Saturday, January 7, 2012

Will Amazon Kill Off Public Libraries?

Years ago, when I was looking for something to read, I'd go to the library and browse the shelves. I don't do that much any more. Today, I go to Amazon, figure out what books I'd like to read (I have about 20 authors whom I follow), and go online to see if the library has the book. If so, I electronically reserve it. I get an email telling me when it's available, and I go pick it up. I return the book via the drive-by drop off box.

This means that I am as intimately involved in my public library as I am in the drive-thru fast food restaurants I patronize much too often.

What does this mean for the future of libraries? I KNOW I'm not the only person who does this. In fact, when I electronically reserve a book, I'm usually in line behind 10 or more people who seem to using the library in the same way I am.

And, if that's not impersonal enough, Amazon now has a Prime membership (which I got for Christmas) that lets me borrow one book a month (for my Kindle, which I've posted that I love). For less that $80, I get access to 12 bestsellers a year immediately when I'm ready to read them. No waiting.

Just about all the "serious" readers I know, those who read 20 or more books/year, have Kindles or Nooks or those apps on their Smartphones. For us, the public library is a free alternative to getting books that we'd have to otherwise pay for. As the prices of ebooks decline and savy marketers find ways to get ebooks on our devices quicker and cheaper than driving to the library, there is less of an incentive for us to borrow from bricks and mortar.

But what about research? Does anybody ever really use the library instead of the Internet any more for research--at least those not in college? My kids write term papers all the time. They never go to the library. The journals they need are online and free. Other than academics, it's hard for me to imagine that any "knowledge" I  need for my day-to-day life cannot be found online, for free, while I surf and eat my lunch.

What does this mean for libraries? I've thought about this a lot. When I do my quick visits, the patrons are: (1) People of limited means who are "hanging out;" (2) People using the free computers; (3) People reading the magazines; (4) Mothers with little kids borrowing tons of kids' books.

It used to be EVERYBODY loved libraries, or at least the idea of libraries.Will our communities fund libraries, as they have in the past, to keep the above patrons happy? I don't think so. This makes me a bit sad.

SO, I believe the future of the public library is bleak, unless there is a lot of energy injected into them and the libraries themselves are willing to "think outside the book" in serving patrons. I too love the idea of a public library, but in fact, the library hasn't engaged me for quite a while.

That's just the way it is, not the way I'd like it to be.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Presidential Election Predictions

A few folks have asked me how I see things--so here is a summary, and why.

For me, it's simply a numbers game. The following isn't my idea of what "should" happen, but what I believe WILL happen unless there is a major intervening event to shake the world up.

Republican nominee: probably Romney, but it really doesn't matter. I can't see any scenario in which Obama is NOT reelected.


In the US, right-to-life, traditional marriage and conscience issues don't move enough voters to vote for candidates based on those issues alone. That's just the fact. It is also the fact that candidates who run on those issues are ineffective and/or uninterested in implementing policies affecting those issues when elected. Example: George Bush 1--how long did it take for him to get a partial birth abortion ban in place?

Assumption: 40% of voters will vote for ANYBODY the Republicans nominate. 40% of the voters will vote for ANYBODY the Democrats nominate. The real battle is for the 20% who are open to voting otherwise. I just don't see Romney or any other Republican candidate getting 11% of that vote.

Regarding the role of the Electoral College in all of this--I know many people in the "swing" states, and I believe I know what's on their minds at least as well as the pundits. Also, I've actually lived in one of those states for a number of years. I still can't see the numbers swinging enough to favor a Republican candidate.The math does not compute.

BUT--what about the economy? If you think it stinks, you probably aren't interested in voting for a party who is perceived as being really tough on the unemployed. 

HOWEVER, I believe the economy doesn't really stink, and the prospects are good. Evidence: my 401K from a previous job was flat (not going up or down) in 2011, and has recovered  from 2008.There is a lot of cash sitting out there waiting for investment opportunity. It won't sit for much longer. I'm bullish on 2012. What about Europe? I believe Germany will keep everybody in line, but even if they fail, the troubled countries are such a minuscule part of the global economy that they can't take the world down--some banks, perhaps, but not the world. The numbers just aren't there. That would be like South Dakota (a state I really love--no offense here), driving the US economy. It just doesn't add up.

Yes, some folks are underwater in their mortgages, and far too many are unemployed and stressed financially. And how is that good for Republicans? It's not, see above.

SO given that few voters actually vote on the USCCB's five critical issues (that's just the way it is, not how I'd like it to be) AND the economy is good, which is good for Obama, OR the economy is bad, which is also good for a party that is perceived as being "nicer" in hard times, I just don't see any Republican winning.