Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?
The Internet

Internet Revives Public Libraries 273

securitas writes "The New York Times' Steve Lohr reports on the effects of the Internet on public libraries, namely that the installation of Internet-connected computers have been largely responsible for a rebirth in public libraries and increasing attendance, particularly by 'teenagers, people age 50 and older and members of ethnic minorities' as well as low-income patrons without computers at home. According to a University of Washington study, 'A year after computers are put in libraries that do not have them, visits rise 30 percent on the average and attendance typically remains higher'. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - which funds PC-based Internet library projects - features prominently in the article, including the criticism that it is 'a Microsoft marketing exercise masquerading as philanthropy.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Internet Revives Public Libraries

Comments Filter:
  • Poll: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vegetablespork ( 575101 ) <> on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:09AM (#8982301) Homepage
    How many of your libraries log who was on what machine and at what times? (Yes for the ones in my area)

    Do you have to log in to use your card catalog? (No for the ones in my area)

    • Re:Poll: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Wildfire Darkstar ( 208356 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:23AM (#8982416)
      I work part-time in the Montgomery County, MD public library system, and we've had internet access for some years now. In order to ensure that everyone gets equal access to the terminals, we do have a sign up process (which is currently in the process of being automated using library card information and session management software, but until that process is complete is done with old-fashioned pen and paper), but no records are kept: we hold onto the sign-up sheets only until the end of the day they are initially filled out, and then they are trashed, for privacy concerns. Similarly, all records of what any individual may have done while using the machines (browser history, cookies, etc.) are deleted upon logout.

      As of now, we don't keep track of who was on what machine at any given time, to some extent because we can't: we have a very limited-access guest account (which allows for browser usage, access to a word processor, and not much else) that is used for all patrons. I'm not sure how the upcoming session management software will change this, but there have been ongoing discussions about potential privacy concerns (which, in my experience, libraries take very, very seriously).

      As for the card catalogs, they work much the same way as the internet terminals do now: limited guest account for all patrons (which in this case allows only for access to the catalog, and not the broader internet). However, there are none of the usage restrictions that the internet machines have, where we limit patrons to one hour a day, and require a sign-up system.
    • Here in NYC, I just walk into my public library, go downstairs, walk to the back (where the network is), and plug my laptop in. Simple as that, and it's awesome.

      But now, will a bunch of kiddies come in and abuse it, and will I soon have to stnad in line and give my ID, thanks to them?

      We'll see... (but even after 9/11 they never asked for an ID)

      • I'd love to know which library you are going to, because all the public libraries I have gone to besides the central libraries are rather quaint, but are either filled with homeless who smell like shit or they cater to children.

        As much as I love the main branch of the NY public library, its a research library and its pretty far from my apartment.

        Who cares if you can access the internet if you have to endure the smell of piss and vomit? or the screaming of small children?

    • been in several (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zogger ( 617870 )
      here in georgia. Only one required a picture ID to login. All of them had sign in sheets, but you could put any name you chose I guess (except the pic ID one of course). The machines have definetly been the donated microsoft gates foundation machines. I have asked at two libraries if they would take donated computers that I would provide running linux, they said NO very emphatically, they run a windows network remote administered. The machines themselves are usually chock full of spyware/adware as near as I
    • Re:Poll: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BlastQuake ( 530459 )
      I work for the Aurora Public Library. To prevent abuse (people staying on the internet for 10+ hours a day) and to give everyone a fair chance of getting online, we require a library card to access the system. Every 24 hours all records of library cards used for computer access are purged from the system, and we do not track what sites patrons visit (though we will kick them off if other patrons complain of seeing pron on someone's screen). Usually all 40 computer terminals are in use at any time. It wo
  • by I confirm I'm not a ( 720413 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:14AM (#8982343) Journal

    According to the BBC [], Britain's public librarires will be out of use by 2020. My local library does have a computer (one!) but the collections (books, CDs, etc) are shocking. Ordering from other libraries takes too long, etc.

    • Heh, I was just looking for that link on BBC
      Interestingly, all UK Public libraries are meant to have internet access but it doesn't seem to be halting the slide.
    • by AllUsernamesAreGone ( 688381 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:27AM (#8982462)
      Agreed. It has been over 6 years since I last went into a public library in the UK: the books they had on the subjects I was interested in were so far out of date it was painful (books on electronics from the 70s for example!) After waiting for months for them to get a book I wanted I just gave up on them completely and had to resort to the far more expensive but infinitely faster option of buying the reference books I needed.

      Since then everything I know about them has been second-hand, but that alone is bad enough. How are people who aren't lucky enough to be able to buy books (especially the ludicrously expensive technical ones) supposed to learn this stuff? It's depressing.

      Even the library at the university I work at is behind and has very restricted numbers on some of the most complex tomes :/
    • This varies on where you are in the UK. Cities clearly have the best deal, for example London and Manchester's huge libraries are great.

      It tends to get worse the further out from cities you go, I currently live in a village and it doesn't have a library; although I've noticed a mobile library van but never used it.

      Reminds me of the Hicks routine "'So, whatcha reading for?' Not what are you reading but what are you reading for. You stumped me."

      A drive to the nearest town provides a good library with decen
      • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:40AM (#8982580) Homepage
        You may not know this, but some people live in really big countries, where the big city could 5 hours or more away by car. This is definitely a problem in Canada. Coming from a small town, all the books were seriously outdated, making research quite a hard thing to do. And travelling to the big city just to go to the library, was not an option I think it would be great if somehow we could get all the books online, in one place, allowing you to read any book you wanted to. I think that many libraries would be willing to pay licensing fees to access something like this. It would be a lot more convenient then buying a bunch of $100 books, that people are going to take out once.
      • by ader ( 1402 )
        > London and Manchester's huge libraries are great.

