The Public Living Room

June 6, 2015

While much of the information that libraries offer is available via the Internet, many of their services are not.  A 2013 Gallup survey showed that over 90 percent of Americans feel that libraries are important to their communities.  The recent recession, however, forced local governments to cut library funding by 38 percent and the federal government by 19 percent.  Some library users see the “public living room” (a place to read, access computers, research, play games, etc.) as a last bastion for old technology and printed material.

Alternet’s article. “Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever In The Age Of Google” highlights a new book by John Palfrey called BiblioTech that discusses how libraries can maintain their relevancy and importance in communities.  Palfrey’s biggest argument is that humans are creating huge amounts of data, which is controlled by big and small tech companies.  These companies are controlling what information is available for consumption, while libraries offer people the ability to access any type of information and free of charge.

Palfrey offers other reasons to continue using libraries: print and ink archives are more reliable than digital, how physical, communal space is important for communities and education, and how librarians are vital components.

“These arguments, however, rely too heavily on the humans-are-better-than-technology rationale where “better” is measured by technological rather than humanistic standards. If librarians have a higher success rate than Amazon’s algorithm at recommending books, this might not be true forever. Does that mean we won’t need librarians at some point? No, the dilemma of disappearing libraries is not just about efficiency, it’s also about values. Librarians recommend books because they are part of a community and want to start a discussion among the people they see around them—to solve the world’s problems, but also just to have a conversation, because people want to be near each other. The faster technology improves and surpasses human capability, the more obvious it becomes that being human is not merely about being capable, it’s about relating to other humans.”

Palfrey’s views are described as ideological and in many ways they are.  Politicians cut funding, because they view libraries as archaic institutions and are blinded when it comes to the inequity when it comes to information access. Libraries indeed need a serious overhaul, but unlike the article explains, it is not simply updating the buildings and collections.  It runs more along the lines of teaching people the importance of information and free information access.

Whitney Grace, June 7, 2015

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


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