Athena's Head

On Writing, Parenting, and Pop-Mom Culture

Martha Nichols

Martha Nichols
Location
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Birthday
March 18
Title
Editor in Chief
Company
Talking Writing
Bio
I am Editor in Chief of Talking Writing, an online literary magazine. I'm also a contributing editor at the Women's Review of Books and a freelance journalist in the Boston area. Martha on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Athenas_Head (I cross-post most OS entries on my website Athena's Head. I am not paid a cent for any reviews or product references—these opinions are mine alone.)

MY RECENT POSTS

Editor’s Pick
MARCH 15, 2010 9:17AM

What Are Libraries For?

Rate: 35 Flag

I'm amazed at what I get for free in public libraries. Books, big tottering stacks of books, but there's also computer access and, in the last few years, free Wi-Fi. When my son was younger, we went to story hours and sing-a-longs.

Libraries are one of the great loves of my life. That's why a hearing last week about the Boston Public Library's proposal to close some neighborhood branches has me on edge. And several months after the opening of the new main library in Cambridge, I find myself asking an unexpected question.

What's the purpose of libraries—really? To be a community gathering place? To promote life-long learning? To help users navigate the information flow? To store print documents for the historical record, as Nicholson Baker argues they should (and aren't) in Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper?

Libraries can serve all these functions. But what they mean to us as physical spaces is changing, and the information-science vision has now been enshrined at Cambridge Main.

When I visited the new building recently, I saw people; I saw open shelves and attractively displayed books. But few people were reading those books, and I saw way too much unused space, the kind of emptiness beloved by architects.

New Main Library in Cambridge, Mass.

From the third floor, I stared down at a slim man in a chair. He had a laptop on his knees; ear-buds dangled against his black-sweatered chest. Behind him sat more glowing screens on Ikea-like desks.

The laptop users perched on the second floor in a glassed-in bay. I was up in the Children's Room—no longer a room but a vast acreage at the top of the building—sitting in a chair that looks as if it were hewn from an exotic log.

Of course I'm only one observer, floating through on a weekday afternoon. The new main branch opened just last November. Its systems have yet to be tested, and it will evolve over time, with plenty of community backtalk.

But the building, a glass box that's attached to the old Victorian-era gothic fancy, also reflects new ideas about information and who gets access to information. It has none of the old clutter, and for me, that's a problem. 

 Architecture Week, not surprisingly, calls it "stunning":

"The older building's Richardsonian Romanesque style is all about ponderous granite and brownstone and circular geometry—arches, cylinders, and cones. The glass addition goes in the opposite direction aesthetically: it is light, transparent, crisp, and orthogonal."

Yes, it's an orgasmic spread from Architectural Digest. It's a po-mo watering hole, complete with dark pink walls and stairways. But I wonder who this design is supposed to attract. If you're not middle-class, college-educated, and adorned with an iPhone or laptop—or, more to the funding point, a potential donor—I have my doubts about how inviting this is.

I also question all the open space in the entrance area. I question the unspoken belief that the books are a design element, like potted plants. When the building first opened last fall, the glowing review in the Boston Globe noted that library director Susan Flannery "wanted to create a 'hybrid' that would mix the qualities of a library and a retail bookstore."

A retail bookstore? With all its emphasis on market share? I feel the cold hand of commerce squeezing my lefty heart.

In a town of bookish big mouths, revamping the main library was political and emotional; a twenty-year resident of Cambridge, I remember it well. Local press has since been enthusiastic. But although the old building needed lots of fixing, I'm now reevaluating my own opinion of whether the City should have spent $91 million on this architectural marvel.

If nothing else, the hearing about the Boston libraries, as reported in the Globe and other papers, makes clear that such decisions involve triage. It also hints at attitudes about what kind of information "sells." If you've got money for new facilities, do you focus on storing print documents (as Nicholson Baker would promote) or build the equivalent of a Barnes & Noble? If you don't have money, what matters? Computers? Children's activities? New or old books?

The angry voices at the hearing weren't asking for new buildings or computers. They just wanted the old branches to stay open. "It's outrageous that it has come to this," the Globe quoted one Dorchester resident at the packed hearing, who accused Mayor Tom Menino of chucking libraries "as a 21st-century anachronism, something that can be replaced by Yahoo and Google."