        Bzzzt! Manchester has some fine library buildings, and arguably some good collections, but the general room at the Central library is a classic example of an inadequate, underfunded and mismanaged public library. Worse, this is the main branch for a major city. There is a limited selection of old books (almost outnumbered by the videos for hire), badly catalogued and, despite the small number, confusingly laid out. On the day I went, a radio was clearly
    • by ader ( 1402 )
      Ack, ya beat me to it.

      More interestingly, the story mentions that despite increases in funding for libraries, spending on books has sharply declined! Presumably, at least some of that money went on Internet provision instead - that's great as a means of broadening access, but not if it diverts money from a core function.

      More, newer books are obviously required, but increased rotation of stock between libraries would help too. As it stands, the average secondhand or remainders shop offers a wider range.

  • If you connect it, they will come.

    • Literally. I know a few library workers here, and they routinely complain about having to tell the man in the trenchcoat to stop stroking the monkey to farm pics. It gets worse when they do this next to the computer their children are using.

      There are books is a library? Cool! Since when?

  • Wonderful!!!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Phidoux ( 705500 )
    It's just a pity that in many poorer countries the public libraries are still a very long way from being able to afford computers. In most African countries for example, governments first priority is to feed, clothe and house people and public libraries (If there are any) come very low down on the list of priorities.
  • by mumblestheclown ( 569987 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:18AM (#8982375)
    and attendance would be even higher if they gave out free beer and blowjobs.

    the point of a library isnt to increase raw attendance, it's to provide access to a large quantity of books that the majority of people could not purchase or conveniently locate on their own.

    With the internet, this dynamic does not occur; I am guessing that the vast majority of people who use library PCs for internet access could reasonably get it (or, more accurately, already have it) in some other fashion at home, but prefer the coffeehouse / social aspect of being out of the house while doing their web surfing.

    • the point of a library isnt to increase raw attendance, it's to provide access to a large quantity of books that the majority of people could not purchase or conveniently locate on their own.

      Exactly! But there's one more thing... The quality of what people read! (No, I'm not politically correct.) If all that people read in the library are crappy/superficial romances written by people who usually write one book every month, or something like that, I don't think they'll benefit a lot from that (although i
      • It would be nice to have something less passive and more interesting: a place where people go to get together and think/discuss/etc.

        It's called "Slashdot."

        Seriously, though, if you want a public place where people think and discuss things, you want to visit a college departmental lounge. The pick-up discussions at my state college's Literature department lounge were really interesting and I discovered some great writers from there. I also discovered that I hate Milan Kundera.
    • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:35AM (#8982534) Homepage Journal
      Dude, the library isn't about books, it's about information. Creating a society where people without the means to access information stored in books or online bars them from advancement and self-improvement. It's about making sure everone has the opportunity to improve their situation, whether they take it or not. And even though in the end it might just be an exercise in clearing the conscience of all of us that had this stuff while growing up, it does provide a degree of equality that make it all the more apparent when the privileged upper classes still keep their positions closed to their social circles due to factors other than strictly "meritocratic" criteria.
    • While it's true that probably a significant portion of people accessing the internet from libraries in general could or do have a connection at home, there are still many people completely unable to afford it that benefit from the program. The article mentions that to be elegible for Gates grants, the library must serve a community with ten percent of the population living below the federal poverty level. Even if the kids are just looking up song lyrics online, at least they're learning how to use a compute
      • Before I start, I have to say, that yes I know there are people who can't afford computers, or the internet, but I believe these people are of the extreme minority, at least in developed countries.

        It doesn't cost that much to own a computer. Go to a local place that sells used computers and pick something up for $200. Then, get dial-up to NetZero or something, $10 a month. You don't need a pentium IV, especially if you're using dial up. This would be sufficient to browse the web, and do some word pr
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @09:08AM (#8982821) Homepage Journal
      Man, you really pulled that post out of your ass.

      the point of a library isnt to increase raw attendance, it's to provide access to a large quantity of books that the majority of people could not purchase or conveniently locate on their own.

      Libraries have always had more things than books in them, such as newspapers, periodicals, recordings and recently videos. The point is to make access to information universal. People want information. If you provide it to them, they will come. What people are gettign are things like access to Google, or foreign newspapers. If you're from another country and want to know what your home town paper said about yesterday's news from Iraq, where do you go? To the Internet.

      I am guessing that the vast majority of people who use library PCs for internet access could reasonably get it (or, more accurately, already have it) in some other fashion at home, but prefer the coffeehouse / social aspect of being out of the house while doing their web surfing.

      This is the part you pulled out of your ass.

      If you are an immigrant working as a unskilled laborer or a home health aid, do you think you'd get Internet access as part of your job? Would the price of a computer and high speed access be something that would be a barrier to you?

      When people like me and probably you want a coffeehouse atmosphere, we go to a coffeehouse with our wifi laptops. At the library you can't do your favorite drugs, pick up women (well maybe not) or have a conversation with other patrons.

    • by shalla ( 642644 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @09:34AM (#8983099)
      the point of a library isnt to increase raw attendance, it's to provide access to a large quantity of books that the majority of people could not purchase or conveniently locate on their own.

      It is? And here I've been working in public libraries for years under the mistaken assumption that we were here to provide information!

      Seriously, though, public libraries provide a lot of reference and information services--not just books. Certainly our books, cds, videos, graphic novels, etc. get a lot of use for both research and entertainment, but so do our people.

