May 8th, 2009


Andrew Carnegie must be spinning in his grave

Ms. Calendar: It was your book that started the trouble, not a computer. Honestly, what is it about them that bothers you so much?

Giles: The smell.

Ms. Calendar: Computers don't smell, Rupert.

Giles: I know. Smell is the most powerful memory trigger there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell — musty and rich. Knowledge gained from a computer has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, the getting of knowledge should be tangible, it should be smelly.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "I, Robot... You, Jane"

In 1996, San Francisco opened a new Main Library to a chorus of cheers and jeers. The new structure was architectually stunning (and certainly put to good use as a movie set in 1998's City of Angels). But there was a major problem: they didn't leave much room for books. Some of the collection that had been on publicly-accessible shelves in the old building (which now houses the Asian Art Museum) moved underground into Brooks Hall. Brooks Hall, together with the Civic Auditorium, had been a popular site for conferences and conventions (now pretty much all held at the expanded Moscone Center these days; Brooks Hall has been closed ever since). Some of the old books were given away, while others were sold off or destroyed.

The City Librarian, who had been one of principal forces driving the design of the new Main, envisioned a technologically advanced facility for the 21st century, featuring more than 300 computer terminals and PCs available to the public. He resigned less than a year later.

Fast forward to 2009, where today and tomorrow the Main Library is championing eMedia: eBooks, audiobooks ("spoken eBooks"), music, etc., many of which are tied to evil Microsoft-proprietary technologies. Don't have your own computer? You're shut out. (You can't even use the library's public computers to access much of this stuff, let alone download it.) Use a Macintosh? Your choices are severely limited. Want to listen to audio on your iPod? Ditto. Run Linux on your shiny new netbook, or the free desktop computer you got from ACCRC (or MCRC) because you're disadvantaged, low-income, disabled, a senior citizen, at a non-profit organization, or a school? You're screwed. Totally, completely, utterly screwed. Your tax dollars that support the Public Library may be just as green as the next guy's, but unless you're willing to open yourself up to viruses, worms, credit card and identity-stealing malware, no new media for you! More...Collapse )

  • Current Music
    Everyday I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)