You’re Overdue For A Visit To The Library

When was the last time you went to a library? If it’s been more than a couple of years, the library is probably a very different place than you remember. Public libraries pride themselves on keeping up with changing technology, especially technology that benefits the communities they serve. No matter your age or your interests, libraries are a great resource for learning new skills, doing research, or getting help with just about any task. After all, library science is about gathering together all of human knowledge and indexing it for easy lookup.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not a researcher or a student. Libraries exist to serve everyone in a class-free environment. In recent years, patrons have started looking to libraries to get their piece of the burgeoning DIY culture. They want to learn to make their lives better. Public libraries have stepped up to meet this need by adding new materials to their collections, building makerspaces, and starting tool libraries. And this is in addition to ever-growing collections of electronic resources. Somehow, they manage to do all of this with increasingly strained budgets.

The purpose of this article is to explore the ways that libraries of all stripes can be a valuable resource to our readers. From the public library system to the sprawling academic libraries on college campuses, there is something for hackers and makers at all levels.

To the Library, and Step on It

The Boston Public Library. Image via Boston Magazine

Before the Internet, before MSN Encarta, before Encyclopedia Britannica, there was the public library. Maybe the L word sends you back to elementary school when you were just tall enough to peek into the top drawers of the card catalog and thumb through the hand-typed entries. Maybe you’re young enough that you’ve always known the public library to have free Internet access and rows of computers available for playing Minecraft and updating

Some would argue that the internet and the rise of e-readers have made libraries an outdated concept or even obsolete. And libraries pride themselves on keeping with the times. In spite of their place in popular culture, libraries aren’t just about overdue books and being reprimanded for talking. They have offered popular movies and music alongside books for years (these days as streaming resources), and they continue to keep up with changing technology. Not only do they buy into new technologies as much as budgets allow, most public libraries offer free classes to help explain it.

Public libraries have long been a good starting place for the do-it-yourselfer. Just take look at the reference section sometime. You can find a service manual to fix your car or a copy of the latest National Electrical Code Handbook. Can’t afford the 3rd edition of The Art of Electronics or the latest Raspberry Pi cookbook? The library has your back. Those books we think you should read are in the stacks as well. Whether you prefer to read about a new skill or watch a DVD, a librarian can lead you to just the right material—it’s part of the thrill of library science. Librarians love information sharing and learning so much that it’s no surprise that they would use their limited budgets to make room for makerspaces.

Making Space for Making

The DC public library's FabLab. Image via The Atlantic
The DC public library’s FabLab. Image via The Atlantic

I’m writing this from the newly expanded makerspace in the central branch of my local public library. A year or so ago, this library had a small makerspace set up in the middle of the main room. A healthy collection of books about making and robotics sat outside of it to draw people in. During the renovation project, the makerspace grew six times its size thanks in part to a generous donation from a locally based engineering firm. Now, most of the equipment you would expect to find in a makerspace is here—3D printers, a laser cutter, a CNC, sewing machines, hand tools, soldering irons—and it’s all completely free to use. And thanks to the aforementioned donation, the 3D printer filament is free to use, at least for now.

If you can’t justify the cost of a makerspace membership to print a one-off replacement doohickey for your washing machine or make a cutting board in the shape of your home state, get yourself to a library. Not only will you be able to finish your project for next to nothing, there will be plenty of knowledge and helpful people around to guide you.

The Round Reading Room of King's College London's Maughan Library. Image via Wikipedia
The Round Reading Room of King’s College London’s Maughan Library. Image via Wikipedia

Let Me School You on Academic Libraries

Not a card-carrying student of your local college? Depending on the library, it may not matter. I’ve taken classes at the community college for years. I visit their impressive library as often as I can, whether I’m taking a class or not. Sometimes I go there just to bask in the knowledge around me or contemplate my existence in the deafening silence of the 2nd floor quiet room.

There are some important differences between public and academic libraries. Academic libraries are either general-knowledge or they cater to a specific discipline such as engineering or law. Compared with public libraries, academic libraries tend to have more of every type of material and usually have copies of textbooks used by the school. In the US, they use the Library of Congress classification system which allows for greater nuance in categorization within a given collection than the Dewey Decimal System. While public libraries offer access to databases like JSTOR and reference materials such as the Oxford English Dictionary, an academic library card is your ticket into many more databases and academic journals.