      I'm employed full-time by a public library to teach computer skills. We have about 50 public computers with internet access and assorted software (word processing, spreadsheet, database, photo editing, scanning, CD burning, etc.) and a staff of 6 people who teach classes and are available to answer computer-related questions. That means finding a tax form online, or giving advice on buying a new computer, or explaining how to get spyware off your computer, or showing people how to get out of some computer jam. We teach classes on everything from the basics (turning a computer on and using the mouse) to the specific (genealogy databases, selling on eBay, or PowerPoint, for example.)

      We have about 15,000 people use our computers every month. I've taught 20-year-olds and I've taught 95-year-olds (seriously). Heck, I got to sign an 83-year-old nun up for e-mail and teach her to use it. The kicker? We're a medium-sized public library, and we're doing this even after having our state funding slashed by 50%.

      So if you haven't been to your public library recently, you might want to stop in and see what all they offer. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that we're only here for the books.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Actually, to make my original post complete, I should also explain WHY we offer these services.

        Our Computer Center originally began as a job center. We began teaching computer skills to help people with their resumes and help them get better jobs. That's still a lot of what we do. PowerPoint was added to our curriculum due to the large number of job seekers who needed to know it, and we offer classes on job-hunting using the Internet. We also provide one-on-one help for those who need help formatting t
    • Free email access and porn.

      Working as a tech in a university library, I can tell you that we developed a budget to provide a large number of computers with internet access. An over the shoulder glance of those using it (as well as a proxy log) showed an abundance of porn and webmail usage - somewhere in the region of 75% - and very little usage for actual research purposes. This decreased significantly after we required a logon for access to certain sites (mainly webmail).

      Our goal is to provide access

  • by Night Goat ( 18437 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:18AM (#8982380) Homepage Journal
    I hope this newfound popularity doesn't cause the libraries to neglect the books. At my college, this happened. They hyped their new "information center" and talked about how high-tech it was, but all they did was replace the books with connections to the internet. It's hard to write a paper when the best reference you have is the Internet. The information is so sparse on the Internet, compared to a book which tends to have pages and pages on a topic. Luckily, I was on my way out when I transferred there and never needed to write any heavy-duty papers on anything that wasn't computer-related. Books beat out PCs any day.
    • Absofreakinlutely. When I was a kid, the librarians were little old ladies (mostly volunteers) who checked books in and out, helped you with the Dewey numbers and told you to be quiet. Now they're Library Scientists who are too important to deal with anything as prosaic as books, and the libraries have turned into a cross between Blockbuster, cybercafes and homeless shelters.

      And while there always seems to be money for new Dells, whenever there's a hint of funding cuts the first reaction is to play chicken

    • My mother runs a library. The advantage of the having internet access at a library is that they often have subscription accounts to some of the good online content, like journals and electronic book repositories.

      These allow libraries to have access to a lot of internet content that would be useful for research, but can only be gotten with a subscription. I also allows small town public libraries (like my mom's) to carry information that would usually only show up in college science+tech libraries.

      I su

    • Project Gutenberg (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheLink ( 130905 )
      Libraries without enough books could always have a link to Project Gutenberg [] on their start up page.

      A link to the Baen Free Library [] could be good too.

      Trouble is the PCs may end up even more hogged that way.

      Would be helpful if libraries could print books themselves from free/public domain material.
  • Who cares... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Polkyb ( 732262 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:19AM (#8982381)

    If Microsoft are being criticised or not... The plain and simple fact of the matter is that the Gates foundation has helped put PC's into the hands of people who would not otherwise use one.

    Whether they run nothing but Microsoft software, or something else, is not an issue, IMHO

    Call him what you like (and I'm sure some of you will) he's doing a good thing here and I, for one, will take my hat of to the guy

    • Re:Who cares... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by agentZ ( 210674 )
      I don't care where the money is coming from. If it's doing Good Things(tm), we should take the money. I wish I remember who said, "The only problem with tainted money is that there 'taint enough of it!"
    • Why couldn't Gates just be non-evil in the first place.
    • it would be a different flamewar altogether. Oops, it wouldn't be a flamewar though it would still be blatant self-promotion. And yes, it would be someone trying to make money, not some earthy-crunchy lovefest. Red Hat, et al, would be behind it and plastering their name all over it to get free advertising.
      • I think it's pretty stupid to call the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation a marketing campaign, for a couple reasons.

        1) Microsoft already spends a lot of money on marketing. Everybody knows what Windows is. It's not like having it in the library is going to change people's minds when it's already everywhere else.

        2) To be honest, allowing them to USE Windows on a public terminal (probably locked down tight, or riddled with bugs) is probably a bad idea if you want them to love the OS.

        3) When my public lib
        • Like it or not, people are comfortable with Windows, and some won't use anything else.

          I agree that people use what they are comfortable with. That said, I also think that people that go to a library to user the internet, not specifically to use windows. Give them something they are familiar with. Linux can be dressed up to be as ugly as windows :)
          Screenshot []

          You can easily setup 40-50 of these clients on junk old junk hardware(P90s, 16-32 MB ram) using an ltsp server with just a 3.2 gig chip and 3 gi
    • The plain and simple fact of the matter is that the Gates foundation has helped put PC's into the hands of people who would not otherwise use one. Whether they run nothing but Microsoft software, or something else, is not an issue, IMHO

      On the contrary, I think the fact that the PCs run only Windows is directly relevant. Consider for a moment if it was Microsoft (the company) making these donations instead of Bill Gates' charitable trust. What would the reaction be? Would people be praising Microsoft'

      • Didn't RTFA, did you, guy? The Gates Foundation does not specify the software the libraries must run on the computers they buy with the money, and, in fact, only 83% of recipients use the recommended package.
      • Consider for a moment if it was Microsoft (the company) making these donations instead of Bill Gates' charitable trust. What would the reaction be?

