Monday, January 20, 2014

What will become of libraries?

"So for now at least, the American people want their libraries. The question then is, what will be the role of the library in the digital tomorrow? Susan Hildreth, a former top librarian in Seattle and for the state of California who is now director of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, has thought about these issues and offers a sensible vision for what’s ahead. 'I see three big goals for libraries,' she writes. 'Provide engaging learning experiences, become community anchors, and provide access to content even as the devices for accessing that content change rapidly.'
As we’ve seen, libraries are already working hard on providing engaged learning, and have been doing so for decades. As to their role as community anchors, well, that goes back more than a century. Which leaves us with the matter of access to the materials of culture. In the popular mind the best known mission of the public library, of course, is lending books, to say nothing of videos and other material—all the wonderful stuff reductively known nowadays as “content.” And public libraries are well on the road to lending that content in digital form, which will surely be the main form in which it is consumed a decade or two from now. OverDrive, a leading distributor of eBooks for libraries, reported that in 2011 users checked out more than 35 million digital titles, while 17 million titles were put on hold."

"This old idea of the public library as co-working space now offers a modern answer – one among many – for how these aging institutions could become more relevant two millennia after the original Alexandria library burned to the ground. Would-be entrepreneurs everywhere are looking for business know-how and physical space to incubate their start-ups. Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.
Why not, Lea suggests, put these two ideas together? Arizona State is planning in the next few months to roll out a network of co-working business incubators inside public libraries, starting with a pilot in the downtown Civic Center Library in Scottsdale. The university is calling the plan, ambitiously, the Alexandria Network."

There is a lot of discussion about what the role of libraries will be now that the digital age has taken over.   Access to the Internet is of course a part of this, for those who need it.  Books will remain an important part of their role, I believe. But community interaction will play a larger role as well.  People need people.  And libraries are a community space where that can happen on a neutral basis.

Income distribution does matter

"Global inequality has increased to the extent that the £1 trillion combined wealth of the 85 richest people is equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion - half of the world's population - according to a new report from development charity Oxfam.

And the report, entitled Working For The Few, claims that growing inequality has been driven by a "power grab" by wealthy elites, who have co-opted the political process to rig the rules of the economic system in their favour."

"About two-thirds of adults are dissatisfied with how wealth and income are distributed in the U.S., according to a new survey. The Gallup poll was conducted ahead of President Obama’s State of the Union address, which is expected to include a focus on income inequality."

If you have a certain amount of income being generated, and an extraordinary amount of it gets sucked up by just a few people, then you are encouraging poverty.  This is a similar situation in the Middle Ages when a Lord had his castle and ran everything, and everybody else was a serf dependent on the few crumbs left outside the castle.  Is this what we want?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Technology will make the job situation more unstable in the near future

"It is partly just a matter of history repeating itself. In the early part of the Industrial Revolution the rewards of increasing productivity went disproportionately to capital; later on, labour reaped most of the benefits. The pattern today is similar. The prosperity unleashed by the digital revolution has gone overwhelmingly to the owners of capital and the highest-skilled workers. Over the past three decades, labour’s share of output has shrunk globally from 64% to 59%. Meanwhile, the share of income going to the top 1% in America has risen from around 9% in the 1970s to 22% today. Unemployment is at alarming levels in much of the rich world, and not just for cyclical reasons. In 2000, 65% of working-age Americans were in work; since then the proportion has fallen, during good years as well as bad, to the current level of 59%.
Worse, it seems likely that this wave of technological disruption to the job market has only just started. From driverless cars to clever household gadgets (see article), innovations that already exist could destroy swathes of jobs that have hitherto been untouched. The public sector is one obvious target: it has proved singularly resistant to tech-driven reinvention. But the step change in what computers can do will have a powerful effect on middle-class jobs in the private sector too."

   It's going to be hard to guess what jobs will be needed in the future.  Society needs to gear up ahead of time to train people for those jobs, but what will those jobs be?  A tricky dilemma.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Our paranoia is making us poor and weak

Over the past decade, however, another branch of government has emerged, and it dwarfs the other three. It’s powerful, skirts our laws, and composed of three core entities: the military; the Department of Homeland Security, which encompasses airport security, and 15 intelligence services (National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, etc.). All exist to protect America and its citizens from enemies — both real and imagined. We might call it the paranoid branch.
Our post-9/11 paranoia doesn’t come cheaply, though. We Americans spend nearly a quarter of every dollar we generate as a nation on the military ($682 billion), Homeland Security (about $60 billion), and 15 intelligence agencies (combined perhaps $75 billion). While our government raced through some $3.67 trillion in 2013 it took in only $2.77 trillion in revenue, which means it has to borrow about $900 billion just to stay afloat.
Of the money the United States raises from its citizens, more than $1.7 trillion is spent on salving our collective paranoia or borrowed from banks and nations. That’s 40+ percent of the total."

I have nothing to add to this article. Well said.