Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Public Libraries: the lasting dinosaur

Even if you’re not involved in the publishing industry you cannot help but notice seismic changes the industry is experiencing: Business models are being reinvented, new entrants are redefining the value chain, and technology is changing how information is created, distributed and consumed. Mighty scions are quaking in their boots as they face aggressive barbarians at their gates.

Yet in the midst of this pitches battle is an island of serenity, and oasis of calmness, a Shangri-La of stability: the public library.

Unfazed by the realities, local governments continue to spend on public libraries stuck in the 18th century model of how knowledge is transferred: books are so scarce that they need to be housed in a central location and shared amongst readers.

My small town of Monroe, Connecticut, recently rebuilt the public library at a cost of $6 million dollars, and spends annually about $750 thousand dollars on the operation of our public library; only $73 thousand of which goes towards the purchase of books. For the same money Monroe could have bought its 19000 residents a Kindle DX and 10 books a year.

Amazon, B&N and others have made books cheap, accessible and ubiquitous. It will take Government a century before it catches up with this fact. In the interim, they spend gobs of money and get no discernable outcome.

I guess nostalgia has a price.

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