The president of the Boston Public Library, as well as the library board chair, argued that there weren't enough computers or staff to go around. But one active member of a threatened library branch asked if the decision really was just about money: "Even if a miracle happened and you got your $3.6 million, would you still be looking to close branches?"

Library administrators noted that an infusion of money would help, but they didn't deny that they still might consolidate services and staff.

Meanwhile, protests continue. As Globe columnist Renee Loth notes, the library "is threatening to become the site of a classic Boston brawl, with neighborhoods [pitted] against one another clamoring over a shrinking pie." This past Saturday, adults and children staged a "read-in" at one branch.

In Cambridge, after watching the laptop users, I walked down the pink stone stairway to the nonfiction stacks. I found Double Fold and settled in to a Danish-modern reading chair. OK. I loved my view of roof tops and clouds through the windows. I liked the whisper-clicks of keyboards all around me. I'm the target audience. But if I'd wanted to, I could have ordered Double Fold by logging on to the library network at home. I didn't need to be there—but then that brings up questions about why anybody needs to be in a library.

I continued down to the ground floor with its "cafe" and alcove of vending machines. The round metal tables were thronged by chattering high school students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin next door.

I followed the signs back to the old building. (The new building is called "Glass," the old "Stone.") One of the reading rooms with its WPA murals is still open to the public. Its built-in shelves are stocked with large-print books. The intended demographic is obvious, although few people occupied these tables.

The restored murals illustrate the history of printing, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and Chinese, then shifting to "1422-1491: William Caxton, the First English Printer" to Benjamin Franklin and Gutenberg. I thought about what a twenty-first century panel might depict. Rows of computers? Shuttered newsrooms? Words vaporizing?

Yet the movement of so much text into cyberspace doesn't necessarily amount to empty space—and that's the irony. Like the laptop users upstairs, I now find most of the rich clutter I love online rather than in a building like this. 

Outside again, I walked in the drizzle over to the old Stone entrance, which has been glassed-in as a small conference room. A decade ago, this entryway was packed with community boards and messy stacks of fliers. In Glass, I only saw one notice board, and that was up in the Children's Room. Even that had none of the willy-nilly announcements for yoga classes and babysitters.

I miss the overflowing shelves of the old Children's Room, the closer confines that provided more intimacy with the librarians. I'm nostalgic, I admit, strapped to my own memories. I started bringing my son to old Stone when he was a toddler. I didn't care if the kids and moms and nannies were relegated to the basement. We'd sit on that fusty rug with ragged stuffed animals, and at his height, in every direction, he'd see books. He'd grab them and scatter them, as quickly as he now hops sites with Google. 

Regardless of what administrators say, the current library aesthetic isn't just about practicality. The new building encourages no creative scattering. It may be a library scientist's dream of control, but it's not mine. How different it would be if that glass box were crammed with books. From the park outside, we'd see far more than emptiness. And maybe we'd come to believe in a vision of information that's not constantly threatening to overwhelm us.


 

Your tags:

TIP:

Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
Your last paragraph says it all. Nicely done, Martha.
For me, a library is part of my bucket list -- a public place to have sex with a 50-50 chance of getting caught. Want to do this before I kick-it. That's what a library is for.

: )

(you can delete this comment if you want -- I was in a goofy mood)
Thanks, Kathy.

CrazeCzar--Ha! I get the personal need to use the library in this way, but it kind of makes my point: do you really need the library as a place for public sex? Especially a $91-million architectural gem with lots of natural light?
I so agree with this. I knew a guy who worked in city govt. here and his take on libraries - that they were not really needed anymore and the quicker we could get rid of them the better - was chilling to me. He doesn't work in this city anymore, but I bet he was not alone in his thinking.
I like the vision of a sleek, modern glass box - stuffed with the hodge-podge of color and sizes of many books, pressed up agains the glass. As if the glass might break from being so full of knowledge. (Our small town library is only 500 square feet, with a small attatched portable for non fiction. It's staffed with volunteers who bring in crafty decorations and pound cake cut into slices. They still stamp the books with a knobby date stamp. It is a haven.)
This is such a great post. The analogy to a Barnes and Noble seems apt.

