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Neil Gaiman On Why Libraries Are the Gates to the Future 149

Posted by Soulskill
from the books-are-bigger-on-the-inside dept.
Neil Gaiman spoke Monday for the Reading Agency's annual lecture series. His talk centered on the importance of libraries and of reading for pleasure. His talk was transcribed and posted by The Guardian. Quoting: "Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. ... The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them. I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children's books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. ... It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you."
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Neil Gaiman On Why Libraries Are the Gates to the Future

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  • Books perhaps... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Karmashock (2415832) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @06:52AM (#45141253)

    Traditional libraries are not the future. The dead tree archives will here after be a curiosity.

    That said, repositories of books and stories etc will remain very important. They will however be increasingly a digital experience.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The dead tree archives will here after be a curiosity.

      Sure, this will happen right after the paperless office.

      • by Cryacin (657549)
        Actually, I just finished a contract with a large financial corporation, and they don't have a single printer, nor a stationery cupboard in the skyscraper except for the receipt printer in the cafe.
      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        Sure, this will happen right after the paperless office.

        The paperless office concept failed in general because it is still much easier to move a single piece of paper with important information around than it is to do it completely digitally. A physical piece of paper can sit on your desk as a constant visible and physical reminder that you need to deal with it. It takes up space, the boss sees it when he walks by. You can't just drop it into your email inbox and forget about it.

        Digital libraries will succeed over dead-tree ones for at least one reason: dead t

      • by u38cg (607297)
        The paperless office is here. You just have to have management with enough balls to really unplug all the printers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The average life span of a hard drive is 5 years. This is not even to mention format incompatibilities. A paper book on acid-free paper has a life span in the hundreds of years. Paper is clearly the superior archival instrument.

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        I think your comparison is flawed. If you were reading a paper book hundreds of times a day (to say nothing of deleting and rewriting the pages), it would wear out far sooner than the hard drive.
        If you take a hard drive, write once, and place in a nice environmentally compatible locker, then read parts of it every few months, it'll last a longer time.

      • I'm hoping you're not making an entirely serious point here. Digital storage has many advantages, including copies of perfect fidelity, ease of duplication and transfer that is completely unbeatable, as well as a terrifically convenient method of searching and storing.

    • by MacTO (1161105)

      Physical libraries are going to exist for a very long time.

      As things stand today, there are too many books that are not available electronically or that are not available to libraries electronically.

      As things stand today, libraries are more than a repository of books: they provide programs for everyone from toddlers to seniors.

      There are many advantages to electronic publications, but it is important to realize that there is a long way to go before those dead tree repositories disappear.

      • Books age and must be replaced.

        To sustain their collection, libraries must acquire fresh copies as their existing inventory reaches its end of life. The correct policy in this matter would be to replace books with a digital copy either provided by the publisher or recorded from the expiring edition.

        The wrong policy would be to buy yet another paper book.

        The existing system is neither economical nor rational in the current environment. Prior to ebooks people went to these institutions to get information. Mos

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        As things stand today, libraries are more than a repository of books: they provide programs for everyone from toddlers to seniors.

        Yes, many public libraries have extended their useful lives based not on the books they house but on the social programs they host. They have public meeting rooms used by a large number of groups, and those groups aren't all "book clubs".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gr8Apes (679165)
      While digital formats certainly beat books for a whole host of reasons, pleasure reading is not among them. There's something about sitting down with a book that just doesn't work as well with a digital device, at least not yet. Same with a newspaper - I get more info in 10s with a newspaper than I do on a news website. I can scan the much larger format much faster and focus on what interests me vs having to click multiple links on news websites. I've actually considered going back to getting a paper, it's
      • by Yomers (863527)

        There's something about sitting down with a book that just doesn't work as well with a digital device, at least not yet.

        Try kindle or other reader with e-inc screen. If you still prefer old style books - that is probably because you used to it, in less than 100 years paper books will be no more than curiosity, like scrolls or stone tablets with inscribed symbols. There is certainly something about sitting with stone tablet that just does not work as well with the books, but stone tablets, paper books or books on a digital devices are essentially the same - information in human readable form. Digital reader is more convenient

        • by Gr8Apes (679165)

          There's something about sitting down with a book that just doesn't work as well with a digital device, at least not yet.

          Try kindle or other reader with e-inc screen.

