Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Enquirer - With so much info on phone, why huge library?

I came across letter to the editor in the Cincinnati Enquirer (The Enquirer - With so much info on phone, why huge library?) a little over a week ago, and I felt I needed to comment on it, but not without thinking about it a bit more.

At first, I was a bit miffed at Aaron Gillum. I thought, "Hey, you have no idea what you're talking about. Data isn't the beginning and the end of information. There's also interpretation, and people want money for that. Who's going to provide that for the people who have no internet skills or access? You? 'Hey, everyone who can't afford a Blackberry with a data service plan go see Aaron--he'll let you use his!'"

But then I looked a bit more closely at his argument, and at the library in question, and I did begin to wonder, "Do libraries have an edifice complex?"

Now, before you judge me, I do believe that Mr. Gillum is missing part of the point--unless you are ready to digest all of the data required to understand every complex issue in your life, you will probably want to peruse a book or two. Perhaps Mr. Gillum likes to read his books on his mobile phone. The typical book, however, makes for very difficult reading on today's computer screens and mobile phones, unless you're willing to shell out $400 for a Kindle. If you're going to get books, or Kindles, you'll need money--something that not everyone has an abundance of these days.

By the way, how will the taxpayers support Mr. Gillum's proposed 43,000 household network? Who will repair the laptops, train the 100,000 residents in their use, and replace those that are damaged or stolen? Where will they pick up their printouts--or should the state provide printers, ink and paper, too?

On the other hand, how will county residents access the news archives, local histories, and other information that has been gathered and even produced by Kentucky's librarians over the years? I don't believe that most people understand the scope of information that is available at their local library regarding local history and government. The internet is global and it's a wonderful way to communicate and store information, but history didn't start in the 1990's--there's a lot that came before it that impacts who we are today, and much of it is local.

I could go on, but I want to come back to my point about this "edifice complex." I think that part of the reason that taxpayers like Mr. Gillum think of libraries as they do relates to how libraries present themselves. We are so focused on getting them into the building that we don't always focus on the value that we add to the community by being who we are--librarians. We are (supposedly) information experts, and information is king in the new economy. So why aren't we making better headway?

I want to explore this a bit further in my next post, but I feel that the future of the library lies in organizing information in the local community more aggressively: stepping beyond the walls of our fabulous buildings and working with members of the community as they create the information that makes us who we are--information that Mr. Gillum failed to seek at his local library.

3 Comments:

aarongillum said...

I believe the delivery was perhaps mis-stated in the article.

It was also very edited from it's original form (as the enqurier frequently does with my writing).

The orginal argument made a clear point of the county wasting millions of dollars on a lavish facility when they can't afford to staff their cleaning crews. Your Boone County tax base (yes those rich Northern Kentucky evil elitists) probably have a computer at home if not two. Basically, if you have a child in elementery school in Boone County, you'd better - it's expected. Suffice to say, you've probably got a cell phone if you have a kid in school - god knows you can't drop little Jimmy off without talking on it while driving...

The county could have easily purchased substantially less prominent land, made tax base revenue on the prime real estate they occupy now, and built an equivalent facility or refurbished a historical building in old Burlington to house this. Instead they opted for guitar hero, copper domes, and free DVD movies.

The facts are that this is a mis-use of the publics trust, and simply a monument built by the current county administration to themselves. It's as simple as pushing a few keys on my $100 sony phone to get access to a fairly large international data repository....why do we need this monstosity when so many other projects go unfunded.

- Aaron Gillum

Rob A. said...

As far as the building itself goes, Aaron, I don't think that the availability of information on the internet impacts the argument. If the county paid too much for the land or the building, that's a stewardship issue, not an information issue.

As far as the availability of information goes, yes, information is available on the internet, but not all of it. Much that is of cultural, educational or historical importance is not available on the internet, yet. Much is available for purchase online or at bookstores, but let's not forget that the library is here as a guarantee that even the poorest among us can better ourselves.

Finally, I clicked on the link to re-read your article--and saw that the Enquirer had pulled it from its free online access status. I'll have to pay $2.95 to read it now...unless I go to my library's web site and access it for free through one of the databases (proprietary) that they provide for the public.

Anonymous said...

Rob,

Your counterpoint is understood, and appreciated. It's always good to keep oneself in balance, and anyone who might recognize who both John Paul Jones and Bob Hartman are can't be all bad. :)

I'm happy to forward you the original, or a high res scan of the printed copy.

Amazingly enough, yes, the internet era geek has a periodical or two around the house.

-
aarongillum@yahoo.com