        Maybe thanks for taking an interest in the rural poor or a deeply troubled inner-city community? These donations aren't going to libraries in Microsoft's core middle-class suburban markets.

    • I agree that this is a good act of the Gates' Foundation.
      However, as a library should provide a wealth of information, knowledge, insight, and experience, I think that they should try to ensure that these are also available with the computers.
      I understand that they are probably unable (due to cost) to have equal the number of Macs and it doesn't make sense (yet) to have dozens of Linux and *BSD machines. They can, however, at least provide some of this. I doubt there are too many places where they would
    • Re:Who cares... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HancockDC ( 148897 )
      I agree -- as a person who prefers to citique Microsoft on more substantive grounds than their philanthropy, I must say that they are doing some good here.

      If you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, aren't you still doing the right thing?
  • Gates Foundation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bjb ( 3050 ) * on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:19AM (#8982383) Homepage Journal
    If there is going to be a comment on this story like "This is a secret Microsoft plan to steal your puppies", then could someone please explain what the Gates foundation actually does that could be construed as shady? From what I've seen, the guy, who happens to be one of the richest people in the world, is giving away a lot of his money to help put computers in schools and libraries that can't afford it themselves. OK, so they're not running Linux. OK, so they're not Macintoshes. It doesn't cost the guy a dime to put Windows in these places, does it? Also, remember what desktop operating system has 90% of the market and as a result most people would be familiar with.
    • Re:Gates Foundation (Score:5, Informative)

      by CommandNotFound ( 571326 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:52AM (#8982675)
      then could someone please explain what the Gates foundation actually does that could be construed as shady?

      I think you'll find few complaints about the Gates Foundation, other than possibly charities who wish to receive funding who don't appreciate the stringent requirements to receive funding from the Foundation.

      The shady sentiment mentioned in the article is probably confused with Microsoft Corp. "donating" software to schools out of goodwill or as a result of various antitrust trials. Donating $1 Billion of software is a misnomer when the cost of donation is a tiny fraction of the retail value of the items. Air would probably cost more to donate and deliver than a stack of license keys and CDs.

      In the case of the Foundation, it is an independent charitable organization that is delivering hardware and software that the organization paid for. True, Bill G. probably got really deep discounts for Windows and Office, and likely discounts for the Dell PCs, but this is much closer to a true donation at retail value than MSFT donating pieces of paper (licenses) to schools which will have to upgrade later.

      The Gates Foundation has had a tough time with legitimacy because it came about after Ted Turner basically called Gates out publicly for not donating any of his billions (Turner donated a third of his value, or $1Billion to the UN around 1998). A combination of pressure from Turner, Gates' father, and his wife reportedly caused the foundation to be formed. Gates initially ran the foundation much like Microsoft where he was heavily involved in the operations and ran the foundation in a fairly rigorous manner, so it was questioned in the mainstream press whether he was truly a philanthropist, or was this just another challenge/problem to solve for him. Time and money will eventually solve the image problem, and it already has improved in the last several years.
    • But Gates is visciously locking them in to expensive software!

      I mean, it's not like or TheGimp run on Windows -- oh.

      I mean, it's not like you can run a simulated GNU environment -- oh yeah, cygwin.

      Actually, I suppose as long as so many great GNU tools are available for Windows, and you get the Windows PC for free, and you could totally install Linux on it if you really wanted to, there's no problem whatsoever, and all the "Free as in Love" F/OSS pundits can go back to prosteletyzing the de
  • next step (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dncsky1530 ( 711564 )
    Although eBooks have been slow to catch on it would make sense for libraries to offer their entire selection of books available in ebook form. It could be costly at first but so are the computer, esp. ten years ago when they first started appearing libraries. besides, libraries don't aim to make money, but provide a service of knowledge, eBooks would increase virtual attendance overnight.
    • Re:next step (Score:2, Informative)

      Many libraries do offer ebooks, albiet for use only on computers. My college's library has a wide selection of ebook material available as part of a statewide program.

      That's how I wrote a research paper on different theoretical forms of future computing. (DNA, quantum dot, and regular quantum computing, IIRC)
  • ...I don't know if it'll be enough. Getting people to go to libraries for whatever reason can only be seen as a good thing, but I wonder if the attraction of the computer and the internet is going to be enough.

    Two libraries in my borough closed down in the last 6 months due to lack of interest and money. Much as I hate to say it, I'm not sure we can expect the internet and some PCs to pull people back to using conventional libraries.
  • Is Anyone Reading? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:20AM (#8982391)
    What are the stats on checking out the books? If no one is doing any more reading, then I don't see this as having any beneficial effect on libraries; they're just convenient places to put terminals, sort of like internet cafes without the coffee.
    • by geighaus ( 670864 )
      I think many people are missing the point here. Yes it is true, that internet access at local libraries does not necessarily increase reading, but on the other hand it keeps teens from the street. Since every local library here had got decent computers and internet access, I'v been seeing more and more teenagers hanging out in libraries. Cannot be a bad thing after all.
    • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) * on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:37AM (#8982557) Journal

      The increase in book loans from drawing in the extra people is probably minimal.

      However, so long as it doesn't adversely effect the availability of books then it's not a bad thing. Providing free internet access to people that don't have it is a good thing, as well as the assitance that library staff can provide to people who aren't quite /.'ers yet ;)

      Many communities in the modern western Europe and the USA lack any real community or cultural centre. If a library can fulfill this role in a greater way then more power to it. I personally would love to see libraries take on greater roles as centres of information, learning and debate. They were once greatly respected by the public.

