CNET Editor:”The library?How quaint!” CNET is now off my Kindle

I just had to ‘buzz out’  loud this writer’s  Buzz Out podcast!  Coming from a technology magazine, I guess I should know better.  I’ve not read Mr. Cooley’s columns before but I was not taken aback by his shortsighted point of view but by his deliberate taunting.  I guess it worked- I’m blogging the guy’s column!  CNET is now off my Kindle.

via LISnews

CNET Editor: “The library? How quaint!”

April 23, 2011 – 3:36pm — Anonymous Patron (not verified)

Brian Cooley, CNET’s senior technology commentator and editor at large, offers his view of libraries during a segment about Kindle’s new library services on the April 20, 2011 “Buzz Out Loud” podcast (starting at 14:00 minutes):

“… I’m still a little vague on this.

Why would I go or deal with a library to borrow a book? You don’t have to go there, right?

This is weird. Why would a library have anything to do with virtual books? It doesn’t make sense. Locality is about physical books. They’re physically available in a certain place, so your library houses them, but once they’re virtual, locality goes out the door. It’s weird.

The library thing is real divisive. We can start a hate storm. I mean, I’m sorry folks, but I don’t get libraries. In this day and age, I don’t get libraries. Great air conditioning, good place to nap, right? Libraries are for the very old and the very unemployed. I’m sorry, that’s where it’s at right now. It doesn’t make sense anymore.

The local library’s really starting to get shaky to my mind, unless it’s for the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, and the very old. That’s what libraries are for now. What kid in high school is going to get anything out of the library? Seriously, you’ve got some ninety-year-old reference librarian who’s going to point you to what, a Britannica volume to look something up? All you’ve got to do is Google. For crying out loud….” (LIS)

My comment:

Sorry Mr. Cooley…I strongly disagree.  Where I live, I see libraries being used by many enthusiastic people. In my high school 10 1800 kids. I see over 1000 each day. There are 30 or so every morning waiting when I unlock. Full to capacity every lunch hour and we circulate books- yes books- galore. Despite the myth, many teens are reading books and prefer the old analog paperback. The Kindle books etc you speak are great( I loan them out to students) but many kids simply don’t have the money to buy these devices. According to my surveys, they don’t like even reading textbooks on laptops or on their smart phones. Teens indeed do use the library because it is a ‘geographical thing’. They’d rather be welcomed to actually sit on a chair and not a concrete floor or the sidewalk. Have you been inside a school lately? School libraries are more than just books.

Our public library, including many suburban branches, are very busy places. Yes, the poor and needy are drawn to the Library. ( not everyone is affluent like you ) Even the poor deserve access to books, computers and expertise. Our public libraries have toddlers, teens to grannies. I see all kinds of people there- even wealthy technology columnists with Blackberries and iPads! They all come for various reasons, including books. Some come to attend meetings or seminars. Some to just sit and relax for a moment. The public Library is a public space as important as a park or City Hall. The public library is more than just books.

Your assumptions are quite flawed in another aspect. Patrons of libraries go to a physical library for more than books-true. Not because they are poor or old! but rather because they desire support and service from a qualified friendly human being. Starbuck’s is more than the coffee.

It’s not just geography, or convenience or your lifestyle that needs to be considered. Obviously you don’t get it but I am very offended by your statement that libraries(ie friends of /librarians) are divisive! Every where I turn I experience just the opposite. I witness collaborative, progressive and caring people concerned with the literacy of their community. I think your calling libraries ‘quaint’ is divisive and mean spirited. Just because you are not a patron of a library doesn’t mean someone else of more humble means is not. I’ll take quaint over bravado any day.

There is another flaw in your ‘how quaint’ argument. You praise Google as all a poor kid needs for information. Well, that’s just wrong too. Google is fine for a quick reference query like Britannica once did, but today kids usually are asked to process and create much more sophisticated responses. They are asked to filter out the huge amount of bullshit that is available online. Finding facts and more importantly the truth is a much more challenging task than it once was.

Your vitriol also misses the concept of information management. Just because you can download something doesn’t mean it is worthy or honest. When you read text, knowing the source or the author is critical. How do you vet the ‘true lies’ just from the printed text? How do you find specific kinds of information amongst the terabytes of data? Even with Google-like algorithms, content needs to classified and arranged for easy access. Even the programmers are required to make decisions and process metatags for search engines to work. Information needs to be selected and acquired by someone. Authors, scientists, publishers, etc aren’t just randomly tossing all their content up onto the internet so you can torrent the stuff. Content doesn’t work that way and never will. Did you get paid for your column? Does CNET make money on content? The debate over ‘digital locks’ and copyright isn’t coming from quaint librarians Mr. Cooley. It is coming from commercial content creators and producers like your parent company CBS. Simply downloading information because it is technically possible does not address all the economic or social variables. Information is hardly quaint Mr. Cooley! Ask Apple and Adobe what they think.

Whether digital or print, content is organized by people and housed on computers or libraries. Whether you see a building or not, libraries and librarians are every where. Whether visible or virtual, whether public or private, skilled people are being asked to organize the explosion of information. Information needs of our society go far beyond the wants and desires or Apple, Google, CBS or some kid ripping off a torrent. Our society requires that libraries exist to serve the broad information and literary needs of a diverse and complex society. Library of Congress, CIA, National Geographic, NY Public Library, Harvard University, Podunk River Elementary or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame need information management and circulation. Digital or analog is really irrelevant. All these institutions also require a physical space and serve people face to face at one time or another. Serving people is more than a phone app or a zip file!

The evolution of technology does not remove the need for social contracts or institutions. I recognize the same faulty assumptions in medicine. The ever increasing reliance on new diagnostic gadgets has removed the physician from the patient. Despite the sometimes amazing power of a technology, it does not solve our health needs. Human interaction is too often devalued. Just as in your livelihood, writing about and reviewing technology gadgets, someone else is writing to caution people about the hazards of poorly designed cars. Technology in isolation is just stuff. Just as books without knowing how to read is just stuff.

The Library is not just geography or bricks and mortar. The Library is an attitude as much as anything. The ‘library’ is more than just books.

“Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.”

Al Smith
Kelowna BC Canada


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