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The Distributed Library Project 105

An anonymous reader writes "Mike Benham of thoughtcrime.org has started a cool project for sharing information and building community in San Francisco. From the website: "Unfortunately, the traditional library system doesn't do much to foster community. Patrons come and go, but there is very little opportunity to establish relationships with people or groups of people. In fact, if you try to talk with someone holding a book you like - you'll probably get shushed. The Distributed Library Project works in exactly the opposite way, where the very function of the library depends on interaction." It looks like the software is now available for other cities."
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The Distributed Library Project

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  • If only... (Score:5, Funny)

    by JohnGrahamCumming ( 684871 ) * <slashdot@jg[ ]rg ['c.o' in gap]> on Sunday August 24, 2003 @09:55AM (#6777203) Homepage Journal
    This is actually a really cool idea.

    But imagine if we could do the same thing with digital media on the
    Internet. We might invent a system for sharing, for example, music
    and video files and call it "file sharing" or even "peer to peer".

    We might even register a domain name for the service and call it
    something like "Napster". Dammit someone already registered
    napster.com, I guess my dream will never become a reality.

    • Re:If only... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Meffan ( 469304 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:02AM (#6777241)
      This is more like a real world Napster, from the site:

      How does it work?

      Create an account, then list the books and videos that you own. You will then have access to the multitude of books and videos available in other people's collections. You can search for specific authors or titles, browse individual collections, find nearby users, or find people who like books in common with yours. You will have access to user-written reviews and have the opportunity to write your own.

      If the owner of a book or video you're interested in has time for you to pick it up, you can check out items for a 2, 7, 14, or 30 day period (at the owner's discretion). Returning books late will get you negative feedback, while returning books promptly will get you positive feedback. You are never under any obligation to lend an item if you don't feel comfortable doing so.

      They say it's more about creating a community though, in the real world for a change. I like the idea in principle, there's nothing wrong with getting out from behind the screen now & then and actually going out & meeting people!

      The eBay style "Web of trust" is also interesting, it could be a good way to meet new people who live nearby & have similar interests - some of them may even be girls! Now watch as the server is /.ed by the lonely surfers...Heh heh heh
    • Re:If only... (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, except you didnt physically walk over to the owner of the media's home and borrow the music and then have to return it within a set time frame.
    • Re:If only... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Nucleon500 ( 628631 )
      Well, there's the legal problem that you can't implement a digital library without copying. But the realspace varient is plenty for copying music, you can just rip the CD (like you already can from a library). The difference here is that as long as the lender doesn't think you'll copy it, he's not liable at all, only you are. Also, it has the advantage of getting you out of the house.

      • Re:If only... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by devilspgd ( 652955 )
        I'm not sure about the US, but in Canada you can legally make copies of an original CD, and keep that copy once you give away the original.

        As long as you don't copy a copy, or attempt to give or sell the copy, you're legally safe.

        It doesn't work with software due to the EULA (if you agree to it), but music CDs don't get a shrinkwrap license (at least, not yet)
    • There's one big difference between this and Napster. When you walk over to somebody's house and borrow a book, there is still only one copy of that book. No new books have been created. However, with Napster, every time you connected to another user's computer to download a song, you would essentially create a brand new copy of that song on your computer, plus allow other users to make copies of that song, and then share those copes with even more people, ad infitum.

      What would be neat is if somebody des
    • >
      we could do the same thing with digital media

      Actually, if people get used to lend and borrow each other's books, and to deliver them intact afterwards, this could help foster the idea of sharing and free software... nice!

  • ++goodthinkfull
  • by Blaine Hilton ( 626259 ) * on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:02AM (#6777238) Homepage
    This seems to be a lot like meetup.com. This is an interesting concept though, and in areas where there are enough people to sign up it could even be usefull. However even with large cities like Chicago, and New York, I notice there are not many people in the different meetups. The trick is having enough people in the system to make it work well.
  • You just need a few jerks with fake accounts who steal books.
    They don't even verify the corrects of the data in the accounts.
    And for "e-bay" style "trust" management: yeah, I would have said the same but I usually refrain from insulting people. And e-bay at least tries to verify your data.

