid, I didn’t have enough money to buy all the books I wanted. Rather than annoy my parents until they took me to Borders, they could just turn me lose at the library.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Dan Miller
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      It’s a trade-off. The ability to share books means less deadweight loss due to people who value the book at less than retail price being able to read it, but on the other hand, it likely results in fewer books being written due to reduced sales, which is another source of deadweight loss.

      I think the subscription model is a good compromise. Charging a monthly fee for unlimited access allows publishers to make money while putting the marginal cost of gaining access to an additional book equal to the marginal cost of providing access, i.e., zero. There’s still some deadweight loss from people who want to read, but not enough to pay the monthly fee, but there’s no perfect solution.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Dan Miller
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      Used bookstores also serve that purpose, but libraries are even more effective since a library book can reach a lot more people, whereas one that’s sold and re-sold at a used bookstore will still only reach a few.

      Libraries are also an effective way to test-drive books: a lot of the books I own are ones I got from the library, read, liked, and proceeded to buy from a bookstore. So they can increase book purchases in some ways.Report

  8. Avatar Vikram Bath
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    Nearly 70% of Americans use the local library somewhat regularly and only 14% don’t use it at all.

    The former statistic amazes me.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Vikram Bath
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      Social desirability bias?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Brandon Berg
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        It could be that. It could also be the type of analysis they used. I only skimmed the PDF, but I got the impression they used a form of cluster analysis, which is a technique that tries to group like people with like. They ended up with four groups, and labeled the first one something like “highly-involved”, and the second something like “moderately involved”. And it turns out that those two groups add up to 69%. I didn’t dig to see how often the latter group actually goes to the library.Report

  9. Avatar KatherineMW
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    Like you, I’ve noticed that in Canada libraries seem to be, if anything, more used in lower-income areas. It’s definitely something worth thinking about for the US.

    I think libraries should retain a focus on books, but I support the provision of DVDs and (especially) internet service as well. Here’s a hypothesis about why there would be more computer-focused libraries in lower-income areas: wealthier people have their own computers and can afford an internet connection. If you can’t afford a connection and yet need to use the internet in order to communicate with people, apply for jobs, etc., the library is your best option.

    Regarding DVDs, I’d object more to the library trying to replace Blockbuster if Blockbuster still existed. With the bankruptcy of all the movie-rental outlets, if you want an actual, physical DVD rather than a Netflix subscription, the library’s pretty much the only thing out there. And there are some good documentaries at libraries as well.

    Books – both fiction and non-fiction – should remain the primary focus, though. I don’t think libraries need to focus overwhelmingly on non-fiction for the simple reason that – for the 75-80% or so of us who do have internet connections – almost anything you want to learn can be learned online. (It’s sifting out the good information from the junk that’s the challenge, but that’s a challenge when it comes to books as well.) Knowledge changes incredibly quickly in our time: any book on science or politics, to name two particularly fast-changing subject areas, will start to be outdated within a couple years at most. Providing broad access to fiction is what enables people who don’t have money to buy tons of books to develop a love of reading books.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to KatherineMW
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      says:

      I think people just misread the data entirely. of course parents have more money than non-parents, on a family by family basis. and of course parents are better connected. That’s all this is really measuring: parents take kids to the library a lot.
      Also, job seekers use the library a lot.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Reasonable point about families with kids. The study isn’t misreading that – it notes the fact specifically. But it’s not just families; most people use libraries fairly frequently.

        People who are less likely to use libraries, according to the study, are: young people who have moved recently and aren’t familiar with their local library; people with barriers to access (elderly, disabled); and low-income people living in very rural, low-population areas who often don’t have internet access.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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        says:

        Kat,
        no, I’m bitching about ND, and Rufus, and everyone else who didn’t bother reading the study to see what they meant by “high engagement” folks.
        [as a sidenote: when you measure how often folks go to sports games, and many parents go to every single little league game, you’ve just artificially inflated their engagement stats]Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Kim
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        says:

        I read the study, Kim. That’s an interesting wrinkle to it, but since it didn’t contradict what I wrote, I found no particular reason to highlight it. That’s also not “all it’s really measuring”.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to KatherineMW
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      says:

      With the bankruptcy of all the movie-rental outlets, if you want an actual, physical DVD rather than a Netflix subscription, the library’s pretty much the only thing out there.

      Does Netflix in Canada not give you the option to have actual, physical DVDs mailed to you?Report

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