Check Out This Chainsaw

In the last decade or so, public libraries in the United States have begun to offer many more types of materials to borrow, like Kill-A-Watt meters. Some offer more diverse objects like musical instruments, gaming consoles, fishing poles, and works of art. A handful of public libraries have even created separate tool libraries to supplement their offerings. Patrons can check out all kinds of tools and equipment just like they would a book or a DVD. Most libraries offer tool checkout at no additional charge—you just need to show your library card and maybe proof of residence.

A well-organized collection at Toronto Tool Library
A well-organized collection at Toronto Tool Library

The are also community tool libraries out there that operate independently from the public library system. Here is a map of known tool libraries throughout the world. If there isn’t one in your town, consider starting one up.  You might be surprised at the response and support that you get from the community.

We’ve all got projects that we’d like to start or work on or finish, if only we could borrow a spokeshave or a chainsaw or some inside calipers. By the same token, we probably all have something we could donate to a tool library, be it a simple screwdriver or a few hours a week of volunteer time.

If you’re not sure how to get started, here is a guide that was put together by West Seattle Tool Library. It has sample forms and documents that can be edited to fit your needs. Oh, and don’t forget to buy some liability insurance to protect yourself.

Tool libraries are a boon to the community no matter who runs them. When people have access to the things they need to be able to make home improvements and repairs or solve their own transportation problems, the world becomes a better place.

The mission of libraries hasn’t changed — they seek to provide access to information for all members of society. With the rise of freely available online information, libraries have modernized to include online access and continue to offer a conduit to that which isn’t free: audio and visual media, journal subscriptions, manuals and documentation, electronic devices, and yes, even tools. The public library deserves a higher rank in all of our mental lists of go-to resources and is a great place to donate some of our time and talent to contribute back to the local community.

95 thoughts on “You’re Overdue For A Visit To The Library

  1. Libraries are stack full of fiction, celebrity trash and coffee table books with pretty pictures in. I have never found anything useful in a library. Nothing on electronics, no IEEE standards or other premium reference material that I couldn’t afford to buy.

    Seeing as I’m not interested in fiction and really don’t give 2c about the life of any celeb I can’t see any reason to visit a library. I’m sure they are great for people with Children but no use to me.

    1. I think it’s easy to say the exact same thing about the Internet, depending on how you’re looking.

      While it’s hard for me to believe there aren’t at least a few stacks of reference manuals (especially for automotive) it may just be the particular library branch you’ve visited. Ask around and see if anyone knows of a more bountiful branch you can visit. A good place to ask would be the library reference desk.

      1. Most Libraries have websites that list the systems entire contents, use it. Your local library branch might not have what your looking for but if you live in a fair sized city you should be able to find what your looking for in the library system, even if it’s not in your local branch or just reference.

        1. I’d agree with this post the most. My local library has little to nothing on modern day electronics/communications/up to date coding. Where it can really help someone is that it does have the whole state to gain knowledgeable commodities from. Most if not all libraries at least in the USA are connected throughout the state libraries and all that needs to be done is to request a book from a larger library in your state and chances are that it will be there and if it is not you can still request that the state buy it for rental use.

          1. I’m really glad you brought up the possibility of Interlibrary Loan. This is an amazing resource that almost all libraries participate in. Essentially, if you find a book that is held by a library other than your own, you can ask your library to “borrow” it for you. Because many libraries have “reciprocal lending” arrangements, the service is usually provided for free.

      2. Most libraries have great interlibrary loan programs. The library in bellingham washington got me a copy shipped in from another country of a 300 dollar out of print design book and let me read it for free. They also trucked over every copy of a series of books from the surrounding areas and had it waiting for me on the shelf with my name on it. Libraries are wonderful if you use them properly.

        1. This is the correct way to use the library. I’ve been doing this for years.

          However, it’s not always available. Every now and then I’ll come across a rare and/or expensive tome that is flagged not to physically leave the owning library. Libraries that are oft used by nearby universities are particularly stingy.

    2. I guess you’ve been visiting the wrong libraries then (or you’re being sarcastic and i don’t get it).

      I’ve been to a couple of nice workshop about arduino and 3D printing at a public library lately (they also have a maker space) and even when i actually used them just for books (more than 20 years ago) i’ve always found plenty of technical manuals (i was more into photography, graphics and then html back in the days but i remember plenty of electronics books and magazines).

      and i live in nothern italy, not exactly the most progressive of places, especially in public structures.

      1. I’m being straight with you when I say that computer books tend to be the Microsoft Office for dummies or how to make a website with dreamweaver kind of thing rather than decent references on any programming languages or technology guides. The closest thing to electronics books are those basic How it Works books that are a great introduction for someone who has no technical knowledge. Nothing on basic semiconductors or a reasonably good guide to using op-amps or anything I would consider basic information for self study. I’m not talking about detailed physics of semiconductors or anything as academic as that.