    Another example of a left-wing sozio-political idea which seems great on paper but has a 100 percent chance of getting fucked in real life.

    • Swap, then? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jcsehak ( 559709 )
      Unless you don't just lend something out to someone, you make a temporary trade. Let's say we're both into fantasy fiction. I've got The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Simillariowhatever. I want to see what this Harry Potter fuss is about. You've got the 5 Harry Potter books, and saw The Two Towers movie, and now want to read all Tolkien's stuff. So we trade for a predetermined period, say 5 months. If you decide to be a jerk and keep my books, no big deal, I've still got yours.

      One problem I can s
    • Just like there a shill bidders and fake accounts on ebay, no system is perfect, and there are always going to be wankers who steal.

      But not doing something like this just falls for the average right-wing love-the-market-economy ideas that has a 100 percent chance of fucking up the planet and everyone on it in real life.

      It's amazing how powerful peer moderated systems can be. Look at E-bay - would you buy from anyone with one negative rating, let alone half a dozen? It's so powerful some doofus went to cou
  • by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:08AM (#6777264) Journal
    While this does seem like a cool project, the very premise is a bit skewed. Libraries used to be quite places, talking was always frowned upon, and the librarian was some old 90 year old hag who cared more about smacking people around than passing on knowledge.

    Times, my friend, are changing.

    It's often acceptible to socialize in libraries now. There are usually designated quiet portions of the library, but for the most part interaction between patrons is allowed. In fact, larger libraries set up study groups and so forth where interaction is ENCOURAGED among patrons who are interested in a similar topic.
    • by wordisms ( 624668 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:23AM (#6777322)
      Libraries and other non-profit organizations are generally the source of the few community gatherings in any town. From chess clubs to book clubs, summer reading programs to adult discussion groups, the libraries in my communities have always served as a strong foundation for social interaction.

      While this concept sounds neat, and can probably serve a certain audience, if you wish your local library was more active, volunteer some time and get involved.

      I am a huge technology advocate, but things like person to person contact off the net are just so important.

      • I was going to say exactly the same thing! In all my 24 years, I have never known a library where talking was frowned upon and I've never had to shush anyone myself. I think a lot of parents & teachers perpetuate the stereotype in order to keep their rugrats quiet! I also think the idea of using the library in association with the Distributed Library is a good one - I don't want strangers turning up on my doorstep either. Of course, the idea of letting someone I haven't known more than 6 mths walk away
  • by GeekGirlie ( 698666 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:12AM (#6777274)
    It's a great idea for sharing books and videos with other people. But, personally, I am really picky about to whom I lend things. Regardless of whether they plan to steal them, you'd probably never get your books back in the same condition that you loaned them. Then, you'll just have to end up going out and buying new books...
    • I have a big pile of books that I was planning on giving to the library. I just made them available on the service. If one of them gets destroyed/lost/whatever, I'll grumble but I won't weep.

      Do you treasure all of your books so highly that you can't risk losing them?

      (Of course the disadvantage of only making your not-so-treasured books available is that people might think you have bad taste :)
      • I've got a big pile of books that have been removed from my library, but only a few of them are duds. The rest of them are duplicates - either old books that have been replaced by better copies, or duplicates that were part of lots that I buy off of eBay. If I wanted to lend books out, I'd lend out the dupes (ie, reading copies.)
  • So instead of having some weirdo hit on you in a public building, they can now do it in the privacy of your own home.
  • Yeech (Score:3, Funny)

    by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:15AM (#6777288) Homepage
    Patrons come and go, but there is very little opportunity to establish relationships with people or groups of people.

    Dude, have you seen some of the people that mill around libraries? Homeless kickers, pseudo-orphans, and just the garden-variety weirdos that talk to themselves? If I want community I'll go to my local arcade.
  • by grug0 ( 696014 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:18AM (#6777305) Journal
    What's to stop a whole bunch of people giving themselves high ratings and good feedback, and then stealing other people's books?

    I suggest they use something like the Advogato [advogato.org] trust metric to maintain the integrity of their system. This allows bad "nodes" to be isolated and damage to the system avoided.

