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Thursday, July 9, 2015

ARE LIBRARIES OBSOLETE?

I'm into obsolescence these days.  Yesterday, I suggested that the Second Amendment was an anachronism through which gun people touted their patriotism.  Today I add a second cherished tradition:  LIBRARIES.  Honestly, now, when was the last time you walked into a library?  Mind you, using a computer in one doesn't count in this discussion to come.

I remember a time, perhaps two decades ago, when I served on a University of Hawaii super-committee to plan for the future of the campus.  I advanced three concepts:
  • have every faculty member advise ten students, forming long term relationships through picnics with the group, Thanksgiving dinners, etc.
  • the next athletic director should have at least one close link with a billionaire who could legally fund our programs, for we are too small and isolated to compete
  • shift the purpose of the Hamilton Library third wing (which was soon to be constructed) into the first virtual library, which would only use one floor, so the others could be dedicated to town-gown centers where our research could better be developed for patents and commercial enterprises
This turned out to be a quasi-traumatic, but wonderful, learning experience for me.  Stupidly, I just tossed these ideas out without gaining any pre-support, nor doing any research.  However, I was a busy person then, and did not have the time to develop strategy.  Plus, these were not priority items for me.

I was, though, surprised at the vituperative responses:
  • basically, the person in charge of counselors suggested that professors did not know enough about the curriculum, and most faculty would not want to be saddled with this major task
  • an academic institution should not be bought
  • oh the horror of being castigated by scholars who cherished a library, students who needed the space to study and ignominy of removing library space to start new companies
Here is a quote from my SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity on education:

I recall a dozen or so years ago being on a campus improvement committee. At some point I recommended that the new library currently under construction become a virtual library, and certain floors instead be used to support technology development initiatives, allowing companies to use them in partnership with the university to commercialize our research results. In those days, the concept was relatively new, and I felt, with some confidence, that we might have the inside track through our Stanford University connections linking with Google and a couple other companies in Silicon Valley to serve as the first wave of electronic centers.













While it was not particularly surprising, the reaction of the committee was swift and condemning. This was particularly invective from the humanities side of the aisle, and from students. I was effectively blackballed from the committee and lost any respect I previously might have had. I still kick myself today for backing off and not being any more convincing, for, at the least, I could have orchestrated a presentation from Google. However, like most people on campus, I was too busy to focus on this dubious need, so the world swept by the University of Hawaii, again.










I quit the committee, but mostly because I was mostly away when they met.

Further:

Now many years later, I’m writing this passage in my hotel room in Vancouver, Canada. There is an ongoing municipal strike that has affected the city for two months. Garbage collection is a pain and libraries are closed. Interestingly enough, people are mostly complaining that they are being deprived of using the free library computers. No one is missing the book borrowing part. If this is not a sign of things to come, I don’t know what can be.

I can go on and on, but I anguish that the University of Hawaii missed out on becoming a leading virtual library pioneer.  When I read where the top ten are located, I know we could have been among them, for we would have been the first to link with Google, which only recently at that time had been incorporated.  As much so, I wonder how many more companies and industries we could have spurred.

A few years ago I visited Kapolei High School when it was relatively new.  One of my stops was to the library, where the person in charge showed me her stacks with at the time only a few books, plus an impressive array of desktop computers.  The impression she gave me was that someday we'll have a real library with a lot of books.  Sensing this attitude, I left with a statement that confused her:  I next time I return, I would like to see fewer books, but the first high school virtual library in the world.

I shouldn't end this discussion only with my point of view.  Here is a an op-ed I recently saw by Thelma Harrop on Why we Still Need Public Libraries.  Are you ready for her justification?  Third places.  That is, public spaces other than work and home.  I think that is a truly weak rationale for an expensive operation taking up valuable space.  Oh, I'm supposed to give her space for providing an opposing argument.  

Anyway, she then goes on to say that humans need to mix with others.  How many go to a library to mix with others?  Maybe a room for a meeting, but not just because of "the human need to mix with others of the species."  More so, there are so few there.  If you must, just walk around a shopping center to gain this psychological satisfaction.

Frankly, I'm saying things without having gone into a library for many years.  Harrop indicates that now you can freely use cellphones in them, and children are encouraged to run around.  Hmmm...  More:

The spectacular Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library (below) in Kansas features an art gallery, cafe and "booktique" selling used books, jewelry and various gift items. I could have spent a week there.


I would have spent, maybe, an hour, if I had nothing more important to do.  Oh, well, this is a country where you can express your opinions, so I've indicated mine and Thelma too.

I'm not saying that we should demolish libraries.  The adjustments to the left can be accommodated on one floor.  A public gathering center makes good sense.  All books will soon be digitized.  We should re-use all that space now accommodating dusty books, and, certainly, don't buy any more.  What to do with books?  Give them away to the few in our society who wants them.  There will remain leftovers.  This is beginning to sound too much like Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, but generate a few megawatts through judicious recycling.

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Well, there are six ocean storms in the Pacific:


The eye of Typhoon Chan-hom at 130 MPH churned right between Miyakojima and Okinawa, causing damage and many injuries, with a projected landfall at Taizhou, then a right turn, weakening, and passing  over Shanghai towards South Korea:


Super Typhoon Nangka at 155 MPH has a track just north of Chan-hom, and is wandering in the general direction of Japan:



While Chan-hom maintained a steady line towards China, Nangka will most probably wobble a bit, weaken, then re-strengthen into a Category 3, finally most probably head northwards, either striking Japan or cruising the eastern coastline.  For some reason, computer models have been careful about predictions into the future.

Ela became the first named tropical storm of the Central Pacific, a region which does not do this alphabetically.  While computer models show a track north of Hawaii through the weekend, one projection has Elle making a sudden left turn to the south between Oahu and Molokai:



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