Guest Opinion: Are books and libraries out of date? | April 9, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 9, 2008

Guest Opinion: Are books and libraries out of date?

by Daniel M. Russell

One might think that holding books in a library-style building is an idea that's dead as a dodo. One would be wrong.

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Dan Russell is a 25-year resident of Palo Alto, living in Midtown and working at a large Web search company. He writes extensively on technology issues for both technical and popular audiences. He and his wife Lynne (a member of the Palo Alto Library Foundation) have been library advocates since they could both read. He can be e-mailed at


Posted by change, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 8, 2008 at 4:09 pm

When was the last time you went to a travel agent? They still exist but their market has completely changed. Likewise, how often do you visit a bookstore and what you actually buy there? Borders looks like it is going under and Kepler's had to be rescued.
The library needs to adapt, to change and fast if it wants to remain relevant.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2008 at 4:23 pm

I think our libraries want to update and move with the times. They are certainly hubs of community activity. What is the problem here is that there are many people who won't let them evolve.

And, for the record, my favorite place to read a book is in bed, snuggled under the covers - one place that I do not want technology.

Posted by civitas, a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Thank goodness: an enlightened view of libraries. What a relief after so often reading and hearing the intellectually lazy view that libraries are not worth public investment because they are obsolete in the age of Google and the online and and big box booksellers!

Posted by Dan Russell, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Travel agents still exist, but their market is much different because of the internet, no question. On ther other hand, the travel business in much different now than it was 10 years ago as well.

There's no question that institutions need to evolve--that's not my argument. If anything, I completely agree with you. Libraries need more meeting spaces, they need to help out with people trying to find information (yes.. .still!), and they need to help collect hardcopies of material that's not easily available online. (You'd be surprised how much stuff is still not on the web, and probably won't ever be.)

Libraries need to change; not go away, or be allowed to quietly become out-of-date or in terminal decline because of neglect.

Posted by change, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:08 am

"On the other hand, the travel business in much different now than it was 10 years ago as well."

The same is true, even more so, for information access. Unfortunately, libraries haven't yet evolved.

I never said libraries needed to go away, if anything they need a lot more money.

Your examples imply that you are fine with what libraries have become today. My take is libraries, as they are today, are already following the travel agents into servicing only a niche market rather than the whole community. This direction needs to change before it becomes irreversible and libraries start to wither and die.

Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2008 at 3:12 pm

How about many small walk-in centers with computer and internet access and courier service from a central warehouse facility? These centers could also function as initial contact with government departments.

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