          I have and can read on one just fine. In some ways it's better than a book for pleasure reading, in others, it's not. I'll give you an example: you can't rapidly flip through an e-book looking for that one particular section, you know roughly where on the page it is an kind of what it looks like, but not the exact wording. (ie, search is going to take longer because you're going to have to evaluate every single one to see if it's the right section) This is especially true for those with near photographic me

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        There's something about sitting down with a book that just doesn't work as well with a digital device, at least not yet.

        It isn't the device, it is your familiarity and comfort with it.

        Pocketwatches lost the battle even though they could be more easily read when a generation got used to the wristwatch. Wristwatches are currently losing their battle, despite being really convenient to look at quickly and having batteries that last for a year or more without maintenance, to the cell phone that has the time displayed on the front. A cell phone has to be pulled out of a pocket to look at, a button or two pressed, and their batt

        • by Gr8Apes (679165)

          It isn't the device, it is your familiarity and comfort with it.

          Why do you assume that? Regarding wristwatches, they're losing out because how often do you really need to know the time? People stopped wearing them because they're redundant. I found myself already knowing the time from the last look at my cell, and never consulted my watch anymore. I think you have to be neurotic or a timekeeper to need to keep an eye on the time to that extent.

          My first Sony reader came with my selection of 100 free classics. If I could manage two books a week, it would take a year to read them all. Then I could get another 1000 for free from a lot of places

          My local library has 10s of thousands of books, for free, including recent offerings. I can only read 1 book at a time, same as

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            Regarding wristwatches, they're losing out because how often do you really need to know the time?

            All the time. I have places I need to be at a specific time. I also like to know exactly how much time I've wasted posting to /.

            People stopped wearing them because they're redundant. I found myself already knowing the time from the last look at my cell,

            Isn't that exactly what I said? They're losing their battle to the cellphone which has the time displayed on it's face. Not because the cellphone is more convenient to find out the time from, but because they're more used to doing it that way.

            As for me, I know the time I last looked at my cell, but that doesn't tell me what time it is now. "Gosh, I missed my meeting with the Dea

            • by Gr8Apes (679165)

              Regarding wristwatches, they're losing out because how often do you really need to know the time?

              All the time. I have places I need to be at a specific time. I also like to know exactly how much time I've wasted posting to /.

              I generally already know what time it is when I leave for a place, so I really don't bother looking at the clock while I'm on my way there. It won't help me get there faster, and may cause an accident. I also use alarms (on the phone) for things I can't miss. Most of this happens automatically via calendar events done via my computer(s). My watch can't match this functionality.

              People stopped wearing them because they're redundant. I found myself already knowing the time from the last look at my cell,

              Isn't that exactly what I said? They're losing their battle to the cellphone which has the time displayed on it's face.

              No, what you said was:

              because they're more used to doing it that way.

              I disagree, it's because they found out they were already aware of the time and they didn't need to check thei

      • by Prune (557140)
        >I can scan the much larger format much faster and focus on what interests me vs having to click multiple links on news websites.

        Yes! You nailed it. Same with the comment on pleasure reading.
    • by danbuter (2019760)
      Until someone dumps a nuke in our atmosphere and wipes out most of the servers. Then paper books are going to be very, very important.
    • Traditional libraries have been, until the PATRIOT Act, fairly anonymous as far as surveillance is concerned. That was one of the advantages of them until recently. Now they are only anonymous if you hide your face from any cameras and read the whole book without checking it out.

      • Depends on the library.

        For example my local library will gladly hand over all of their records to the policy when asked. They also destroy all of their records the instant they don’t need them anymore. So beyond what you currently have checked out there is not much for them to turn over.

        • You are correct that it varies from library to library. It's just hard to know what each library does. I haven't physically checked out a book in a long time, but only because I have such a stack of books that I own at present and haven't read yet.

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            I haven't physically checked out a book in a long time, but only because I have such a stack of books that I own at present and haven't read yet.

            Partly the same here, and partly that the library doesn't have the same taste in books I do. I've made suggestions for books that they should obtain and nothing ever happens.

