“Libraries are dead” says little known regional radio bloke

No need for libraries in the digital age?

As some may have noticed yesterday, there was a lot of indignation thrown at one particular local radio broadcaster based in the north-east.  The piece itself provided very real proof of the danger that is inherent in not challenging out-of-date notions of the public library.  Not only are outdated notions relied upon as the basis for this argument, but also a fundamental mis-understanding of technology and how it is used.  Odd when you consider that this is supposedly a peek into the future.  But then this broadcaster is not exactly a Tim O’Reilly, Clay Shirky or even a journalist at Wired, so maybe this is to be expected.  But what of this vision of the future?

Well, he provides an interesting insight into the future of books:

Much as it pains many people to admit, there won’t be books in 50 years time unless they are novelty items in museums, or like a vinyl single.

A rather weird and interesting statement on many levels.  Even O’Reilly Media, a leading media company heavily involved in ebooks and has worked with publishers on digital distribution, has not gone that far:

Much of the conversation in publishing today revolves around ebooks, digital reading, and the exploding mobile web. As it should. But of course print books are still the cash cow for most publishers, and will remain an important revenue stream and delivery format for some time to come.

If even those at the heart of developments in the digital world don’t believe that print will be obsolete, one wonders where this notion has come from.

He goes on to say:

“Yes, but we have moved on, Tony. Some people do go to the library to use the internet. Not everyone has it at home,” cry the library folk.

This is an even more outrageous piece of self-justifying deceit when you can get a laptop for £200. Statistics show that there are two mobile phones (with internet, therefore) to every one person in this country.

Where to start with that little lot?!  At this point, I should probably point out that the north-east (the region where he broadcasts) has some of the lowest Internet connectivity in the country.  According to the latest statistics, 59% of households in the north-east have access to the Internet – an amazing 41% do not (that’s two in every five households maths fans!).  Compare this to London (83%) and you can see there are very real problems in the north-east with internet connectivity.  This service is, of course, one that many libraries provide for free.  It is also worth adding that an astonishing 9.2 million people across the UK have never used the internet.  Presumably those 9.2 million people do not have an internet enabled mobile phone….which makes you wonder where that 2 for every person figure comes from.

But it’s not just the internet connectivity aspect that is way out.  The very idea that everyone can afford a laptop and an internet enabled mobile phone (which the majority of people still do not have by the way) is a world apart from the realities of normal working people.  18% of people in the survey referred to above said that they did not have an Internet connection because they could not afford the equipment to do so. Presumably that is tough luck for them.

Furthermore, one might ask where children stand in this argument?  Are parents up and down the country going to purchase Internet enabled phones and laptops to enable their children to learn to read? I think not.  Although it would be entertaining to watch a child fling around a Kindle (heck, it would be fun to see anyone chuck around a Kindle).

But we get to the heart of the problem in the final section of the article:

Librarians, you need to know that Google is the library of today and tomorrow. And in the information era, data must be portable. That means you need your books, your net, your music and your phone on your phone. The Facebook generation won’t settle for less.

Data must indeed be portable (or books as we like to call them).  You need them on your phone, your ereader, your netbook…….that is exactly why libraries have been providing this service to library users for free in many areas across the country.  Many authorities already offer ebooks and eaudiobooks to library users to be downloaded onto their electronic devices and read at their leisure – for free!  No need to splash the cash at Amazon.  Browse through your library catalogue, find an ebook you like, pop in your borrower card number and hey presto a free ebook…portable and accessible from your mobile phone or ereader.  Brilliant!  So brilliant, in fact, that when my authority introduced them they issued 4,000 in the space of less than four months.

As for the Google aspect (who needs libraries, we have Google!), as I have demonstrated before this is a bit of a non-starter as an argument.  As my example in that piece shows, even well-known journalists fail to grasp how to use Google effectively.  Too often people settle for poor quality information and accept it as fact just because it was at the top of Google’s rankings (and we all know that just because it’s top, doesn’t mean it is trustworthy!).  And the end result?  Journalists repeating false claims about human rights work in another country, damaging the reputations of said organisations on the basis of a quick (poorly executed) Google search.  Using Google correctly relies not only on high levels of literacy, but also high levels of IT literacy.  Which might explain why 21% of the population have not bought into the Internet on the grounds of a ‘lack of skills’ (see survey referred to above).  Incidentally, do a search on Google using the term:

congo human rights industry

Guess what is top?  An article that has proven to be entirely inaccurate.  Digital literacy is one of the most pressing issues facing our digital future, libraries are absolutely fundamental to addressing that.

