Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Libraries: What To Do With Empty Big Box Stores

I've seen this mentioned in a number of places:
The McAllen Public Library in McAllen, Texas, is the size of 2.5 football fields — the largest single-story library in the United States. But in its former life, its size wasn’t all that unusual. That’s because the McAllen library used to be a Walmart.

The company that redesigned the building, Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd., started by removing the old ceiling and existing interior walls. The cavernous space allowed plenty of room for an auditorium, computers lab, classrooms and meeting rooms, and adult and teen reading lounges — not to mention hundreds of thousands of books.

The best part: Library registration jumped 23 percent after the new building opened. Sure, some of those people probably wandered in looking for a gun and 200 diapers, and just took a while to figure out what was going on. But a lot of them just wanted to make use of a beautiful new public space.
This abandoned Walmart has been reclaimed as a public library (Grist)

Could these also become community centers and nodes of the sharing economy? How about tool sharing libraries? Matt Yglesias comments:
It's in the nature of books that the vast majority of books any given person owns will not be in use at any given time. Under the circumstances, establishing vast municipal stockpiles of books for people to borrow is much more efficient than relying on a series of household stockpiles. But over time digital technology is eroding this rationale (the day has not yet come when every individual is equipped with a smartphone or tablet capable of reading e-books but it's quite foreseeable), and it makes more sense to shift away from stockpiling of books and toward things like the Oakland Public Library's tool lending program. I have a hammer, several scredrivers, a power drill, a hacksaw, and a bunch of other tools that I'm almost never using and households all over DC are in this very same position. The most successful libraries we be the ones who spend less time thinking "how do I extend my traditional reading-and-learning mission into the digital age" and more time thinking "what sort of club goods are being underprovided thanks to transaction costs, enforcement problems, and information issues."
And speaking of libraries:  Little Free Library phenomenon brings neighbors together (McClatchy). We just got one of these in my neighborhood. Maybe I'll put in my copy of Reinventing Collapse or The Long Descent.

Libraries currently are a source of internet access for low-income people. And maybe they can become the incubators of the makerspace revolution:

Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make "TechShops"? (MAKE)

It's already happening at the Fayetteville Free Library: The Public Library, Completely Reimagined (KQED) And see this: Westport Library Announces Maker Space (The Library as Incubator Project)

Unfortunately, there is also this: The Battle over the New York Public Library. The NYPL wants to 'replace books with people', but do we have to turn our beaux-arts research library into a giant internet cafe? (Guardian). And see comments here. The drive to replace books with only digital is interesting. Some see as a way to disseminate information, but isn't it really a means of control? What happens when all books are accessed through computers? Who controls those computers? Perhaps this incident from 2009 should give us pause:
In George Orwell’s “1984,” government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the “memory hole.”

On Friday, it was “1984” and another Orwell book, “Animal Farm,” that were dropped down the memory hole — by Amazon.com.

In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.

An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers,” he said.

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.
Ironic much? Given the increasingly Orwellian nature of all society, what are we to make of this drive to remove the printed world from our libraries and replace them with ephemeral data stored on a computer somewhere? Easy to monitor isn't it? They even know how fast you're "turning" pages. What if I want to read, say, someone critical of society like Edward Abbey, John Ruskin, or Jaques Ellul? What about Kropotkin or Marx? Will those books have ceased to exist? Will they have disappeared down the memory hole? And is the drive to eliminate paper money in favor of digital money part of the same drive?

Once everything is on a database, the people who control the database will have absolute power. Something for techno-utopians to think about.


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