        Essentially what I’m trying to say is that public libraries around where I live are squarely aimed at the lowest common denominator. If you are completely new to a subject such as gardening and want to know when to sew your bean seeds then there will be a book for you, but want to know about soil microbes and how they influence the growth of your plant forget it.

        So I’m not saying libraries are useless, just that certainly around here they are just for the casual reader not anyone who wants to do any level of detailed study. I find that for that you are better off picking up used books on Amazon or eBay. Many titles can be picked up for under $5 if they are not hard to find expensive publications. Ironically the reason I would need a library is because the really in depth titles are the ones that can not be easily afforded.

        It is a bit of a problem though, if you are buying books for a library do you spend your budget on a $20 book that will be loaned out 100 times to mr and miss average who wants to read about some popular celeb or $200 for a reference that may only get looked at 10 times due to the highly specific nature of the title? Clearly you are a public service so you take the titles with the widest appeal.

        1. Darren,

          As I librarian, I will certainly agree with you. A public library is going to add items based on the needs and interests of their community members. If you want books on semiconductors or op-amps, then I’d say you need to request/recommend them. If your Library won’t purchase them, they can borrow them for you on interlibrary loan (ILL). Many libraries look at the record of what their patrons request on ILL and use that as a means of identifying titles and areas of interest for their patrons–areas of need that they are not meeting.

          The types of titles that you’re describing might also be available in your local community college library. Many community college/technical college libraries are open to the residents of the communities they serve and you can often find robust collections of non-fiction resources.

          1. And as a patron of the one in Queens, I agree. I’ve already been forced to buy used copies of books that they originally carried which were either older then the demographic, or worse, were never checked out by it.

            And for the one in Brooklyn, it was simply a case of need…..

          2. I also agree re widening your search. I’m lucky enough to have two nearby Universities, as well as medical school libraries in addition to all the city libraries and I’ve spent time in all of them for technical and science stuff. For the medical school libraries I just walked in, browsed and sat and read without asking for permission — I don’t know if they were open to the public. Oh, I’ve also used a government science research library (NRC here in Ottawa, Canada).

          3. (note: tried responding to Steven Dufresne but clicked on “Report comment” by accident. Sorry Steven!)

            Steven Dufresne below mentions widening his search. Sadly, it is often more convenient and not that expensive to just order a used book online and have it delivered. I am fortunate enough to have enough disposable income that it is easier for me to order a used book on Amazon or eBay than to hunt for it at other branches of the local library. That said, my local library also offers a Safari technical book resource (O’Reilly publishing’s pay technical ebook service) online to patrons for free, and has quite a selection of programming and other technical books (electronics, hardware, photography, videography, television production) that I’ve come to rely on.

          4. “Report Comment” is *FAR* too easy to accidentally click on instead of replying, and there’s not even any “are you sure” or “undo” – by the time you realise what you have done, it’s too late. Can’t be easy for Hackaday moderators to wade through so many mis-reported comments either. SURELY there’s a fix for this? Is it hackaday’s problem, or WordPress’s?

        2. I find that the books that a library carries is highly dependent on the demographics. The public library near the university in a smaller town I was going to has great section of science fiction, fiction, magazines etc., but the one in the much larger city that I am now living in has mostly fluff.

        3. “I’m being straight with you when I say that computer books tend to be the Microsoft Office for dummies or how to make a website with dreamweaver kind of thing rather than decent references on any programming languages or technology guides. ”

          There are vast areas of knowledge beyond computers. May be worthwhile to spend some time in a library and learn about them…

          And all of this ignores that the dirty word you reference ‘fiction’, encompasses great works of literature that provide valuable insight into the human condition. Again, worth spending some time with them and learning…

        4. As i was saying i wasn’t really into electronics when i actually used to borrow books from the library, so i can’t testify about the “technical-ness” of the books available, but i remember ham-radio magazine and similar titles (sure, they aren’t too technical but are at least enough for a mid-level amateur) And i remember borrowing some decently advanced reference books for C programming.

          I disagree about libraries being only for casual readers but i have to agree that the books a library buys definitely depend on its demographics: forgetting for a second the shame of having celebrity magazines at a public library even technical topics have a very different popularity. e.g. advanced Java programming is definitely more popular than bio-hacking

          Also in many countries editors are required by law to make their publications available to national and regional libraries. I have no idea how detailed are these laws and how accessible these books actually are (in Italy there are dozens of libraries receiving the books), so this might be a whole different topic, but it’s nice to know they’re there.