    I also think that there should be penalties, like at any library, for having overdue books. Get a bad rating from one person is just a slap on the wrist.
    • Well, that's what the law is for. Just like you can get sued on EBay for fraud or for not holding up your end of the deal, if you don't return the books and don't pay for them, you'll probably end up in small claims court.
  • I'm not so sure this would work. The kind of people who one books are probably the same kind of people who would get really annoyed if the book was damaged by some random stranger (ear marked pages, etc).

    At least that's the way I am. I don't even like to let my family or girlfriend borrow my books.
    • Not necessarily. There are lots of people out there who enjoy reading and are willing to share that pleasure with others. If you don't like lending your books, don't sign up.

      As it says on the site, you have the right to refuse sharing any book for whatever reason.. if there's a book you don't want damaged, then don't lend it out. I think that there'll still be enough books to go around.
  • by gpmart ( 576795 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:19AM (#6777309) Homepage Journal
    Maybe I'm the exception to the rule, but our local library [lib.mn.us] has done a lot for fostering community. My wife has participated in the annual poetry contest and readings at the library. We have gotten to know our library staff, met people and our kids have discovered new materials through the connections that they have made at the library. I won't argue that this program has value, but your average local library is community-run, a center for local civic involvement and community programs and projects. The American Library Association [htttp] puts community involvement at the heart of it's mission. In fact the major advertising campaign for this is called connect@the.library. Still, the project has merit, especially because the materials that your average library offers is limited by limited finances, and this might fit niches that go unfilled right now, like making high-end geek stuff available to others.
  • All mine (Score:5, Funny)

    by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:20AM (#6777310) Homepage
    You are never under any obligation to lend an item if you don't feel comfortable doing so.

    Darn right. I wouldn't trust my porn collection to some stranger. Kerouac. I meant my Kerouac collection.
  • If this idea grows and spawns multiple sites, how much time will it pass until the RIAA/MPAA/WIPO/(insert another draconian patents regulation entity here) start shutting them down?

    The right to read [gnu.org] looks more close te reality each day.

  • by DenialS ( 21305 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:23AM (#6777321) Homepage Journal

    Ahem. This ALA [ala.org]-accredited librarian (I just happen to work in the software industry) is offended by the summary and linked-to site's suggestion that libraries don't encourage a sense of community.

    As well as making books, videos, CDs, and other media available to patrons, physical libraries tend to offer their facilities to groups (for no or nominal fees) to get together for discussion. I have attended poetry-writing sessions, mid-80's computer clubs, environmental activism sessions, and local community groups, all hosted by local public libraries. Just check the bulletin boards (physical, or online) for notification and invitation to attend the many happenings at your local library.

    Here are a few stats from a March 2002 survey [ala.org] commissioned by the American Library Association:

    • 66% of all respondents reported using the public library at least once in the last year in person, by phone, or by computer.
    • Of those respondents who reported using the public library in person in the last year, 67% said they had taken out books, 47% had consulted a librarian, 47% used reference materials, 31% read newspapers or magazines, 26% connected to the Internet, 25% took out CDs or videos, and 14% heard a speaker, saw a movie or attended a special program.
    • 91% believe libraries are changing and dynamic places with a variety of activities for the whole family.

    Those 14% sure have good opportunities for developing some sort of a community.

    Maybe walking into a room without knowing anyone else there is daunting, so virtual communities like http://www.communitybooks.org offer a lower courage barrier for participating -- but at the same time, it's a little easier to melt into the background (or flame like mad) when you disagree with someone else's position.

    And please--that stereotype of you'll probably get shushed is way wrong. If you get shushed, it's not going to be a librarian telling you to be quiet; they want you to be active and engaged. If you're approaching another patron who is trying to read, that patron might respond positively or negatively--but that's the risk you have to take if you really want to make contact with someone else who appears to share your interests.

    • Perhaps the developer had such a bad experience as as a child that he's never been inside a library since the 1960s? Every one I can think of locally has (as space permits) story times, study groups, artists/author lectures, writing classes, and various community groups meeting there.