As someone who manages online resources (electronic journals, ebooks etc) and is relatively well up on technology issues (I own an ereader, I have an iPhone and I write frequently about ebooks on this very blog), I think this kind of argument is completely wrong-headed.  Digital content is the future of course, many librarians were way ahead of the game in this regard.  Ebooks and eaudiobooks will become more prevalent in the future (it’s no surprise to hear me arguing that!).  They will not, however, replace the physical item for a very long time indeed.  Despite the problems that the music industry faces with the growth of iTunes and Spotify, many people still purchase CDs.  Books will be in a similar situation.  Sales will decline, but people will still buy print editions.  Take myself – a typical ebook ereader and advocate.  I often download and read ebooks…normally it is the first place I look when purchasing a book.  However, if a new title is published by Chomsky, Easton Ellis or Coupland, I am more likely to buy the print edition (even the hardback) than the digital version.  Mainly because I’m a bit of a completest.  Ebooks have, of course, changed my reading habits, but it has encouraged me to read more widely whilst also purchasing the same number of print books as I did before.

What this whole piece demonstrates is the danger of librarians keeping quiet about what it is exactly that they do.  By not taking charge of the narrative, there is the risk of articles like this springing up in their place.  And if you don’t think this has an effect, think on:

@HorneyMedia knows what hes talking about & many people agree with him

These beliefs have to be challenged wherever they emerge and however banal we might think the arguments are.  Libraries already provide portable digital ‘data’.  They do provide free internet access in an area where 2 in 5 do not have an Internet connection. And they are used now more than ever with book issues on the rise and library usage at record levels.  So let’s end on a positive shall we.  Here’s a non-librarian Twitter exchange posted only this morning that demonstrates why this broadcaster has misunderstood the digital future and public libraries:

Downloaded two audio books to my phone from Canterbury library….my weekend listening sorted!

@aekins that sounds a fab idea! I’d love that. Do all libraries do it? (I’m in Ashford?)

@LibertyCoach any library in Kent….It’s provided by a company called overdrive. Ask your local lib for details 🙂

That’s the reality of public libraries in the digital world, not the one presented in the article on the Chronicle Live website.  We all need to do more to remind people of this.  The narrative is not beyond our control.


Since posting this, Tony Horne has very kindly devoted an almost entire post to me. He hasn’t linked it back here because he thinks it’s ‘not worth’ his readers time.  I will, however, link to his as I like to credit my readers with the ability to read two points of view and draw a conclusion from them.  Personally, I think his decision not to link may be because his argument is a bit flakey in a number of areas.

I think the first thing to notice is that there isn’t a single hyperlink (or reference) in his entire piece.  If I submitted a piece of work like that I would be lucky to scrape a pass. One bit in particular stands out:

OK well, let’s do a Clark thing now and counter that “FACT” on low internet usage with a fact shall we? Sunderland has the most prolific Facebook users in the country. That actually is a fact as of last month.

Apparently, there is a ‘fact’ there, although you will be lucky to find it as there is no hyperlink to any verifiable data to prove this.  But deeper than that, there is a fundamental misunderstanding here.  Prolificacy is not the same as quantity.  You could have a population of 50,000 people with 500 tweeting relentlessly about The X Factor – that may be prolific, but it still means 49,500 people aren’t tweeting about The X Factor. His stat would make more sense if he said Sunderland has the highest proportion of citizens on Facebook.  Even then, it would be helpful to have a hyperlink to prove it (incidentally, I kinda felt a warm glow whenever I saw my surname referred to – made me feel quite important!).

He also adds:

By the way I don’t know anybody digitally illiterate, unless they are under six.

As I pointed out above, latest ONS figures show that over 9 million people have never accessed the Internet (see reference above).  That’s 9 million people who are not digitally literate. 9 million adults.

I guess the most curious aspect of his blog (apart from the lack of references of course!) was this:

Namely, you can’t trust everything on Google, or indeed anything. What he doesn’t recognise is that real journalists now all resort to Google. That is a lifestyle choice, so it’s happening. It’s real…..Really good journalists will sift through all the fat on Google and develop an even sharper journalistic mind as they probe the layers to find the real facts, not just half the facts.

I wrote a whole article for The Guardian website (sorry to harp on at it…but you know it was a big deal for me!) based on how the famous, respected journalist Melanie Phillips (well, respected in certain circles) wrote a piece based on a pathetic Google search (again, see my earlier reference).  It took my article to get her to add a correction on the bottom of her article indicating that her source was incorrect.  Interestingly, he also had a pop at SimonXIX – so he’s had a go at someone who has written about the digital age for The Guardian and someone quoted in The New York Times on ebooks.

I think I’ve probably wasted enough time on this now.  It was certainly entertaining.  It was also rather enlightening.  As someone who manages digital resources and keeps on top of digital trends as part of my job, it was quite interesting to see how deep some mis-conceptions run.  One thing is for certain, I won’t be adding his blog to my tech feeds – his pronouncements are quite embarrasingly amateurish in comparison.