            I have used them for online books. This feature is very nice. And yet, when I suggest ebooks I'd like to see them get, I get no response back at all. The "Overdrive" library software has a limit of two recommendations, as well. That's moronic, but I guess the librarians feel they'd have to deal with too many recommendations if they le

            • Perhaps, but if they let people request things willy-nilly, they could at least figure out which ones were most requested as opposed to what was in people's top two. My wife uses Overdrive all the time, but I haven't tried it.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Same here. The library records are deleted as soon as the book/DVD/CD is safely returned to ensure they can't be forced to hand over historical records.

          If only companies would do the same...

    • I didn't really get the vinyl album folks until this very moment.
    • I still use our local library, though I'm a huge fan of ebooks. There are certain books I don't want to purchase, but can access via library or interlibrary loans, that make accessing the books more feasible. I take my kids there and they have a chance to just look through the shelves and find something they would not normally take home and read on their own. One daughter started reading a series I'd never heard of lately because she was attracted to the covers of some of the later books in the series, we h

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        Yeah, I agree, libraries are great. Judging from the one I use, they are still popular and therefore won't go away. Most of them are City-owned, and so as long as local voters value them, they are safe.

        The libraries do buy the books, so the need to affix price tags isn't really violated.

        As for this whole topic, while I agree that it is silly to list an author as to be avoided, the idea that content doesn't matter as long as the kid is reading is insane. The whole premise is awful. To grab at an extreme case

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      Traditional libraries are not the future. The dead tree archives will here after be a curiosity.

      The first sentence has the look of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I predict an irreversible downward spiral that goes like this: privileged, middle-class people declare libraries irrelevant because they can get books more conveniently online. Then, they stop going to the libraries. Then, they fail to realize how many books are in the library that aren't discoverable or obtainable online. Then, they vote to de-fund t

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        We can measure this by going to the local library and looking around; do people who can afford to buy ebooks still go there? Yes. *whew*

        I don't think the people with the sort of psychological profile you describe were at the library in the first place. They could already go to the book store, and be treated like a very important person. They voted against funding the library in the first place! My city has a wonderful library, a little over 10 years old. It took a few votes to pass it, and in the end we squ

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      Traditional libraries are not the future. The dead tree archives will here after be a curiosity.

      That's partially true. Libraries as they exist today as nothing more than regional warehouses for books (and more recently DVDs and CDs and Internet access) are not the future. The future will rely more heavily on the inter-library loan system in order to allow libraries to be smaller and more local as RedBox is to Blockbuster. Books take up a lot of room, they don't all need to be stored in our communities wher

      • That's fine. I don't have a problem with them existing. My issue is with them maintaining large numbers of paper books. That's fine if you're a university or a major metropolitan branch. But for the vast majority of branches it is no longer sustainable or practical or even useful.

    • by mcspoo (933106)

      Your mistake here is assuming that libraries do not evolve and are all about books.

      Been to your local library lately? You'll find it filled with much much more than books. Meeting rooms for public events. Study rooms for single or group study. Free public wireless for your wireless enabled equipment. Computers for those who don't have them at home. DVD's and BluRays for entertainment. Art for the masses. Databases for in library or remote access, including utilities to learn a new language, or get help with

      • I didn't say the institution would go away or that they'd not exist. I said they need to take their inventory digital.

        Keep the building. Keep the staff. Get rid of the books. Do all the things you're talking about but more so.

        The only books that should be kept are donated books that members give to the library and a few very general reference tomes... And yes some local archival material such as the minutes to the local city council or whatever. Everything else... digital.

    • "Traditional libraries are not the future. The dead tree archives will here after be a curiosity." I don't think there is evidence for this; it assumes nothing catastrophic could happen to the internet. I like ePubs as much as anyone, but it's an unstable medium; is possible that books published only as ebooks will be unreadable in 50 years due to data corruption and changes in popular file formats. Furthermore, there is currently no storage medium that is expected to be reliable after a few decades. Physic
      • How do you think books are published and maintained?

        There are factories that pump them out.

        How long do you think books last unless you maintain their environment very carefully? Not long. Perhaps a few decades if you keep the area dry and the temperature moderate.

        Furthermore, I am not saying we should do away with all books everywhere. I am merely saying they serve no purpose in small branches. If you want to keep some dead tree archives in major branches then that is fine. Its logistically irrelevant so if

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @07:07AM (#45141317)
    I Lrn 2 Read good thru technology
  • Thanks for this, finally I don't feel guilty anymore for downloading 150.000 eBooks.