I prefer heading to the crusty old Seward Park branch of the NYPL. It smells a bit, has a lot of stairs, stacks and walls of books. It has a character that I love and an environment, to me, that encourages reading. Not kindling, or googling. I share your nostalgia and longing for a jam packed notice board. xx a
I love the solitude of a library but I prefer the old red brick buildings of my youth to the modern glass and chrome structures of today. There was something about the dark wood tables, heavy scent of old papers and air of mystery that made the experience more gripping. In an old library we are surrounded by life -- other people's lives -- and we get to share it all just by turning a page. In new libraries, we just check out the books.
R
Libraries are great, aren't they? Even if they're just one or two rooms and some dusty stacks.

Bellwether--It would be so wonderful if the new main CPL looked like a box full of books. As it is, the view from a street, praised by architects and other planner types, is of soaring emptiness with a single orange pathway streaking through. You don't see book shelves until you get near the entrance, and they are very open and not packed with books. The whole thing is way too orderly. My response, among other things, has made me realize I've been fighting a life-long battle against that kind of order(!)
The old libraries were also community centers, and some newer ones (and smaller ones, as in BWV comment) have that focus as well. It's a shame to lose the substance of libraries, especially when it involves that kind of investment.
I do indeed miss those Dewey Decimal System cards. Another thing our kids will say "huh?" to.
R
This is thoughtful, troubling and prescient. If libraries aren't warm and welcoming, literacy suffers. And the concept of "public" is inherently democratic and American. We continue to splinter and debase the the concept of neighborhood -- branches are places children and people without cars can access easily. Carnegie's gift to the nation has been giving and continues to give daily in communities across the nation. One of my proudest moments lately came when I got two children of my acquaintance to get their first library card. They loved it. Now they read. Small victories, big dividends. It wouldn't have happened if they'd had to go downtown -- their library was 2 minutes away. Their mother's home is noisy, chaotic and smoke-filled. We all need a haven, and temples to literacy make more sense to me if they are truly user-friendly.
Martha, this is also beautifully written. And it was serendipitously found, just the experience I cherish at a library.
I'm a librarian - Soon enough all of the world's information will fit in our pockets it poses a huge challenge to the profession.

I think all new libraries simply need spaces dedicated to community needs: reading nooks, places for teapartybaggers/and knitting clubs, and enough room for annoying hipsters with laptops and old people with newspapers.

Of course libraries are closing despite people wanting the service, it's always the first thing they cut out of city budgets in a bad economy. A good number of us young hip street smart librarians have careers that only teeter on the edge of libraries...

(Everyone please pay your property taxes or pray the Bill Gates is the next Dale Carnegie)
Yes, a library is a place as well as a concept. Sure I can log in and order books from home, and I often do. I also pick them up as I pass by on my way through to somewhere else... this one, and that one, and the other one.

One of my local childrens' librarians also works at my local farmer's market (a friend of hers owns a small farm). Seeing my favorite children's librarian selling carrots at the market makes me realize how vital both services are to the community. The library isn't just the books, it's the discovery, the communication, the chance to say to a trained librarian "my son likes this, what else can you recommend?" At the farmer's market, it's the same quality. "Wow that asparagus looks awesome. Where did you get it?" and "Who is playing in that bluegrass band? I need a CD." Sure, I can go to Barnes and Noble or Safeway and get books and nutrition, but it is NOT the same.

Rated.
You know what I miss the most about college/grad school/living on a campus?

I could go to the library at 1 in the morning.

Rated.
It is the last paragraph that makes it clear. We go to the library to find books we might not otherwise see. What would be it be like if we simply only looked at the books force fed to us by the commercial world? A horrible place, honestly. It's simply wrong, to replace what was good for what is potentially not good. If we evolve, let us retain those aspects with good parts to them. It's a shortsighted move by those in charge in Boston.
"I question the unspoken belief that the books are a design element, like potted plants". I am so with you on this. Beautiful piece. Thank you. It made me sad, though.
Sheesh, yet another socialist program. Libraries for all? Seriously, what are hoping for, a literate electorate?

When will you socialists learn? If you're not rich you can't have stuff. What next a book in every home?
When I studied in New York I was surrounded by all of these spectacular libraries yet failed to make good use of them. I should have lived in them, had I known my time there would be brief. I live in a very small island now, in the middle of the Caribbean, and though there are quite a few libraries, none can compare to those I left behind.