      2. I have to agree. Only reason for the library is so my kids can get books. Nothing there interests me (apart from some fiction); there are no technical books of any interest, no tools, nothing described in this article. And it’s in a part of S. California with a decent tax base.

    3. I’d say this is n exaggeration, but there is some truth.

      When I was a kid, the local library had some books, but not enough. A bit too general. The same library, twenty years ago, maybe a wider selection, but mish-mash. It seemed less about building a foundation, and may more because someone asked for a specific title. Maybe that works, but maybe it results in lesser choices in the library, and books tharpt aren’t so good for a wider audience.

      One thing here, there’s a split between libraries as archives and libraries as catering to the now. An old book means less space for new books, and I suspect most members of a library are interested in the bestsellers. If you’re after the latest, the foundation falters.

      We had an independent library (well we still have another) where a life membership was five dollars. But costs rose, and they could no longer live off the investment, and they closed. For a long time they had been a neighbourhood library, only in retrospect was it an incredible resource that was underused. Small groups often keep their own libraries, because the public ones are lacking, yet that has problems. The independent library could have been the place for such books, making them available to all.

      It would be nice if libraries made the acquisition process more visible, a book in the library is worth more than in an individual’s library, but not if it will be culled soon after (I think one criteria is demand). The cost of the book may be dwarfed by the cost of putting it on the shelf, which may impact on donations. Unless there is demand, a library may not want to be an archive.

      I’d much rather libraries be places of books about electronics and other hobbies before they become “maker spaces”. I have a massive library, though mostly of used books, because I can’t rely on libraries having what I want. Better to get good at that before hopping on a trend. I’ve found issues of “Make” at library book sales, they’d be taken out a few times when new, then sit until the sale. But that has passed, though perhaps they still get it in ebook form.

      But you need information to “make” things, libraries were good at it, I don’t like the idea of “books are obsolete” and than the maker machines move in.

      I’d also like card catalog to point to local clubs and activity. If you pull out beginner’s book about whatever, the card catalog should point to local resources, the related clubs and hobby shoos etc. The catalogs could also balance out the resources. I might not want to spend full price on a book, but willing to put up half, that could trigger a catalog entry, to find others willing o out in money. Or it might find someone with copy to donate (that’s better tan donating to the book sale where it brings in a small amount to buy new books). Or it might trigger a comment “no, that’s a bad nook, this one is better” so new acquisitions are informed decisions.

      Libraries should be central in society, and they should remain a source of knowledge.


    4. You sound silly. Not all libraries are what you say, though many public libraries are.

      If you have academic chops and can get access to real libraries–the ones that the mob and their tastes have not yet managed to level with idiocracy and social engineering–I assure you that there are treasures unplumbed.

      Of course many of today’s readers were schooled at a time where consumerism and social propaganda replaced patient digging and creation of a pan-historical view, as a basis to innovation. I feel sad for anyone who falls in that category…but that pedagogical trend (of the past 50 years) doesn’t not qualify anyone to dismiss all libraries on the basis of their not knowing how to find and use the excellent ones.

        1. I agree homelessness is a problem, and one of the only services which actually do not turn out the homeless as though they were invisible until they break an anti-homeless people law is the radicals running the many public library systems. The answer is not to avoid the library to avoid the homeless folks without proper medical care, the answer is to address and solve the homeless issue directly rather than with structural punishment.

    5. Sounds more to me like you’ve confused the magazine and trash novel rack at your corner convenience store with a library.
      I find it hard to believe that all the libraries in your area are as you describe them. If it’s actually that bad, then it sounds like you need to organize people in you area and your town council and fix it.

      Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, there are some amazing, active, and progressive library systems and your generalization of ALL libraries is a disservice to those operating them and those who might have gotten interested by this article to explore their local library.

      When we moved to the city, I was shocked to discover our local library system was nothing like you describe. They have a ton of great reference books, especially of the kind that I cannot afford to just buy myself. EG The Art of Electronics. They also have a lot of books on all kinds of STEAM related topics from basics, to how to’s to advanced reference materials. More than that though they organize free classes on lots of maker topics, hobbies, computers, and more. Several in town branches even have maker spaces with 3D printers.

      So before anyone takes Darren’s characterization of ALL libraries as stacks full of fiction, celebrity trash,….with nothing useful in them, I suggest you ignore him and go explore _your_ local library system. It may amaze you. If it doesn’t, get active. Get your mayor and town council on board with improving them.