      The introduction of a network of public libraries in the UK in the 1850s was a landmark of progressive thinking and it nearly didn't happen.
      One Consrevative MP argued (and had a lot of support in his party for this)that:

      "people have too much knowledge already: it was much easier to manage them twenty years ago; the more education people get the more difficult they are to manage."

      Society would be much the poorer if the libraries hadn't been approved by parliament, and by the same measure, society will become much richer if they recieve more support in the future.
    • People come in for the internet, but stay for the books. ;)

      Once they get used to coming in, they can borrow movies, books, software, even artwork at some libraries.
  • Another factor... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RecoveredMarketroid ( 569802 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:20AM (#8982395)
    In my town, there's a bigger factor at work: the library has a kick-ass collection of DVD movies, including all the latest ones.

    Seriously, there are hundreds of them in stock, but you never see them on the shelves, because they are ALWAYS out. You have to search the catalog just to see what's available, and place holds to get them.

    A woman at the 'checkout' said that she feels like she works at Blockbuster, more than at a library...

  • windows xp? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geighaus ( 670864 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:21AM (#8982403)
    They recently upgraded the entire computer network at the local libraries here (Helsinki, Finland). Compaq mini-PCs with sleazy design, LCD monitors and a copy of Windows XP installed on each computer. The only thing those computer are intended for is web browsing. Internet Explorer is run in a kiosk mode, which theoretically makes it impossible to run anything else (but that's not true in practice). This raises a question. Do you really need Windows XP and a fairly modern computer to provide a simple interface for web surfing? I don't know if they had a deal with Microsoft about serious discounts / free copies of MS software But if they didn't, all those thousands of copies of WinXP surely seem to be a great waste of money. I am not a Linux zealot, but Linux seems to be an ideal candidant for such a task (contrary to Windows XP with all its bells and whistles)
    • Windows probably came preinstalled on the computers. Therefore it is cheaper for them, rather than hiring someone who understands Linux to go and install/configure each one of those machines.
    • The villiage library has Office, Publisher, a networked color printer and a flatbed color scanner, it's a simple, practical setup, and a draw for the students, the seniors, the clubs and organizations who use the library as their base,
  • new libraries (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dbizzle ( 603994 )
    Here in columbus, ga, they are building a new 60m dollar library. Its interesting the people I was speaking with about it yesterday said they thought libraries were a waste of money, that no one used them! I guess the results are in a show it to be a little different from what everyone expected.
    • After college, I landed in a small town, and the library here is practically non-existent. Once while on a trip to the nearest city with some of the teenagers who attend my church, one spotted a public library (still pretty small compared with the libraries found on most largish university campuses).

      Remarked one: What a huge library! How worthless! Why do we even need books? We have TV and the internet.
  • by leeum ( 156395 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:23AM (#8982419) Homepage Journal
    Despite criticism that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might have some vested interest in providing public access computers in libraries, I view this as a good thing. Public free access enables a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to participate in online activity - for example, homeless people putting their resumes online in the hopes of finding employment.

    In this case, funding came from a foundation started by a private individual. What about in other countries where there isn't so much of a culture of public donations (true, there are robber baron CEOs, but I'm thinking in the lines of the donations given by people like Andrew Carnegie)? Unless there's strong political will, I don't think it's going to happen - beneficial though it is, it looks more like a "nice to have" rather than a "must have".

    • Resumes? (Score:2, Funny)

      by Raven42rac ( 448205 )
      I hate to sound awful crass, but homeless people having resumes? I think you have to try awful hard to become homeless in this country. What will the resume say? Besides, if they are homeless, how is the employer going to contact them?

      In a fast paced urban setting, collected donations for a good cause. Have experience dealing with the public and handling large amounts of change. Also have experience working with animals.

      Assist Panhandler
      In a two person operation, aided th
      • Perhaps not in the USA, but when I was in Britain, I read an editorial about the mobile phone revolution and how it was helping the homeless be more contactable. I'm sure there are at least some of them who do genuinely want to change their lives in the hope of moving out of homelessness. It really isn't a state one would like to live in for long.

        I presume resumes for less qualified individuals would be different from what you and I are used to. Who knows - the effort of producing a piece of paper that sta
        • I meant to post it AC, but oh well. I agree, if someone is homeless and employable, by all means make them accessible. Put their resume online, give them a way to be contacted, etc. As the richest country on Earth, we need to help our fellow human being. When a homeless person asks me for money, sure, I will give them some. If they go spend it on booze, hey, whatever. If it was that last dollar they needed to get the hotel room to take a shower and change into a new suit and go on interviews, even better.
      • What will the resume say? Besides, if they are homeless, how is the employer going to contact them?

        Most of the homeless in America are not the panhandlers or the street kids, they are young singles working at low paying jobs and recently divorced/widowed/escaped women and their children. You never see them because they try hard not to look homeless. They live out of their cars if single, or in shelters if their city provides them and they have kids. They are usually homeless for a few months until they pu
      • "What will the resume say? Besides, if they are homeless, how is the employer going to contact them?"

        Email of course.

  • Raises attendance among the homeless.

    Public restrooms raise attendance on the weekends.

    Giveaways at car lots raises attendance.

    Does any of this mean more business?
  • Sure there are now more patrons in public libraries courtesy of Internet-connected, free-to-use computers, video games, audio and video CDs and DVDs for hire. Oh there are books in libraries too, but the last few times I've been to the local public libraries, all I noticed was long queues of people waiting for their turn to use the computers.

