As a long-time resident of Lawrence, and one who has devoted his entire life to education, I have followed the debate concerning a new library for Lawrence with great interest. As a parent of three students, two in college and one teenager at Southwest Junior High, I have witnessed a stunning transformation in the way kids access and use information technology. All that I see as a parent reinforces what I see at work every day:
1. Libraries are inefficient. Like me, kids seek fast, convenient access to up-to-date information. That's available on the Internet. In this new information age, libraries are an obsolete place to store and disseminate information. Rather than speed access to reliable, up-to-date information, libraries provide only remote, slow and inconvenient access to limited and often outdated information.
Go to any library. The stacks are empty; it's the computers that are busy. Then ask yourself if it makes sense to locate those computers in one central and remote location, like a downtown library, or instead locate the computers where kids, seniors, and everyone else wants to use them.
2. Libraries are limited. Everybody wants access to reliable information. The Internet is a gateway to unlimited data and information about government, business, and the community. Multiple information providers on the Internet make fact checking easy and reliable. No single person, such as a librarian, can or should be relied upon to verify accuracy. Single sources for information verification are inefficient and potentially dangerous.
3. Libraries are obsolete. Modern information technology involves two-way communication between providers and users of information technology. With instant messaging, blogs, message boards, and email, the Internet fosters information sharing among virtually unlimited numbers of information providers. Computers are communication devices that bring communities together.
Rather than build an expensive new library downtown in the mistaken belief that such a monument to 19th century information technology will bring the community together, the city of Lawrence needs to consider the real advantages to bringing our entire community's information infrastructure into the 21st century.
We need to embark on an aggressive plan to bring broadband access to the doorstep of each and every home in Lawrence. There is no need to do anything in west Lawrence, the private sector has already done that in the newer part of town. It's east Lawrence, the older part of town, that desperately needs access to new information technology.
Don't expect kids, seniors, and everyone else to trudge downtown for the convenience of librarians. Put information technology at the fingertips of every kid, and every senior in Lawrence. Because low incomes limit the ability of some to connect to high-speed access, even when it's brought to their door, the city might give low-income families computers on a needs basis. Otherwise, offer reliable Internet access at small 24/7 City of Lawrence Free Internet Cafes ("libraries") that are broadly distributed for easy walking access by kids and seniors.
Before the City of Lawrence commits to wasting millions of dollars on a new downtown library, ask yourself a few questions. When was the last time you were at the library? When was the last time you logged on? Why is that?