      Oh, and as for fiction. It’s a sad person that has no interest in fiction. Fiction and the ability to dream bigger than ourselves is what separates us from the animals and makes us capable of dreaming up the kind of projects that are on Hackaday. In fact I’m surprised Darren found his way here from his cubicle.

    6. A lot of comments here about “used to” and “back in the day I learned…” yes, I learned a lot from libraries, had some great books out YEARS AGO… they’ve got rid of those. I think computers have ruined libraries, in isolation from the effects of the internet, they’ve let librarians micromanage their collections on the populist demand model, they’ve gone from being conservators of knowledge to distributors of pap.

      Does anyone remember getting books out that had been rebound? They were quality texts that had seen a lot of use, maybe 10 years old but still relevant… Seen one lately? I think ours still has one or two in the reference section, but out on the shelves those older “classics” get dumped as soon as they get a little shabby now.

  2. Not that I want to nitpick* but the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica wad published between 1768-71 while the modern public library (what we would recognize as a library) started about in the middle of the 19th century so there was a Britannica before the public library.

    *Whenever somebody says that they’re lying.

  3. “After all, library science is about gathering together all of human knowledge and indexing it for easy lookup.” Kind of like Google. “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

  4. I’m a consultant who builds makerspaces in public libraries. Here’s the reality- the book collection is a direct democratic process- if you want to see a book make a request and check it out. The problem is that most folks get their ‘printed’ (downloaded) material from other sources. The majority of readers are either very young or very old. When our collection managers sift through their requests each month they have to weigh several factors- what do folks want, what are folks checking out and what’s in the budget?
    My main branch has nothing by J G Ballard, a couple by Heinlein, Bova, Asimov, etc. They do have an extensive young adult collection and all the celebrity and political talking head garbage you could want. The have Balducci, Koontz, Peterson and all their ilk in spades. That’s because That’s what the readership wants. The library’s job is to serve the largest segment of the public as possible, so if the engineering reference gets checked out twice in the last six months and the Anne Coulter tripe is checked out three dozen times, it’s a simple, cold equation- shelf space / (books x demand). If you’re looking for in-depth technical books, the library is not your best source.
    So what does the library do? The library’s goal is to act as a conduit of information. We all have access to information literally in our pocket. Libraries need to provide information that isn’t available online- dynamic information and learning with a human face. What does that look like?
    My main library has a full woodworking shop staffed by knowledgeable volunteers and open to anyone willing to learn. We have classes ranging from home improvement, to technology to arts and crafts. We have the first library-based FRC robotics team in America and we’re expanding our program to reach a wider age group. We have 3D printers, vinyl cutters, VR rigs and other tech toys to teach and inspire. We have a full AV recording studio. We have an annual anime and cosplay convention that draws thousands of visitors and it’s organized and staffed by our teen group. That’s just the tip of the iceberg!
    What are the benefits of these programs? For young people we offer things that the schools don’t offer anymore due to liability and budget concerns. The kids on our robotics team have scholarship and internship opportunities through FIRST robotics that are amazing. They get hands-on learning opportunities that schools no longer offer. They also get real life social skills in a safe, accepting environment. They get to develop and hone leadership skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
    What about the older folks? I reached out to a local wood turning club a few years ago. I attended their meeting and was the second youngest person in the room (I’m 44!). Since they’ve come to our library, they’re teaching classes with ages ranging from elementary school to full adults. They recently help a Harry Potter themed wand making workshop where they had a steady stream of kids lined up to learn to use a lathe. They get to share their skills with young folks and insure that their trades and hobbies will continue. They get to see that young people are not the dangerous hoodlums the media wants us to think they are. We are bridging the generation gap! We also offer older patrons access to technology in a practical, non-threatening way. It’s amazing to see a sixty year old grandmother strap on an Occulus Rift and giggle like a school girl! It’s also pretty cool to see a group of retirees learning how to do their own home improvement jobs and expand their skills. The best part is my kids get to connect with mentors outside their family circle- our library strengthens our community!

    TL:DR- It’s a buyer’s market for static information- if you want books pull out your tablet and hit Kindle, Pirate Bay or the Gutenberg Project. In order to survive in the current information economy, libraries must evolve to put a human, social face on knowledge.

  5. Public librarians poo poo the sciences. My local one has an entire shelf of government, philosophy, socialism, psychology but the math and science books ( excluding life sciences which they acknowledge ) would fit in a suitcase. Now my university engineering library was a different story. Visit one of those on your next trip to the city.