12 thoughts on ““Libraries are dead” says little known regional radio bloke

  1. First things first, nice post 🙂

    I’ve already commented on the Chronicle site so won’t go into all that again. However I think it’s a shame that instead of responding to the numerous comments on his article, where he could lay his arguments out more fully than in 140 characters, Horne and those that agree with him have taken to insults and sarcasm on twitter. Dismissing the comments as being “longwinded” and “pompous”, and calling us “idiots” is hardly a good argument.

    • Hi Annie, thanks for dropping by 🙂 I think that when your point of view is reduced to insults and an unwillingness to engage, the argument is lost. All that remains is to make yourself look like a fool for the world to see. It amazes me that even though people are well aware that the Internet is global and what goes on there stays on there, they are still willing to publish their ignorance for all to see. Depressing isn’t it?

  2. Nicely written. You cleared up a lot of misinformation. What also bothers me is that Horne completely ignored the other potential functions of a library. I’m a children’s librarian in a public library, so in addition to doing reference work (a.k.a. helping people find the information they need, assisting them in tasks like creating resumes, etc.) I develop children’s services and programming: story times, book discussions, arts & crafts, school outreach. People like Horne may scoff at this work, but these are the building blocks that help children develop a lifetime love of reading. I work in an urban environment, and these same children view the library as a safe place in which to hang out, do homework, ask questions. This is an important thing, and the people I encounter on a daily basis (children and adults alike) love and appreciate their library.

    Anyway, good job! Keep fighting the good fight!

    ~Rita (@ScrewyDecimal)

    • Thanks Rita! And thanks for dropping by my blog! Wished I’d found you earlier on Twitter, you’re a great person to have on your side in a scrap 🙂

      I think children are absolutely central to the library service and benefit immensely from the services they offer. That is one of the things I find so astonishing about his comments (and wish could have dwelt on it further in my post). I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of library services orientated for children. Homework clubs have become a popular way for children to improve themselves at school and aid their development. This should be applauded and respected, not consigned to the scrapheap on the premise that ‘everyone has the Internet’. Do that, and we kill social mobility and consign a generation to a lifetime of inequality.

      • Your comment: “you’re a great person to have on your side in a scrap” just made my day. Thank you. 🙂 And thanks for your kind & smart words about children’s services in libraries.

        I’m glad that these issues are being discussed, even if the discussion stemmed from frustrating (and misinformed) comments. That’s what advocacy is all about. I look forward to reading more from your blog!


  3. Good post – which corrects the ignorant twaddle he has been peddling. Interestingly today I have been at work and involved with 2 other things he neglects to mention in regards to libraries – I was ordering Large Print books – a service that libraries provide to those with visual impairment. Large Print books, in my experience, are not generally available on the shelves of your local bookshop, even assuming everyone can afford to buy them (they are expensive). Then I was involved in promoting the Local Studies collection at a community event. Public libraries/archives are the first port of call for those tracing the history of their town/family/house etc, with their rich resources to hand e.g. old photos, street directories, local newspapers – oh but I’m sorry, all that’s on Google isn’t it?! My library holds back files of the local newspaper (which curiously the local paper themselves do not hold) dating back to 1726. I’d challenge anyone to be able to find all those on Google! Often times the local paper comes to us when they want help with a piece of information/newspaper/photo etc. And very appreciative their journalists are when we help them find what they want, unlike a certain journalist in the north-east!

    • Exactly right Chris. People seem to think that Google has everything at its disposal…it hasn’t. There is a wealth of information and material that is not even available via the Internet yet. And funnily enough, the ones that are doing their utmost to get this information out there are librarians and libraries. Close them down and centuries of history are lost forever……and not even Google could retrieve it.

  4. For the self proclaimed King of New Media, you make your look even more of an idiot by the fact you didn’t know that Sunderland is the Facebook capital of the UK!

    Get back in your bunker son!

    • Er….thanks for that comment. If you can explain how that is relevant to the point about low internet connectivity in the north east, I would be most grateful.

      And thanks for your advice re my choice of dwelling….I fear this has been the error of my estate agent….I told him that calling it a bunker would not improve the chances of a quick sale 😦

  5. Isn’t it about time you all just fucking grew up and got over yourselves instead of wittering on and on like a bunch of fucking childish idiots. What makes you any better than Tony Horne with your attitude. FACT – everyone is entitled to their own opinion because in this country we have freedom of speech. Personally I don’t give a shit if every library in the country closed and yes I do read books and yes I am a library user when I have time to visit them. In my book you are as bad as Tony Horne because of the way you go on which is as bad as him. We are all sick of it so just stop the arguments and get over it.

    • I was in two minds about whether or not to let this comment pass moderation. I decided to let it through in the end, mainly because I love the bit about ‘going on and on about it’ being posted on a two month old post. Not only that, but a two month old post that last had a comment posted on it…two months ago. Maybe you’ve just come to the end of a recent vow of silence which has skewed your perspective somewhat.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment….I had almost forgotten about this ‘argument’ until you reminded me of it. Life goes on. Let’s not keep dwelling on arguments from the past eh?

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