People should know better. Libraries are the mute guardians of knowledge.
In the Great Depression, libraries were no doubt affected. Twenty-five percent of the population was unemployed. However, not one single library or library branch CLOSED at that point. Nowadays the "haves" say I have my computer and internet--so I don't need your nasty old library. The "have-nots" say I have my Nintendo and X-Box and WII so I don't need your nasty old library. In fact, the library is an essential part of a community and always ALWAYS a bargain to keep clean, filled, and staffed. Of course, what urban libraries face now is that the "homeless" have taken over. Because every other place they might sit is monitored by security cameras and believes that only paying customers are entitled to real estate. There are days when my favorite people in the library are the homeless ones. People want to be divorced from the mix of their city's demographics--to have a nice, clean, glassy space with computers and cappucino machines. Not the slightly dim but rich and ordinary public libraries that people remember using as they grew up. How wonderful that you have "stone" and "glass" and that stone kept its WPA mural. Eventually, you'll be able to take back "stone" from the subtle segregation. I can't believe that they are closing so many libraries over less than $4 million dollars! Think about how far $4 million goes in healthcare or highway re-surfacing--libraries are a bargain.
This goes against conventional wisdom but I think that we may have to consider charging for the use of "public" libraries (for those who can pay, of course). Even if it's only $5 per library card or asking for a donation. Every time I hear of a library closing I'm saddened...I remember my first time going to the library, I couldn't believe it was all "free." It was a wonderful feeling that more and more children are losing.
Nolalibrarian--Just to clarify, the branches in Boston haven't closed yet. This was a hearing about a proposal to close up to ten neighborhood branches, and it's become a political football. The Boston Globe is giving the protests a lot of play, just as I'm writing about it here, and it may not come to pass. You're very right that it's a fairly modest amount of money for a municipal budget. Libraries are a very good deal.

Happy -- A number of people at the hearing, I believe, suggested modest fees for library cards. (I think one of them waved a ten-dollar bill.) It could easily be a sliding scale, and the fact that administrators were proposing branch closures rather than user fees is another demonstration of a particular kind of mindset about libraries. However, the BPL may start talking about user fees if it's politically expedient for the Menino administration to do so.
Didn't your mayor fire Bernie Margolis, the Library Director, a couple of years ago--something about the mayor preferring to hire non-qualified staff (patronage) for the library. Nothin like rakin up old political scandals. The Boston Public Library is one of the best things the city ever did--something everyone should be proud of and support.
We're in the beginnings of a huge transition from print books to digital. At present, it seems like publishers are wedded to a model that has a lot to do with the restrictions of printing, distributing, and selling print books, when digital books don't need those restrictions.

Libraries have an opportunity to shape the form of the coming era. Maybe we need to think about what we want in the library of the future, keeping in mind the idea of a library as a place of learning and books, not as a community center.
People are design elements -- like potted plants. Especially politicians and pundits.
Why can't it be both a community centre and a place for learning and books.
The books part won't go away that easily. Kids need picture books to learn to read and love "books" as a concept. They are portable, durable, and usually cheap. Free if you use the public library!!! I also think that having the actual page to mark up is a worthwhile use--I may have stuff I've saved on a flash drive, etc, but how do I just open it up and show it to someone? Also, how do I smash flowers flat if I have no books?? Stack old CPUs on top of them? Libraries have offered public use computers for a while and Bill Gates and his wife have subsidized those to the tune of MILLIONS. However, if Warren Buffett wanted to work on upgrading the physical library buildings, who'd turn down those billions.
The thought of libraries closing makes me so sad. I was just at my local branch yesterday and was reminded of how peaceful all those stacks of plastic-covered books makes me feel. We now have computers in our library but thankfully, they have not taken over the place and books still dominate.
I'm a big fan of both design and aesthetics but when you tell me 91 million has been spent as library branches are being closed, I feel I know who's being shortchanged -- the small towns and urban communities that could most benefit, the patrons who don't have access to the Internet or the expertise of the trained library scientists who can guide them through searches, the kids who may not be as "into" reading, the elderly who draw comfort from the companionship of like-minded strangers. Sure, money was dedicated to this building in advance of the financial crisis that has necessitated scaling back, but these kinds of actions only increase the disparity between comfortable and less so.