    1. You are your public library! The librarian is a public employee who’s job is to serve the information needs of the community. It’s all about feedback. If there’s one guy asking for detailed info on op amps and twenty people looking for Kim Kardashian’s Butt Exercises, guess who gets the shelf space? It’s not a conspiracy, it’s democracy.

      1. Well I dunno.. I would think making sure the library is stocked with a balance of material subjects should be fundamental. But this is the philosophical question of the day. Should the public get what they want in each and every instance ? This is why we have such crap for news, it’s entertainment after all.

        1. I buy the science books for a large public library system in your neighboring state, wilbertofdelaware, and I can tell you that I hardly “poo-poo the sciences”. As chuck suggests, make some requests and ask the librarians to enliven the science collection at your public library. We welcome feedback!

        2. I imagine the best any library can hope to please most of the patrons most of the time. Where everyone has their own opinion how balance is defined. Librarians and library BOD have an impossible task. The public pays the operating expenses of public libraries. Private book store w isn’t going to stock books that there’s little demand for, not sure why a public library should. I agree there is core selection that libraries should try to have. Anyone who doesn’t feel that their public library isn’t making the grade should seek to become a BOD member and/or help raise funding for the library. For the squeaky wheel to get the grease there has to be a mechanic willing to do the work.

  6. Library is more than a set of specific technical books. If you’re after those, then there are plenty of options (university libraries, Amazon, ebay, online forums etc). Libraries contain books on a wealth of topics, not to mention literature, for young and old alike. Wonder through it and browse and you never know what you’ll find. A book on nordic furniture design. A book on butterfly photography. A Neal Stephenson collection (my personal favourite). Alan Moore comic books…Library is a starting point for knowledge and the yearning for understanding. Our local library happens to have a fantastic childrens’ area with a dedicated “jungle room” filled with plush animals, posters, visuals, and lots and lots of wonderful books – from information on ice age animals to Astrid Lindgren’s books. No matter what the consensus is on the availability of technical books for the hackers alike, a library is symbolic and it’s a wonderful place for kids to start their journey on understanding the world around them. Generally a published books contains knowledge regardless. Ten published books – even more.

  7. Physical buildings full of dead trees on shelves is a dying technology. There is still room for university libraries for now, but that will soon die out too and the writing is on the wall with all the technical journals having online search and subscriptions. If you are reading this, then you are connected to the internet, and you should understand why the library’s days are numbered.
    I don’t understand why we can all agree that print newspapers are doomed, but not this.
    Here is the crux of the biscuit:
    You need separate physical Library buildings, with separate staff and expenses, with duplicate sets of books every x miles to support each community. Without a quality set of books, as noted multiple times above, community libraries are next to useless. There is no way every library can have a complete collection.
    You need ONE INTERNET to support the entire world. Problem solved. Move on to solving the problems with making the comprehensive internet virtual library work and stop the local library life support.

    Libraries will continue to exist for the near future primarily as daycare for children.

      1. If we are playing the “what if” game… are you really going to care to look up in your encyclopedia after civilization as we know it crashes who the king of Burma was in 1635? Either the grid will come back up or 90% of people will be dead in 3 months and I’m pretty sure they won’t care about libraries.


      “Physical buildings full of dead trees on shelves is a dying technology.” Are you kidding, paper has been around for 2000 years, writing 4000 years before that and we can still read, man read with eyeball mark 1 and nothing else, all of it today, who in 50 years will be able to read .epub, .html, .pdf or the other formats we store books in today, hell even file formats around 20 years old are almost unreadable, check out this HaD post, , but I own a book from the 18th century that I can read as easily as the day it was printed, don’t dismiss “dead trees” it’s outlived a lot of formats and will outlive a lot more, and it’s so much easier to read a book without a computer than it is to read a pdf without one.

      1. Yes… paper has been around for thousands of years… How many years have we had transistors? 69 years. And look how far we have come on those 69 years. If you can’t see the progress of modern technology displacing outdated ways of doing things you must really physically actually be living under a rock.

      1. Information promotes learning. The medium is irrelevant. Not being able to search a stack of dead trees for the bit of information you actually need is a HUGE detriment to learning.

  8. Who wants to get a Disease?
    I really don’t want to get Tuberculosis from the people that frequent the library.
    Who wants to let their kids go to the bathroom there? Where homeless people camp.
    Maybe these are reasons nobody goes to the library anymore.
    Oh and the fact that magazines/periodicals are kind of dead.