    An interesting side-effect was the libraries having to revisit a lot of their rules - free for all computer usage was changed to members-only usage (though membershi
  • Libraries (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Silwenae ( 514138 ) * on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:26AM (#8982447) Homepage
    I regularily take my 8 year old son to our local library. We live in a fairly outlying suburb of Minneapolis.

    By my standards, the library is very small (the book selection is poor at best, but you can request books from within the county's system or even the city's county).

    For such a small library, they have at least 6 computer terminals, and I'm always surprised they are always in use. Just glancing at the folks using them, it's IM applications to games to research. But they're always being used.

    I'm always suprised and pleased to see it. I'm so used to taking the computers I have at home for granted, I can't imagine what life would be like not having one - but to the folks using them, I bet it's a godsend.

    If this is the evolution of the public library, it can only be a good thing. The other posters comments about monitoring and tracking library patrons is quite concerning, and if students are using the internet for research, are they aware that everything you read on the internet isn't true?
    • are they aware that everything you read on the internet isn't true?

      Not everything printed in books is true either. The issue is that there is even less quality control on the Internet.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    From my own experiences, and what I've observed from others, the internet has created a strong desire for information. Unfortunately, most webpages are quite shallow in depth. A webpage with a few pages of hard info may be considered a goldmine, yet there may be thousands of overlooked pages at a local library. Does this apply to all topics, no.

    Before the internet, I didn't care much about much. Now I do, and the library has quenched my thirst.
  • From where I live... (Score:3, Informative)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus poet> on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:27AM (#8982463) Homepage
    The local library where I live only gets 12yr olds because that's basically the age group they target. They have put in computers with net access but mostly it's the parents of the 12 yr olds that use them.

    Here's a tip, want to keep visitor nerds-types like me? Keep relatively modern books and journals. Nothing like seeing "how computers work" published in 1985 as the only computer related book they have....

    • by evanbd ( 210358 )
      At a guess, your librarian doesn't read Slashdot. Have you made specific requests for books? I highly doubt that your librarian has the technical expertise to get the books you want, but they would probably be willing to try if you offered some suggestions.
      • Absolutely,

        Librarians have small budgets, and worry about getting the books that most people want.

        The other problem with computer books is many librarians don't understand what makes a Library worthy computer book. Our college library was full of 'Learn Paradox in 21 days' type books. This was in 1999 when Paradox basically ceased to exist.

        There are classic computer books that should be in every library. Books by Knuth, Tannenbaum, Foley, etc, that form the fundamentals of our knowledge about compu
      • by jim_deane ( 63059 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:40AM (#8983883) Journal
        Librarian here, reading slashdot.

        In fact, I take ideas for collection development* from Slashdot (among other sources) and use the book reviews here as purchasing aids just as I do the NY Times book review and Library Journal.

        However, libraries are ALWAYS looking for suggestions on what to buy in specific areas. My specialty is physics (I'm not a career librarian), so I've taken over collection development* in the sciences and maths, plus computer science and technology.

        My suggestion: Go to your local library, look at the computer books available (they're right in the beginning of the Dewey numbers for Non-fiction, around 005-006). Look for the "holes" in the collection, and ancient materials. Then go to or your bookstore of choice, pick out some additions and replacement, write down the TITLE and ISBN and (if replacing) WHAT BOOK it replaces in the library.

        Now, make a list of the severely out-of-date titles in the collection that should be removed and discarded. Remember that the library still needs to serve the patrons who are still running Win95 with Works 3.0. We, for instance, got rid of six of our eight copies of "Windows 95 For Dummies", but kept those two copies just in case someone needs them. The cutoff point right now was Win95, so anything Win3.11 or earlier was removed.

        Now, take your list to the library. Don't just hand it to someone at the desk--ask to speak to the person who is in charge of purchasing non-fiction books in the 005-006 range. Give that person the list, and explain to them what you've done (reviewed the collection, made suggestions) and why it is important to buy those books.

        If you do this, and do this in any area of your legitimate expertise (gardening, sci-fi, etc.) you will be a tremendous friend to your librarian. Sure, they'll eventually discard the old, and buy new titles when they see them reviewed--but you can make the process MUCH more efficient. Your suggestions might not /all/ be followed, but the input is valuable anyway.


        *collection development: deciding which books to throw away, which books to keep, and what books to buy.
  • Ya know, if something can bring technology to the public, and not increase my taxes, I am all for it.

    It just a coincidence that it's Bill Gates is the one who has the money to donate. As far as marketing goes, I am sure there are more cost effective ways to increase sales. And if you are that worried about it, start an OSS charity group to do the exact same thing.

    I think Bill Gates just realized that extremely wealthy people that just collect billions and don't become philanthropists, are viewed in a nega
  • While not great for finding up to date computer related books, the public library system is a great place to get other (sometimes computer related) books.

    At the going rate for a hardcover book nearing $30US, finding just a few books there instead of purchasing can save a decent amount of money.

    The computer terminals are not really of value for people that would be reading here, but they are of significant value for many people without computers or of low income.

    Computer terminals in public libraries are
    • For a number of years after completing college, I didn't bother with book stores. I would buy the books to read, and when I finished the book I would usually find space for it on one of my bookshelves.

      After having children, I am getting tired of stuff everywhere. I am going back to borrowing books from the Library. I still buy lots of books, but not as many as before.