      However, I can see this working well in a small community with known members, such as a company (finding out who has certain references), school, or small town. But you have to have a system where the borrowers can be perso

    • Really, you will not get shushed at a library unless you are doing something flagrantly disrespectful. And even then, you wouldn't get shushed; you'd be asked to stop whatever it is you're doing. A bun-haired old woman would not look at you over her pearl-rimmed glasses as she raises a finger to her shushing mouth.

      Given how much work the above-mentioned ALA has done to fight the DMCA and similar things, I'm surprised that librarians still get such stereotyping here. My wife, a librarian, has four large tat
    • You got my vote librarian person. I too sorta coughed on my coffee when I read that intro.

      How are you ever going to simulate the sense of excitement and curiosity one gets going into a library? Wandering the shelves looking at books, finding that serendipitous find? Or simulate a thousand other things I'm sure I and other library fans could mention
  • I just hope they dont store all the data on CD-r's.
  • Yeah, sure, I'm going to let some person I have never met, whose identity is not confirmed by the Distributed Library project in any way, know where I live so they can pick up a book or video ... just for the sake of building "community". How do I knowthey will bring it back instead of selling it on eBay, or are not just casing the joint as they take the book.

    If I have a CD or book to lend out, I GIVE it to the library and let them handle the distribution.

  • what, now (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    1) hippie jackass re-invents the idea of chat

    2) slashdot editors get ahold of it .. proclaim it
    new mecca

    3) world eats it up

    4) who the fuck posted this?

    5) oh .. taco .. the really Stupid one

    6) taco is arrested for fondling little japanese

    7) finally

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...on the parent site [thoughtcrime.org] (first link in write-up) and was surprised to find the following: linux for anarchists. [thoughtcrime.org]

  • Neat web-site (Score:3, Informative)

    by Karl Cocknozzle ( 514413 ) <kcocknozzle@NOsPAM.hotmail.com> on Sunday August 24, 2003 @10:59AM (#6777480) Homepage
    Slightly OT, but the same guy's site has a (slightly outdated, but still a good argument) page about why the War on Drugs is a failure [thoughtcrime.org]. Good read, especially in light of my state's recent decision to flout the Supreme Court's ruling that "Narcotics Checkpoints" are illegal and unconstitutional invasion of people's 4th amendment rights. Even though they're patently illegal, Marion County Indiana is having them on average of once a week for the rest of the summer. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union is already suing, and you know our Drug-Warrior/Sherriff will waste millions defending his actions, (millions of tax dollars, of course) then complain when his department has to cut budget mid-year because of the money he is wasting on lawyers.
  • ...a community weblog and a time-based karma system, and I imagine it might work well. There must be some appreciation of private property here though---community property is quickly ruined without oversight. Personally, I don't see this scaling beyond 1st- and 2nd-tier friends.
  • What about hooking this sort of database to something similar to friendster or livejournal so that people offer their items up for loan to the people (and possible groups/communites) that they choose? Then it is up to the individual to decide how distributed their library really is.
  • ..what about those people who DON'T want to be social? The library isn't really meant to be a place to socialize, nor should it be. If anything it can be a refuge from the horrible forced interactions the some have to endure in daily life: being nice to the boss, saying something nice about someone you can't stand at work or school, etc...
  • by ahfoo ( 223186 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @11:41AM (#6777660) Journal
    Indeed, if you check the text of the US Copyright law you will find that in the subsection on fair use for libraries and archives --note, that's a separate subsection than the one for indivudual fair use-- it specifically states that in order to avoid damage to originals, it is not a violation of copyright to make a copy of an edition or phonorecording for lending to another instituion.

    Since each member of this organization is like an independent lending archive, then this seems to suggest that lending copies of your materials should be fine so you can keep the originals.

    If you disagree, I'd like to know which part of the copyright law supports your position. You'll find the part about fair use all nice and easy to read in HTML here at the LOC. [copyright.gov]
  • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Sunday August 24, 2003 @12:01PM (#6777748) Homepage Journal
    Since some commercial book stores already do it, how about adding a Starbucks, or something similar to your public library. In that 'zone', there would be no requirement for quietness. If you want quiet, then leave the coffee and go to the rest of the library.