    1. OK, I need to sign up and get a login, but how many times are you going to drop what appears to be tolls about dirty homeless people and disease. I think you overstate the public library disease vector, to put it another way how would it look if you substituted the word Jew, or African-American for homeless in your posts? I do see a point thought that the community massively under-serves the homeless and in too many locations uses structural and bureaucratic hurdles to make their accessing non-emergency medical care difficult to impossible.

  9. If you have an internet connection libraries are pretty much redundant as a source of knowledge. If you don’t know where to find what you are looking for it does not take much time asking on various forums before you get a quiet hint from somebody as to where to look to find pretty much everything, well certainly more books on any given topic than you read in a lifetime.

  10. Wow, I cannot believe the anti-library stuff in these comments. I taught myself woodworking from my hometown library, I requested more books based on referenced work. we still had dial-up at the time, and I’m not even sure if youtube was much use at that time.
    I literally read thousands of books both fiction and non fiction in my teenage years from that library, when they didn’t have what I wanted, I requested it via interlibrary loan.
    Nearly any complaint about library book selection can be nullified with the interlibrary loan, you just have to request it and wait a few days. patience is a virtue.

      1. It’s really going to be library dependant. I used to go to a small city Mississippi library, it was great, even though it was in a rather bad part of town. I currently go to a small town Kentucky Library, it’s very good, especially for how tiny it is. I have visited one of Memphis’s public libraries, I wasn’t overly impressed with it, despite its size, but I didn’t notice any smell or coughing sickly people. I lived a few months in Colorado Springs and the library I went to there was amazing, and again, no smelly coughing sickly people. Oh, I almost forgot, there was another small city Mississippi library I used for a couple of years, it was also in a rough part of town, and again no smelly coughing sickly people. That’s five libraries, two of which are in “bigger” cities, none of which have the problems you are talking about.
        Besides, homeless folks have an important reasons to visit the library, job search. Imagine a homeless person being told “get a job” and then, not being able to afford even a newspaper, goes to visit a local library to read up on job listings, only to be refused because they are homeless. is that a world you want to live in? a world where when you fall down everyone keeps pushing your face in the mud because they now perceive you as less valuable a person for having fallen?

        1. I’m not proud to say it but I was close to being homeless during the downturn of 2007-8. If I didn’t have family members that could help me out I certainly would have been out on the streets.

          I suspect a much larger percentage of HaD commenters were in that position they could or would admit.

          The problem with libraries is not that the homeless people are camping there; the problem with society is that we’ve left the libraries as the only place they can go.

          1. That is a good point, in my country we have a social safety-net that is as close as you can get to a universal basic income without actually handing out cash to everyone. It makes a big difference. But we do still have homeless people, because it is the only way you can “hide” as all other forms of accommodation require the cooperation of other people or some form of paperwork that identifies you and is cross referenced to your identity documents. Solving that issue is much harder as for every person living on the street there is a unique set of motivations for why they feel the need to disconnect and drop out.

    1. Libraries were the store of knowledge for many many years and like you said people gathered much knowledge from them then. That was awesome. That time has passed.

      You don’t go to a blacksmith to get new parts for your car.
      You don’t send a telegram when you want to correspond with a far away relative.
      Why travel to a physical library building, inevitably not find what you are looking for, request they get what you are looking for, and wait an undetermined time for it to arrive? When instead you can sit at your computer in your house (that you are already siting at apparently) and check the inter-webs.

      1. I didn’t think too much about libraries until I went out and married a librarian…and through her met another librarian who worked to open a Maker Space in their library, where I now teach Arduino courses and go to play with woodworking kit.

        Libraries are evolving, and they are still a relevant part of society. There are a ton of jokes about homeless people masturbating and using the bathroom in public libraries on this thread. There’s a VERY large group of people who fall between a homeless person, and your typical hackaday reader who probably has several computers, a smartphone and a tablet within a 30-second walk at any moment. Empathize a little bit with those people who use the library as a resource to get what a lot of us take for granted.

        1. In my country we have “Men’s Sheds” for access to trades related knowledge and equipment, and many libraries are useless compared to what the web offers. The Sheds do allow women, it is just that they are primarily a place for older guys to hang out an make stuff so they are a great source of tacit knowledge, something most libraries cannot help you with even if they have a little room full of tools etc.

        2. What you are talking about is a hackerspace that happens to be in a library. If it was in a shed, or a warehouse, or a garage, it would still be a hackerspace. The dead tree section doesn’t really add much to the hackerspace.