      Additionally, every week or two we take out several books for the kids. This way they can be exposed to a wider range of literature than
  • CIPA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Adrian Lopez ( 2615 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:37AM (#8982550) Homepage
    Meanwhile, people's ability to access certain pages on library terminals is restricted by law []. Children who cannot afford computers and internet service in their homes are the ones to suffer most as they're forced to deal with a second-class Internet
  • by mhesseltine ( 541806 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:38AM (#8982563) Homepage Journal

    In discussing public libraries and the internet, I'm reminded of Cliff Stoll's book [] Silicon Snake Oil. In it, amongst other things he discusses that libraries that spend their money and time putting in computers for internet access aren't spending their money and time finding and buying new books for people. Thus, the library doesn't grow, it becomes a subsidized internet service provider.

    • so you are saying that getting them free (even if from Billy Gates) is making this a non-issue? Bravo, I say. Getting them donated like this is solving the very problem that Mr. Stoll mentions.

      BTW, looks like the most recent edition available from Amazon is circa 1996. That's like 100 internet years ;-)
      • so you are saying that getting them free (even if from Billy Gates) is making this a non-issue? Bravo, I say. Getting them donated like this is solving the very problem that Mr. Stoll mentions.

        Yes, I would say that having systems donated is taking that strain off the libraries, and therefore is a good thing.

        BTW, looks like the most recent edition available from Amazon is circa 1996. That's like 100 internet years ;-)

        I think that's about the time I first bought the book. Yes, it's a little outdated; howev

  • MaSked Marketer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ( 745183 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:38AM (#8982567) Homepage
    ...a Microsoft marketing exercise masquerading as philanthropy...

    ...reminiscent of Apple first throwing computers into public schools decades ago, in its quest for world domination. The result was a world much more computer-savvy than dominated ( Apple).

    By the way, how often do corporate philanthropies NOT have marketing at their heart?

  • by hey ( 83763 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:39AM (#8982572) Journal
    The Linux Terminal Server Project [] is ideal for Libraries.
    Not Windows XP - yuck.
  • Increasing literacy? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by falkryn ( 715775 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @08:40AM (#8982581)
    Have to agree with what a number of people are saying here. As much as I like computers, and libraries, I'm not sure I really favour so much the current combination of them that we're seeing. Often, I've noticed they are not being used for research, and the people using them are not actually getting books out. Rather, you have 12 year olds going on yahoo chat, trying to sneak some porn, look up the latest on Britney, or other such activities. Libraries are for books, and consequently to increase literacy amongst the public. This does not seem to further that goal. Not to mention that things like this, and videos for instance, do eat away at libraries funds, both for connection and computer costs, and also because libraries sometimes need an extra staff person to monitor what's going on there. (Though in all fairness, I have used the internet in libraries before, it was helpful for me when I didn't have it at home and I can only think that there are others out there who are also using the system in a good way, and yes, I have quite often borrowed movies from the libraries (great when you have kids)).

    Oh and the point someone mentioned about comp books in libraries being hopelessly out of date. Yes it can be pretty bad, plus, do they really need yet another book on their shelf on how to use Office?
    • Rather, you have 12 year olds going on yahoo chat, trying to sneak some porn, look up the latest on Britney, or other such activities.

      I agree with your concerns, but at the same time they are (in order with above) learning to read and type, solving the technical problems of getting around net nanny, and researching biographical information. Sure, it's pop culture, but the alternative activities for a 12yo would probably be TV or video games. And sooner or later they may get curious about all those shel
  • I've noticed a lot of comments from users worried that libraries are losing sight of their role as temples to the printed word.

    They haven't read the article. It says, "We draw them in with the computers," he said, and then try to convert them to reading books." The conversion tactic, he says, succeeds with perhaps 40 percent of the young people."

    You need to have kids in the building to get the books to them.
  • by Trolling4Dollars ( 627073 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @09:01AM (#8982761) Journal
    ... for over half of my life, I would definitely say this is true, but... The smaller suburban library I started to work in as a page in high school was aomng the top 50 libraries in the nation during the 80s. However, there was a trend that many of us who work in libraries noticed during the senior Bush years. During that time, the economy took a real downturn and many people were unemployed. There were government funding cuts that impacted even the best libraries and hours were getting cut. However, as the economy worsened, people began using libraries more and more. Our circulation statistics continued to grow which helped us secure more funding as it was available.

    Now, as the economy is at an all time low, we've been seeing the same pattern. The usage of the library is increasing. Back when I was a page, the books that I noticed going over the desks very frequently were books on job hunting and resume writing. Now that I am in the IT department, I no longer have the opportunity to see what books are in high usage. However, I would hazard a guess that job boards and career networking web sites are prety high up there in internet usage, as would be e-mail (the top use from our perspective) and blogging. Where else can someone walk in, get access to the internet and begin to post their opinioons on politics, pop culture, business or whatever floats their boat? Free of charge? As an added bonus, many of us are placing wireless access points out there for the public. They are highly restricted to make certain that people can only use the web and read their e-mail (ports 80, 110, 143, https, etc...), but they are free access nonetheless.

    Support your public library. They are really cool institutions and if their funding gets better, encourage them to grow their IT departments. I got my start in IT in a library and I've always seen libraries as a great place to start a career in IT. With the right attitude a lot of the smaller places are perfect for a high school graduate with computer skills or a college grad with a Comp. Sci. degree to start out and gain some really good experience.

  • by HBergeron ( 71031 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @09:27AM (#8983002)
    Oh, come now. I'm as much an opponent of the Beast of Redmond as any other guy, but this goes a little far. There is a time honored tradition in this country of leaving a man be when he is giving back the money that he stole from the public fair and square. Hell, Carnegie practically built the same American public library system with his contributions, and that was just so folks would forget that he used to like using the pinkertons to club everything that moved in his company slums. I say as long as billy boy is writing checks, big checks, we give him all the huzzahs and attaboys he deserves and stop questioning his motives.
  • by TrentL ( 761772 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @09:41AM (#8983173) Homepage
    What I like about my local libraries are the excellent online catalogs. I can browse Amazon, and if I see a book I like, I can see if it is available at my library.
  • by Trelane ( 16124 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @09:46AM (#8983236) Journal
    I have to wonder how much more effective the local LUG may be towards closing the Digital Divide by providing Free and Open Source Software for Windows, Mac, Linux, and other OSes for the community through the library. And tutorials on how to use it for free to the community!

