Cory Doctorow on “Libraries, Hackspaces and E-waste”

In a guest post on the Raincoast Books blog, Cory Doctorow writes persuasively about the role public libraries can (and do) play in encouraging information and technological literacy, and how this overlaps with the hackspace movement:

People who say that it’s dumb to turn libraries into book-lined Internet cafes are right … Damn right libraries shouldn’t be book-lined Internet cafes. They should be book-lined, computer-filled information-dojos where communities come together to teach each other black-belt information literacy, where initiates work alongside noviates to show them how to master the tools of the networked age from the bare metal up.

Libraries could do far worse advocate than having Cory Doctorow for an advocate. Read the rest of the article on

(Photo: Jonathan Worth)

Ebook Lending Update

The Library Renewal blog has an awesome summary of all the discussion in recent weeks about library ebook lending, most notably, Bobbi Newman’s suggestion that libraries ought to at least call a hiatus on investing in ebooks until there’s a better model in place.

I’m tempted to agree with her. I’m wary of libraries’ handing over large amounts of their budgets to digital distributors like Overdrive when there’s little guarantee that whatever content they’re purchasing (or more accurately, licensing under very limited conditions) will be there in the long run.

Until there’s legislation or a court decision affirming something like first sale doctrine for digital content, it seems like libraries are engaging in very expensive experiment. I honestly hope it works out, but in the meantime, I think caution is warranted, and perhaps a seriously consideration of something like what Andy Woodworth outlines in his blog post Alternative Uses for the Pesky eBook Budget

NPR on Hackerspaces in Libraries

I was pleased to hear this morning on NPR this piece on a couple public libraries that have actually taken on the idea of hosting hackerspaces. I’ve commented before on the idea of introducing hackerspaces and FabLabs in public libraries, and I still believe what I said there: essentially, that the idea of hackerspaces and FabLabs per se in public libraries isn’t practicable or appropriate for every community; but the general idea, however, of public libraries as places not just for the passive consumption of information, but also for the encouragement of active innovation and DIY content creation, is definitely something that falls squarely within the public library’s mission of encouraging life-long learning, whatever form that might take. In any case, the NPR piece is definitely worth a listen.

Public Libraries and “TechShops”

For the last few days, I’ve been mulling over this recent post on Make, and shifting alternately between frustration and inspiration. In a nutshell, Philip Torrone’s suggestion is to retool public libraries of the future as hackerspaces, tool-lending libraries, FabLabs, and TechShops, places where the public could have free access to the tools needed to acquire skills in science and engineering.

My frustration with his article is similar to what I’ve experienced with much of the discussion about the role of the public library among the various tech blog communities. Namely, that contributors to Make and similar websites not only live on the extreme front of the adoption curve, but they also tend to write and think from within a distorting fishbowl of economic privilege:

“Computers are cheap, and internet access is pretty good for most people. The majority of people do not get their online news from terminals at the public library. At one time the library was ‘the living internet’ — you went there to look up something hard to find, to do research — now it’s all at our fingertips through search engines, Wikipedia, and the web.”

I’m sure that’s true for Torrone and for most of his peers; I’m much less convinced that that’s true for the public at large. According to an NTIA study published last year, more than 30% of Americans don’t use the Internet at all, and many of those because they still lack home computers, affordable internet access, or the necessary technical literacy. And as several of the comments on Torrone’s post point out, public libraries can barely keep up with demand for public terminals and for instruction in even the most basic technical skills. I’m fairly sure none of Torrone’s friends would need a tutorial on basic mouse use, but that’s still a reality for a fair portion of the public that libraries serve.

Continue reading Public Libraries and “TechShops”

Bad News for eBook Lending

Josh Hadro over at Library Journal has reported that Harper-Collins has announced significant changes to the way it licenses its books to library eBook vendors. Under their new license, each eBook can be borrowed only twenty-six times before the license expires and the library required to purchase the title anew. Two other major publishers, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, already do not allow their digital titles to be lent at all, and this adds yet another disincentive for libraries to add downloadable digital content to their collections.

Sarah Houghton-Jan, over at Librarian in Black, is calling upon libraries to contact Overdrive and Harper-Collins to express their discontent and to boycott digital content from publishers who place onerous restrictions on digital lending.

ETA: Bobbi Newman at Library by Day has an excellent list of other blogs where the issue is being discussed, including BoingBoing and ReadWriteWeb.