  • Maybe his whole speech was, but the quoted section was in defence of fiction, not libraries.

    • by jiriw (444695)

      Indeed, his whole speech was in defence of libraries and of fiction... Actually, I think, in a broader scope it was defending people's possibilities to imagine. You could (partly) do that with (moving) pictures and theatre as well but he laid emphasis on written material - both the writer and the reader side of it. I think that's a justified emphasis because written material leaves more to the imagination and there is more of it.

      One of the most basic ways to be able to fulfil that, people's possibilities to

  • He praises the lack of "snobbery" about books, and then goes on to declare books to be superior to e-books.

    I love books, I have 1400 or so, and I only buy e-books that I don't really care much about (like Microsoft books that will be out of date in 1 year). But that is my preference. I can't make an objective case that books are superior to e-books, and neither can Gaiman.

    • by dbIII (701233)

      He praises the lack of "snobbery" about books, and then goes on to declare books to be superior to e-books.

      Format versus content so I don't see any snobbery there.
      Personally I see ebooks as better for convenience (with eink anyway) and paper better for longevity, and have probably read about twice as much of Neil Gaiman's stuff as ebook than on paper.

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @09:01AM (#45142023)

    The internet didn't kill the library. Library patronage was declining long before the internet. Libraries, sprang into existence because books were expensive and most people struggled to provide shelter and food for their families. Post WWII, at least in the US, things began to change and people had more disposable income. As people climbed the economic ladder, they were in a better position to purchase their own books, particularly paperbacks, trading money for convenience (as is the case with most consumer goods). This trend continued through the 1960s and 70s and really accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s as book clubs took off all over the place. It was fashionable to be reading the latest best seller and the serial model of the library couldn't support that.

    All the internet did was change the purchase mode from paper to electronic versions of the media. It didn't impact the use of the library because that change had already manifested itself based on the economic wherewithal of the patrons. Interestingly enough, both the Philadelphia and New York public libraries reported significant increases in usage during the last two recessions. It would seem that even with the plethora of electronic devices to read e-books, when money is tight and one has to watch expenses, one gives up the convenience and goes back to the library.

    In short, it's not technology that is causing the demise of the library, but increased disposable income.

    • by DaveyJJ (1198633)
      Except ... income (including disposable) for the average American hasn't increased since the late 1960s. You have less real-world buying power now than your parents had five decades ago. While productivity has increased, your wages haven't. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000. (The 1% have seen their real-world income increase 240% in the same time, though.) Since 1990 the real value of minimum wage is up 21% ... but cost of l
      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Except ... income (including disposable) for the average American hasn't increased since the late 1960s. You have less real-world buying power now than your parents had five decades ago. While productivity has increased, your wages haven't. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000. (The 1% have seen their real-world income increase 240% in the same time, though.) Since 1990 the real value of minimum wage is up 21% ... but cost of living in that same time is up 67%. So while your basic premise may seem sound, the data about disposable income being the cause seems to falsify that theory.

        I agree with you on your technical argument, but disposable income takes into account real income plus purchasing power. If you credit is more readily available so you can finance some purchases, then you also have more disposable income. So, while real wages might not have increased to keep up with inflation, the easing of credit since the 1960s has increased the purchasing power of the consumer. As such, the basic premise still stands: When people have more funds at their disposal, they choose convenien

    • The good news is that public library patronage has been increasing in the US over the past decade (32% from 2001-2010). Libraries have adapted to the internet and now are gateways and enablers to the new information sources it represents.

      My wife is a Librarian and it's interesting how her job has changed. A large part of it is now acting as a teacher of people who are inexperienced with technology how to use the internet and other technology resources the library has to offer. These people are either older

  • Historically, the list books you check out from a library have been protected. However, with the way the government is thinking about it, it is just metadata, since it isn't the books themselves. At this point, I'd honestly be surprised if they weren't mining that data also.

    Remember:
    Power Corrupts
    Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
    Knowledge is Power

    Therefore
    Absolute Knowledge Corrupts Absolutely
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Historically, the list books you check out from a library have been protected. However, with the way the government is thinking about it, it is just metadata, since it isn't the books themselves. At this point, I'd honestly be surprised if they weren't mining that data also.