    Additionally, I wonder how much more effective local LUG support would be for helping the Library convert and maintain newer and older PCs as Linux boxes, either as thin clients for those machines that are too slow, or as full-blown workstations on those that aren't.

    I think the we local LUGs could be much more effective than Bill and Melinda!
  • A small library near me has about 8 Windows PCs. Every time I'm in there I only see people use them to connect to an AS/400 via TN5250 so people can search the library catalog. That is one expensive dumb terminal.
  • internet access (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NumLk ( 709027 )
    Libraries mission is to provide information to the masses. Internet access is, in its purest form, an extension of this, and therefore in keeping with its core mission. Abuses will surely exist, as they always have (I'm sure everyone knows of someone that went to their local library to check out risque' books & magazines), but the value of the services provided to those who can not afford them on their own far outweighs the impact of the abuse (most of which can be mitigated with simple controls).

  • by Onan The Librarian ( 126666 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:06AM (#8983496)
    I live in a rather prosperous small city in NW Ohio USA. Since childhood I've made great use of the city library's resources, and I'm quite pleased with the librarians' attitudes towards things like censorship (they have 'banned books' display once a year) and the use of the Internet. The library has a room with perhaps a dozen PCs, reservation and sign-up are required, but I know nothing of their usage policies (I never use the machines there, I have one at home). I do know that the computer room is always filled with users, and yes, they do fit the profiles named by the article. Teenagers, seniors, and low-income folks are constantly using the computers, which I consider a Good Thing.

    The library has also seen an enormous rise in checkouts, primarily due to their stock of DVDs and videocassettes. Some of my friends who work there have implied that book checkouts are not so numerous, but they admit they don't know any actual revealing statistics. The New Books section is always receiving new items, the library is quickly respnsive to interlibrary loan requests, and I can request any book/video title for permanent addition (no guarantee they'll get it though).

    So I'm pretty bullish about my local library. It's been valuable to me for many years, and I don't mind contributing a little money towards their efforts. Their existence is essential for many people who simply cannot afford the cost of technology and/or the printed word. I should also point out that my hometown doesn't have a bookstore worth squat, and the library is often the only place I can find certain titles.

    Kudos to librarians ! They may yet stand as a last bastion of free access to information before Ashcroft & Co. (aka The Pious Bastards) are done dismantling the Constitution here...
  • by Anonymous Cowhead ( 95009 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:11AM (#8983533)
    I think it's great that libraries are seeing a rebirth, and I'm pleased that Melinda is spending some of Bill's enormous wealth helping some of the worst off.

    The NYT and/or the University should also pay a visit to the Remdond branch of the King County Library, here in Micro$oft's backyard. I estimate they have about 50 internet surfboards running Windows XP Embedded. They've removed quite a few stacks of dead-tree books over the years to make room for more kiosks.

    On a recent weekend trip to help my daughter with a school report, about an hour after opening, more than half of the workstations were unusable - clearly booted, but hung. While my daughter was writing notes, I rebooted several nearby workstations using CTRL-ALT-DEL. A woman with her child was power-cycling the ones in her area to help frustrated patrons. The librarians were busy restarting the ones near their desk, and obviously trying hard to spend time actually helping patrons find information instead of supporting the systems....
  • For the library, supplying patrons with access to the Internet and the Web has become central to its mission, an updating of its long tradition of providing information free to the public.

    This is all well and good, but would any of this exist if it weren't for the Gates Foundation? It's a bit unsettling to get too excited by a phenomenon which is being supported by a single source. As it is, people are getting something for free, so is it surprising there is an increase in traffic at the handout counter?

  • by Ellen Spertus ( 31819 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @12:04PM (#8984988) Homepage
    I use my local public library [] more because of Internet access, but not in the way the article suggested. I use the Internet from home to search my library's holdings and request that books be delivered to my local branch. Requesting a book online is as quick as ordering from Amazon but doesn't cost anything, and the book is often available in less time than it would take to ship. I still buy some books that I want to keep, but I'm paying for fewer duds or read-once books. I am reading more and paying less. Win win.
  • by jbs0902 ( 566885 ) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @01:12PM (#8985936)
    My local libraries (I live close to 2 districts) have turned into my personal (and free) P2P & Netflix service.

    Go on-line to library's website. Place as many CDs/DVDs as they let you on hold. Wait. Get an email telling you when the holds are in. Check them out and enjoy.

    One district's library service even allows me to put holds in an "inactive" state, where I move up in the queue but don't get sent the item. This allows me to manage when I get the DVDs (i.e. season 2 doesn't arrive before season 1).

    I have built a wonderful MP3 collection without much risk of the RIAA hunting me down (until I opened my mouth just now). Also, I have cancelled cable TV as I have hours upon hours of free DVDs to watch. Unlike the 5 days video rental places, the library gives me 3 weeks to watch the DVDs. I don't even browse the physical shelves anymore. I just search the library website, like I would Amazon.

    The downside is that this has become so popular that 1 district (Portland, OR, USA) has started to limit the number of holds per patron to 15 at a time. Also, if your library's selection sucks (e.g. Chapill Hill, NC where my brother lives), you are SOL.

This screen intentionally left blank.