I'm not prepared to debate whether physical books are the wave of the future but they are with us now and deserve their place in the sun -- or on the shelves. As for a place that allows us to interact, however nominally, with others, and to access and/or absorb information without being overwhelmed by it -- absolutely, we need libraries.
Believe me, this is not all library scientists' dream. I am a believer in the room crammed full of books. But, at my own library, I can count on my hands the books that actually get checked out every quarter. Our students much prefer websites, and if forced, article databases, and no amount of hyping and salesmanship on my part seems to be changing that. It's hard to convince the people holding the purse strings to continue capital outlay for books just in case a patron wants to use them, when there seems to be little evidence that will be the case. I guess what I am saying is that the issue of libraries being valued is closely tied to whether or not we have a literary (and literate) culture. What we need to do is figure out how to help inspire that.
Recently Philidelphia went through something very similiar.

Let me be clear on this. One of the biggest problems is a glut of retirements, add in the fact that most people with library science degrees are being lured by more lucrative jobs in tech, academia, and other government positions, it is not surprising there is struggles.

Let me put it clearly, I am an archivist, I am also a modernizer. What I do is I facilitate the modernization of systems to move away from traditional paper sources and into electronic ones. I am also part of the issue, but the issue is out of necessity.

There will ALWAYS be public libaries, but they will probably be a much different structure than they are now, with very different goals. Historic collections in centralized libraries, and branches may look like internet cafes managing Inter-library loan systems.

Part of it is the fact that librarians, because our numbers are decreasing (the number of schools with MLIS programs are very low, the number of people going into those programs is low, the entire profession is awash with boomers retiring). This however does not eliminate the fact that the skillset of librarians and archivists is not in demand. Public libraries are becoming less attractive options with thier lower pay scale and less prestige.

Right now the thing most people took for granted is in a massive transformative stage, and so is the profession. I think the closing and scaling back of branches is part of that change. It is partially to better and more effeciently manage budgets, its partially because there is not enough librarians to go around to run these branches, it is partially because the way people are using libraries has changed.

The message though for public libraries themselves is clear: evolve or die.
Recently Philidelphia went through something very similiar.

Let me be clear on this. One of the biggest problems is a glut of retirements, add in the fact that most people with library science degrees are being lured by more lucrative jobs in tech, academia, and other government positions, it is not surprising there is struggles.

Let me put it clearly, I am an archivist, I am also a modernizer. What I do is I facilitate the modernization of systems to move away from traditional paper sources and into electronic ones. I am also part of the issue, but the issue is out of necessity.

There will ALWAYS be public libaries, but they will probably be a much different structure than they are now, with very different goals. Historic collections in centralized libraries, and branches may look like internet cafes managing Inter-library loan systems.

Part of it is the fact that librarians, because our numbers are decreasing (the number of schools with MLIS programs are very low, the number of people going into those programs is low, the entire profession is awash with boomers retiring). This however does not eliminate the fact that the skillset of librarians and archivists is not in demand. Public libraries are becoming less attractive options with thier lower pay scale and less prestige.

Right now the thing most people took for granted is in a massive transformative stage, and so is the profession. I think the closing and scaling back of branches is part of that change. It is partially to better and more effeciently manage budgets, its partially because there is not enough librarians to go around to run these branches, it is partially because the way people are using libraries has changed.

The message though for public libraries themselves is clear: evolve or die. I think many are evolving, but some are on the edge of death.
So glad this is getting the coverage it deserves - Libraries are essential, and the story in Boston is really disheartening. Great post, Martha!
I'm glad to have some librarians weigh in, because I don't think this is a simple issue. If I were writing this as a feature (and I'm thinking about that) rather than me just opinionating, I'd look at what rank-and-file librarians think vs. administrators and funders. I'd look at stats for who's using libraries and why.

Nikki -- Just to clarify (and it's a little bit my fault for talking about libraries in two very different cities), the $91 million was for the new main branch of the Cambridge Public Library. As I recall, $10 million came from state funding; the rest is on the backs of Cambridge tax payers. The proposed branch closures are in Boston, which has its own version of town vs. gown animosities. (Cambridge did close several neighborhood branches a couple of years ago.)