      2. Libraries are still relevant. Often through the internet loan system I get books that I couldn’t afford to purchase the books contain information that’s not readily discoverable on the web for no cost. No cost to myself anyway, other than the piddling portion of my taxes that supports libraries.

  11. Please check out WorldCat at For those of you who think everything you need is freely found on the web -no one who is truly a lover of knowledge would ever think that; paywalls alone make that statement false- you must check out this great FREE resource from the great minds at OCLC, “a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing information costs”. (Wikipedia)

    If it is available in a library anywhere (I’m only *slightly* exagerating) you can find it on WorldCat. Then, as someone posted earlier, tell the folks at your local library’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) office and they will see if they can get it for you. It has been rare indeed for me not to get what I seek.

    Just recently I needed an article from an old electron microscopy journal that was only available behind a paywall. I used WorldCat to find the details, sent it to ILL and received a digital copy within the day. Sincerely.

    Libraries rock!

  12. ” For those of you who think everything you need is freely found on the web”

    LOL cute, perhaps you just don’t know where to look, or who to ask? I am serious, take the hint, just don’t ask for more information here.

  13. I’ve seen many of the observations here in real life. The downtown library is a beautiful multi-story building with marble staircases and reading spaces, and is largely taken over by the homeless and scruffians now, and librarians have to deal with people–adults–using the bathroom in the middle of the floor in obscure aisleways. One highlight was two rival gangs, apparently impervious to irony, having a fight in the Civil Rights Room. The emphasis is on movies and music to check out, computers, puppet shows, performances, “maker space” (mainly camp crafts for kids), teen rooms, — anything but books. Books are subject to accelerated culling, and the books with the most checkouts win. Even if something is a steady favorite, if it “looks old” on the shelf, if the cover art is dated, out it goes. Your best bet is interlibrary loan for obscure tech subjects with vertical markets. The purges happen fast, and you go in the next week to empty spaces that used to have bookshelves in them. Books are so last century. Random news article as example:

  14. Nice write-up, [Kristina Panos] I would like to know MORE about the library from where you wrote this.

    “I’m writing this from the newly expanded makerspace in the central branch of my local public library. A year or so ago, this library had a small makerspace set up in the middle of the main room.”

    We have a couple local libraries and I have been trying to set up a locl makerspace, there isnt one in the whole Country, AFAIK which is open to public access – so maybe learning about the library you mentioned and the makerspace there might HELP me.


  15. There is a library in Hoquiam, Washington. It has old world charm, and an antique grandfather clock that still keeps accurate time. Sometimes in a library, you can find a book that is long out of print. Here in Washington, there’s a store called Half Price Books. You can find many good titles there to buy. Once I’m done with a book, I donate it to the store so others can buy it. Not everyone can go out and buy a new book. To me, libraries are gateways to an earlier time, one which I remember fondly. I remember when my first library card was a piece of cardboard stock with a metal plate in it.
    Yes, we may have the internet, but for some older folks, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned book.

  16. At $100 a year membership, $15 an hour plus materials and mandatory training courses on each machine before I can do anything with it (assuming the whole space hasn’t been booked by a business that day), my library can shove their anaemic hackerspace right up their ‘innovation advice center’ (tax-funded how to Copyrighting and Patenting classes.)

    Seriously, it would be cheaper to buy my own 3D printer than to use theirs for a couple of hours. And splitting with a few friends on a china-special laser cutter would quickly pay for itself.

    I’m generally in favor of libraries, but this one (newly refurbished, sole remaining library in a moderately sized city) is a complete joke. The (outsourced) wifi is broken. The catalogue is only accessible via IE8 on a 2005 Dell Laptop, and is itself inaccurate and has a terrible UI. The restaurant is however doing a roaring trade.

  17. Yeah I went to the library after a long time, and all the books were largely gone and instead it was rows of computers.
    For me that’s not a library but a damn internet cafe and I don’t see the point. Computers people have at home or in their pocket, libraries should be about reading books.

    1. Poor people (including but not limited to homeless people) still need to access services, and for many of them we’ve removed the ability to do so via phone or in person. The library allows them to do this.

      That said, there usually isn’t a need to have that many computers. I think there are 20 spread throughout my library, mostly hidden behind rows of bookshelves.

  18. Fantastic ! I found your post worth reading and inspiring for librarians in the modern day. It is apparent that the idea of blended librarianship has come to stay when considering the way and manner public libraries are also enriched with the State-Of -The-Art do it yourself teaching, research and learning resources for skill development and concept actualization within the confine of the library

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