    Also, how about 'community tables' in the coffee shop area? This is something I have already seen in some places. You can sit down at a large table and risk the chance of chatting to someone ;)

    What about damage? Well maybe you could have an 'in-library' check out. That way the books come under the same limitations as a normal checked out book.

    In the long run, this should be similar to the Coffee sponsored Mozilla [slashdot.org] approach, so the library would get some return for doing this.
  • by mr.henry ( 618818 ) * on Sunday August 24, 2003 @01:02PM (#6778023) Journal
    Unfortunately, the traditional lavatory system doesn't do much to foster community. Patrons come and go, but there is very little opportunity to establish relationships with people or groups of people. In fact, if you try to talk with someone using the toilet you like - you'll probably get shushed. The Distributed Lavatory Project works in exactly the opposite way, where the very function of the lavatory depends on interaction.

    Why the hell do we have to Rheingold [rheingold.com] everything and turn it into some 'distributed project' with 'interaction'?
  • Sounds like something i've been thinking of implementing for some time - not for the whole city, just friends and friends-of-friends, etcetera. Too bad the implementation doesn't look like it also supports making other categories (like CD's or, hell why not, old hardware.)

    Anyone happen to know such software that is more flexible in that respect? Shouldn't be all that hard to build, but hey, i'm lazy :)

  • There's a reason that professional librarians go to graduate school to learn how to do essential "librarian" things like cataloging. Any database of this nature will collapse in on itself and be completely useless without things such as language control [loc.gov]. This is another case where a techie with a really good idea should first consult with a professional librarian before trying to re-invent the wheel.
    • There are some instances where it can be difficult to categorize things. And what if I don't feel the need for the library I just set up [birchalls.net] to have a "Queer" section? Or what if I'd like a "Travel" section? Huh? Huh? ;)

      That said, I can say that it does do some cool stuff. Plug in an ISBN, and 9+ times out of 10, it'll auto-populate the rest of the indexing information, even grabbing a review off Amazon about it.

      • I think you missed what I was saying. :)

        Let's say I search your database for Author = "Clemens, Samuel Langhorne"? Probably wouldn't hit anything. Now, do that search in the LOC authorities website I posted in my original post.

        I see in your database that you don't support subject searching. That is another "controlled language" area that is very important. What if I wanted all items that dealt with, say, gay rights?

        Like I said, cool idea, but check out some of the free librarian driven software packages
        • I'd agree that it definitely does come up shy of "real" library software. (And I say that as someone who's worked in more'n a couple libraries. ;) That said, the box for comments/review could probably be used to store that info along with, uh, whatever. :) But yeah, it's not a real library program. Then again, I don't think that's what it's trying to be.
  • ...the traditional library system doesn't do much to foster community

    That's just nonsense. Yes, you can't go walking up to strangers reading and start a conversation but who wants that anyway? There are many opportunities to get to know your fellow patrons. Our county library system has many activities during the day, evening, and weekends, including book discussion groups (for adults, teens, and parent/child), story time for the younger set (so popular that you have to get a free ticket from the circ
  • As another poster mentioned, many or even most libraries already do things to foster community.

    This idea *is* an interesting way to *force* people to interact, but that shouldn't be confused with community, which is a sense of togetherness or belonging to something.

    A crucial component of this is having an actual physical, brick-and-mortar presence that enables people to interact when they want to. In a library you can choose to interact with librarians, or you can see someone looking at a book and ask th
  • We've had a setup like this for technical books in Portland for approx. 8 months now. http://library.pdxlug.org/ We share books with other tech geeks involved in the user group and make trades/borrows/lends at meetings. http://www.pdxlug.org/
  • Take a look at Book Crossing [bookcrossing.com]. It's a site about sharing books and is similar to your library project. With BookCrossing you register your own books. Then you can "release" them (leave at coffee shop) and hope someone finds them.

    There is even a story in Readers Digest [bookcrossing.com].

    Koozie.org [koozie.org]

"The C Programming Language -- A language which combines the flexibility of assembly language with the power of assembly language."