TheSweetStars -- You make excellent points about the rock-and-hard-place libraries and librarians are between. I also agree with several commenters that the real issue here has to do with public support of reading and literate culture.

So what I wonder, truly, is what do we mean when we talk about the conversion from print to digital? If libraries become the equivalent of Internet cafes--physical nodes, perhaps, where we can pick up books we've ordered online--what kind of community spaces should they be? I would argue that they should be small and intimate and maybe a little messy, like a cafe, and they should be in every neighborhood. Most of the books can be stores somewhere else. But I'm interested in hearing other visions from those who have been slogging it out in the trenches.
Re: Nolalibrarian's comment:

This is very true of the main branch of the NOPL, which I would use more frequently if it had better hours (due to my work schedule, it's hard to make it over to the library AND to work on time), and esp. in the winter, going in the early evening isn't really an option since I'm on foot and it's not really the safest neighborhood to be wandering around after dark in.

I don't know which branch you're at, but if you're at the main or pre-Katrina at the Gentilly branch, I've probably met you.

I also owe you about $20 in late fees.
Sorry for misleading typo. It should be: "Most of the books can be stored somewhere else." And I'd add, those storage facilities can be utilitarian, not fancy.

Whether we need to store print documents is another question, one Nicholson Baker fiercely argued in Double Fold.
As my toddler asked me when San Francisco got a sparkly, new, and architecturally stunning Main Library several years ago: "Where are all the books?" Luckily, our branch libraries,while dependent on constant fundraising, are much more about the books than anything else. But they don't come anywhere near the libraries of my childhood, where I spent hours wandering the stacks. Only books.
Sweet stars- do you really think there's a shortage of MLIS students? I'll be beginning my studies in that area this fall and everything I've read says there's a glut of qualified students and not quite enough jobs for them all. Maybe the situation is a little different in Canada though.
The shortage of librarians due to retirements is something that has been predicted for 20 years now. I'm not sure that it wasn't a made up recruiting tool by some obscure ALA committee COSWL-RWMTSUP (Retirements will make them sign up). Right now, libraries are in deep trouble all over the country. However, if someone remotely intelligent looks at the issue--whatever libraries do, they do cheaply. They do for everyone who can wander in or log on. They are versatile buildings and versatile staff. I've been hearing "the death of print" so long and it seems to be as far off as ever. Databases are much more fun than any print source--but there's so much more. And you still need someone to point you in the right direction or save you from hours on the internet trying to google some itty bitty speck of information.
I am a children's librarian in a public library very close to Cambridge, where we offer the exact same services as the glorious, new Cambridge Library, but in a building that represent what you are nostalgic for. I often relish in making lemonade from lemons, and think we do a fine job given the out-of-date conditions I work in every single day, however there's nothing romantic about offering services to the patrons of 2010 in a building that hasn't been renovated since the mid-70s. We have not only had to force technology into this building, but our print collection has outgrown the space to hold it. I can't begin to tell you how many beloved picture books we've need to weed to make space, based on the number of times it has circulated.

You might notice some possible quirks with the construction, and have sensibilities and desires that don't quite fit the new building, but make no mistake: the Cambridge Public Library has done a great and profound thing. The new main library is a love letter to Cambridge residents and a commitment to the ongoing pursuit of life long learning. It's a space that will evolve, which is nothing to be worried about. It fits books, programs, and Internet use. It's for you and for the thousands of other people who use it. It's a place for books and more.
Children'slibrarian--I certainly appreciate what you're saying, and I have very mixed feelings about the new library myself. However, I expected to like it much more than I do. My expectations were based on all the things you've noted--programs, more shelf space, the teen lounge, etc. Yet my unease isn't just based on my own sensibilities, although they are certainly part of it. I find the highly designed look of the place not a good match for what might be called "information joy" (excuse the half-baked phrase). I'd rather see the emphasis be on people--as in staff and patrons--than on fancy fixtures.