      As we've mentioned above, libraries typically delete records as soon as you return whatever you borrowed, so they can't be 'mined'. I believe it's a standard feature in library software these days.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Actually, thinking about it, the big threat is borrowing e-books. Since they all seem to 'phone home' to Adobe, the US government can probaby just ask them for a list of all the books you've read even though the library doesn't keep one.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        As we've mentioned above, libraries typically delete records as soon as you return whatever you borrowed, so they can't be 'mined'. I believe it's a standard feature in library software these days.

        This occurred because the government actually tried to get book lending records and librarians opposed the request. When it went through, they promptly started deleting all lending records because it was data they didn't need to maintain at all and that data was of interest. They only maintain what you have out as

  • If you want to have kids who are readers, then you first must set an example. If kids see their parents reading books for pleasure, they will be much more inclined to become readers. Read to your kids every day, until they start to learn to read, then have them read to you every day. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house where both my parents enjoyed reading, and a trip to the town library for new books was a weekly family event.
  • Few libraries could hope to compare to Project Gutenberg. Although books must be free of copyright to be on the site that is not such a disadvantage. Somewhere at around 1920 the use of the English language became rather crude whereas before radio and television were highly present the use of language was quite superior. Often the books of the earlier period were vastly superior to the expensive books now in book stores. But for those that insist we do need an electronic lending library that releas

  • I'm fine with the idea that there is no bad fiction that somebody likes. However, it was a bit of a shock to pick my son up from daycare and see he's happily reading Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. That was actually the first fiction I saw him read for fun.

  • If you don't read great literature, you'll end up being like the people you see on TV. Reading expands your possibilities.
  • Elitism and Reading (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @01:27PM (#45145043) Journal

    I have to say, I do get a little fed up with pedestal upon which we place books. Don't get me wrong: it's a worthwhile pastime, but people develop such elitists attitudes towards reading. People judge others, and judge themselves, by the quality and quantity of their reading material. They lament how people are reading less, and how this will destroy intelligence in the average person. If you don't read, or worse, don't enjoy reading, then it means that there's something wrong. Your imagination is underdeveloped or malformed; a product of all the worst bits of society.

    The fact is, while reading is indeed an intellectual activity, it's an intellectual activity that appeals to people to varying degrees. Some people simply do not find intellectual nourishment from books. Now, perhaps it's because they are stunted in their intellect or imagination, but often, there are other ways they stimulate their brain. Indeed, social situations can be very mentally stimulating, requiring complex thought processes to navigate successfully. I myself have found that mathematics holds far greater mental stimulation than reading (and I used to read all the time). Juggling apparently is a very good way to improve your brain, and caters for the more kinaesthetic learners.

    I'm glad you enjoy books Neil, but please don't make the mistake of thinking they're for everyone.

    • by volmtech (769154)
      Michael Jordan found backwards dunks from the base line stimulating but most of us do not have the capacity to do that. My world opened up when as a seventh grader in 1965 I was let loose in the school library and found the science fiction section. My math usage at most consists of finding the area of a triangle. I passed trigonometry in high school but only because the teacher thought I needed a good grade to get into college (didn't try go to college anyway). Trying to understand any of the symbols on a s
    • The fact is, while reading is indeed an intellectual activity, it's an intellectual activity that appeals to people to varying degrees. Some people simply do not find intellectual nourishment from books. Now, perhaps it's because they are stunted in their intellect or imagination, but often, there are other ways they stimulate their brain.

      While intellectual nourishment may be a valid reason for reading, it is not the primary one. The primary reason reading is put on a pedestal is that, at present, good readers can absorb vastly more information about a lot of topics important to the long term development of society (the physical sciences, the social sciences, history, law, philosophy) from reading a book than is possible from interacting with any other medium. The assumption is that if we can get people to read more, they will benefit from

  • "Frederick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom.

    There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom, but reading is still the path."

    -Carl Sagan
  • I've kept every book anyone ever gave to my kids (three of them, age 7, 9 and 12). Their library has over 300 books on it now, everything from the Bob Books and Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter and the Golden Compass. My kids love to read, and we read to them every night.

    There's a quote-- "a writer is a reader moved to emulation." I don't know who said it. But one day a few years ago, the two oldest kids asked me if they could write their own book. I said "of course!", so we did. http://www.amazon.com/My-Sister [amazon.com]

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