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Librarian Blog

Of course

The reason monopolies are bad for consumers has long been made by, well, monopolists themselves.

Let a company get exclusive or near-exclusive title to some part of the market, and that company will take advantage of its position to maximize profits.

If this were not true, government would never step in to foster competition.

Little wonder, then, that Amazon, the biggest bookseller of all time, is now profiting from its gargantuan position to raise the prices of its offerings to make more and more money.

To get to where it is now, Amazon kept prices artificially low, bringing in customers so it could grow its market share.

The pricing back then was predatory.

And so it is now with prices rising.

This all should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.

But, today's New York Times carries an article that has a tone of incredulity about Amazon's price-hiking.

Now it is time for government to step in and protect book-buyers from this modern Robber Baron.

How bad is it?

Rumblings come from hither and yon about this or that library that is facing financial cutbacks.

But, I have generally assumed that the cuts were due to overall weakness in local government revenue streams because of the recession.

Libraries would seem to be an easy place to save some money since what we offer is more a "soft" service than a hard one like water or sewer service.

So it came as something of a mild jolt when I learned this week that The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries will begin with a working group next month to "create a common vision for public libraries."

The institute will convene dozens of business, government and library leaders to talk about our futures because, to quote from a press release, "public libraries in the U.S. are at a crossroads."

It is certainly true that the digital world offers libraries new and new and interesting challenges, but it is just not true that the rise in use of e-materials spells doom for libraries down the road, at least in the near term.

And for that near term, libraries probably need more money, not less, to help patrons get up to speed on all things digital while maintaining print collections and responding to the needs of people who cherish actual books and magazines.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what kind of common vision the institute's group comes up with.

Our vision is reflected in the district board's five-year plan, just adopted earlier this year. That vision places the library squarely at the center of a more- and more-connected community, fostering dialogue and providing various entry points for people to access information they might not be able to find elsewhere easily.

 

Almost a scoop

I'm not sure what the lead time is at Wired magazine before an article actually makes into print.

But I'm guessing James Bamford was twitching with anxiety when Edward Snowden's revelations were published about the government's spy network's snooping on Americans.

Bamford wrote an article just published in Wired about the God of War, Gen. Keith Alexander, the guy who runs the secret operations that aim to do battle on the Internet around the world.

Bamford has done a powerful lot of research to show what Alexander's troops are up to with their billions of relatively unaccounted-for dollars. Alexander basically runs the National Security Agency, the Central Security Service, the U.S. Cyber Command -- thousands of spies and 14,000 cyber troops.

What that do in terms of surveillance is one thing. What they are prepared to do in terms of going on the offensive is another thing altogether.

Snowden hasn't leaked this kind of information. It will make your hair stand up on the back of your neck.

Check it out. Bamford's done a great job, and his piece adds a whole new dimension to what's come out since Snowden.

Audiobook popularity

Demand for actors to read manuscripts into audiobooks is booming, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Some actors around the New York City area can even make a living at the trade.

The demand is up for actors because demand is up for audiobooks (The NYT report says revenues for audiobooks rose 22 percent in 2012 over 2011).

In a community such as Wimberley, with a significant population that travels to and from town for work, demand has always been high for audiibooks.

We just learned exactly how popular they are last week when we confronted almost-full CD book shelves and thus the problem of taking some of them out of circulation to make room for new ones.

We first decided to look at removing books that had not been checked out more than a few times in the last 12 months, and quickly discovered that the number would be too small to make the effort worthwhile.

So we abandoned that approach and found a used book rack that we are now putting newer audiobooks on, freeing up some signfiicant space. We also took a hard look at the space and one of our librarians noticed that we could add two shelves without cramming things.

Audiobooks will continue to be a big part of our collection ... even when the new shelves and the new rack are full. We'll just have to figure out what to do when that happens.

-- Carroll Wilson, Circulation Librarian

Hard to figure it out

The New York Times recently published an item under this headline: "Study Gauges Value of Technology in Schools."

Turns out the study, by the Center for American Progress, found very little value in the technologies available in schools, according to the article.

But, I am flummoxed by the piece more than I am enlightened.

One criticism, for example, is that 34 percent of eighth-graders used computers to drill basic math facts rather than doing spreadsheets or whatever else the author had in mind that eighth-graders should be doing. Programming? Designing games? Discovering algorithms?

I just don't get what the Center for American Progress would have educators do. I mean, many schools right now give elementary studnets iPads, with which one imagines they access Internet resources of all kinds beyond e-mail and Facebook.

And I am trying to square up the conclusions of the CAP with the now-widely-shared TED talk by a scientist in India who placed computers programmed in English in remote villages on that continent to see what kids would do with them. Turns out the kids learned English so they could learn everything else that was out there, and they did so without adult intervention.

Is it a waste of money if they aren't doing spreadsheets?