And then there's the extremely sparse fiction collection in the unappealing basement...
Martha: My friend and college roommate is Roger Boothe, Director of Urban Design for Cambridge; my friend and former client is Amy Ryan, Director of the Boston Public Library. You should consider interviewing them. I have posted your article on my company's FaceBook page (MS&R) as well as our library blog at www.msrlibraryworld.wordpress.com. I actually interviewed for this project (I am a library architect) and feel you are touching an important nerve--the intersection of the digital and analog world. It is a serious topic needing more thoughtful debate such as your post. Thank you for articulating your POV.
Hmm. I get what you are saying, but what I see when I go to the library is how excited my kids are to race up the stairs, the armloads of books they squabble over and read in the windowsills, the shelves of early reader chapterbooks that my first grader is plowing through methodically....reading more than I could ever afford to buy her! The computers that are at their level that they can log into using their library cards (we don't do much with computers at home, mostly because my laptop is sort of old and tempermental). This is the library they will grow up with. They have already spent a lot of time there, and it will be a part of what they remember from their early reading years. This is where they will do .... something .... whatever studying and researching looks like ... plus I'm sure a fair amount of goofing with friends... when they are at Rindge and Latin. It may not be our personal picture of nostalgia as an older generation - but these are the kinds of spaces and aesthetics *TODAYS* kids, who are surrounded by adults who use, or at least covet, things like iPhones, who use donated Apple computer at school - this totally fits with what they are growing up with.
The media coverage on libraries overlooks the most pertinent issue. Libraries diminish the gap between haves and have-nots through a system of resource sharing that makes unlimited reading materials (in multiple formats) available to anyone with a library card. Libraries promote literacy and help to create an informed citizenry. Perhaps the most wealthy among us can afford to buy whatever they want to read in any format they wish to view it. A voracious reader like me would quickly go broke if I had to purchase all of the books that I am able to borrow from my public library. Disclaimer: I am a librarian and proud of it!
My heart stopped for a quick second when I saw the headline! I LOVE my library (LA Central). I use it for research & entertainment. When I've been out of a job, libraries have been places where I could post applications & scour job listings, & also sources of free entertainment when I had no money. And, LA Central & its neighborhood branches are full of people everyday of the week-- people from all walks of life. On the weekends, there are lines of people gathered, waiting for the library to open. Luckily, after the big renovation in the 90s, it was kept human-sized & welcoming, neither architecturally cheap nor awe-inspiring, although I really hate the big lamp-mobiles hanging in the main hall -- they're really ugly.
I wonder that you think that libraries are free. $19 million dollars to build one has to come from somewhere. How about MA taxes at work.
When you purchase a book at your favorite book store, you are actually paying twice for that book - check your *free* library first. It's probably already on the shelf.
My favorite books stores are the Boulder Bookstore and the Denver Tattered Cover (the Lo-Do and now gone, original location). Floor after floor of books with lots of hidden nooks. Wood floors, old building, creaky stair cases, the smell of old wood and books.

While I love libraries and still visit my local ones often - as others have noted - the new glass ones just don't have the ambiance of the old ones. I don't feel the sense of adventure and exploring the past in the bright new glass walled libraries. There are few if any hidden nooks where you feel kinda like Lucy entering the wardrobe. I still go and wander the aisles and find all sorts of books I would never know of others. I also check out movies, music, and attend free movies (often silent or other old classics) at my library. But most modern libraries feel oddly sterile given the incredible richness of their contents.
There's so much that is being lost now I cannot even begin to explain my sadness
I thing the main reason after the internet for the lost of classical image of libraries in the societies are the non entrance of non mature people as CrazeCzar said.
Telling story and book reading for the children is really happy and enjoyable.
I do indeed miss those Dewey Decimal System cards. Another thing our kids will say "huh?" to.
to the powered don`t interesting the libraries.....it`s obvious...
The 54 libraries of the Nassau Library System hire all part-time and full-time librarians through civil service. There has not been one job,part-time or full-time for over a year. At least they don't close libraries however. Except in the summer, the libraries are open from 9 to 9, Monday to Thursday, 9-5 on Friday and Saturday, and 1-5 on Sunday. They are wonderful libraries, but the librarians can't have time to order books, plan programs, etc.

I would rather abolish all sports programs then close libraries. Kids can always run around.
This is nice post.All this post is interesting and lovely . I like this all content. Thank,s to the writer for writing this post.

cd