May 20, 2013

On libraries and inequality

These days, we take a lot of things for granted. For example, we take phones and computers and television for granted, assuming that, because they are superfluous in our lives, they must be so in the world.

We forget that this is a position of privilege – we have these things only because we can have them. And as more and more of the world moves online, more and more of the people who can’t afford the appropriate devices lose access to that world.

This is why, as Rita Meade aptly points out, libraries are actually more important than ever, and phasing them out or cutting their funding would be a remarkably horrible decision to make.

There are many, many people in the world who don’t spend all goddamn day on their phone because they can’t afford one – the device, the plan, or both. They don’t have the world in their pocket. They have very, very little, and taking away libraries would take away a big cut of the little that they have.

Monstrous inequality aside, hearing “Libraries should be cut BECAUSE INTERNET” makes as much sense as “Schools should be cut BECAUSE INTERNET.” I mean, it’s all information, right? Right, it’s all just data! So let’s keep your kid home, and he or she won’t go to college, and they can just google up a degree, download “COMMUNICATIONS MAJOR” into their brain like Neo, and be done with it, because that’s completely the same as having an in-person, tactile educational experience. Looking at youtube videos is exactly the same as attending lectures and spending a shitload of time in front of a book.

Even if libraries did no more than provide us with a quiet place to read, they would still be worthwhile.  Shit, I wish I was in the library right now.