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Opinion | To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library - The New York Times
"Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.”

Libraries are being disparaged and neglected at precisely the moment when they are most valued and necessary. Why the disconnect? In part it’s because the founding principle of the public library — that all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage — is out of sync with the market logic that dominates our world. But it’s also because so few influential people understand the expansive role that libraries play in modern communities.

Libraries are an example of what I call “social infrastructure”: the physical spaces and organizations that shape the way people interact. Libraries don’t just provide free access to books and other cultural materials, they also offer things like companionship for older adults, de facto child care for busy parents, language instruction for immigrants and welcoming public spaces for the poor, the homeless and young people.

I recently spent a year doing ethnographic research in libraries in New York City. Again and again, I was reminded how essential libraries are, not only for a neighborhood’s vitality but also for helping to address all manner of personal problems.

For older people, especially widows, widowers and those who live alone, libraries are places for culture and company, through book clubs, movie nights, sewing circles and classes in art, current events and computing. For many, the library is the main place they interact with people from other generations.

For children and teenagers, libraries help instill an ethic of responsibility, to themselves and to their neighbors, by teaching them what it means to borrow and take care of something public, and to return it so others can have it too. For new parents, grandparents and caretakers who feel overwhelmed when watching an infant or a toddler by themselves, libraries are a godsend.

In many neighborhoods, particularly those where young people aren’t hyper-scheduled in formal after-school programs, libraries are highly popular among adolescents and teenagers who want to spend time with other people their age. One reason is that they’re open, accessible and free. Another is that the library staff members welcome them; in many branches, they even assign areas for teenagers to be with one another.

To appreciate why this matters, compare the social space of the library with the social space of commercial establishments like Starbucks or McDonald’s. These are valuable parts of the social infrastructure, but not everyone can afford to frequent them, and not all paying customers are welcome to stay for long.

Older and poor people will often avoid Starbucks altogether, because the fare is too expensive and they feel that they don’t belong. The elderly library patrons I got to know in New York told me that they feel even less welcome in the trendy new coffee shops, bars and restaurants that are so common in the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods. Poor and homeless library patrons don’t even consider entering these places. They know from experience that simply standing outside a high-end eatery can prompt managers to call the police. But you rarely see a police officer in a library.

This is not to say that libraries are always peaceful and serene. During the time I spent doing research, I witnessed a handful of heated disputes, physical altercations and other uncomfortable situations, sometimes involving people who appeared to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. But such problems are inevitable in a public institution that’s dedicated to open access, especially when drug clinics, homeless shelters and food banks routinely turn away — and often refer to the library! — those who most need help. What’s remarkable is how rarely these disruptions happen, how civilly they are managed and how quickly a library regains its rhythm afterward.

The openness and diversity that flourish in neighborhood libraries were once a hallmark of urban culture. But that has changed. Though American cities are growing more ethnically, racially and culturally diverse, they too often remain divided and unequal, with some neighborhoods cutting themselves off from difference — sometimes intentionally, sometimes just by dint of rising costs — particularly when it comes to race and social class.

Libraries are the kinds of places where people with different backgrounds, passions and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line.

This summer, Forbes magazine published an article arguing that libraries no longer served a purpose and did not deserve public support. The author, an economist, suggested that Amazon replace libraries with its own retail outlets, and claimed that most Americans would prefer a free-market option. The public response — from librarians especially, but also public officials and ordinary citizens — was so overwhelmingly negative that Forbes deleted the article from its website.

We should take heed. Today, as cities and suburbs continue to reinvent themselves, and as cynics claim that government has nothing good to contribute to that process, it’s important that institutions like libraries get the recognition they deserve. It’s worth noting that “liber,” the Latin root of the word “library,” means both “book” and “free.” Libraries stand for and exemplify something that needs defending: the public institutions that — even in an age of atomization, polarization and inequality — serve as the bedrock of civil society.

If we have any chance of rebuilding a better society, social infrastructure like the library is precisely what we need."

[See also: "Your Public Library Is Where It’s At"
https://www.subtraction.com/2018/09/11/your-public-library-is-where-its-at/

"I’ve seen for myself real life examples of virtually all of these use cases. It really opened my eyes to how vital a civic institution the libraries in my community are. But I take mild exception to the emphasis that Klinenberg places on a library’s ability to “address all manner of personal problems.” That phrasing gives the impression that a library is a place you go principally to solve some kind of challenge.

While that’s often true, it’s also true that a library is a building that’s uniquely open to any purpose you bring to it. Your business there could be educational, professional, personal or even undecided, and you don’t need to declare it to anyone—you can literally loiter in your local public library with no fear of consequences.

Even more radically, your time at the library comes with absolutely no expectation that you buy anything. Or even that you transact at all. And there’s certainly no implication that your data or your rights are being surrendered in return for the services you partake in.

This rare openness and neutrality imbues libraries with a distinct sense of community, of us, of everyone having come together to fund and build and participate in this collective sharing of knowledge and space. All of that seems exceedingly rare in this increasingly commercial, exposed world of ours. In a way it’s quite amazing that the concept continues to persist at all.

And when we look at it this way, as a startlingly, almost defiantly civilized institution, it seems even more urgent that we make sure it not only continues to survive, but that it should also thrive, too. If not for us, then for future generations who will no doubt one day wonder why we gave up so much of our personal rights and communal pleasures in exchange for digital likes and upturned thumbs. For years I took the existence of libraries for granted and operated under the assumption that they were there for others. Now I realize that they’re there for everybody."
ericklinenberg  libraries  culture  publiclibraries  2018  community  education  self-directed  self-directedlearning  books  publicspaces  ethnography  nyc  neighborhoods  thirdspaces  openness  diversity  us  democracy  inequality  cities  atomization  polarization  khoivinh 
january 2019 by robertogreco
Goodbye to Blog Comments + Subtraction.com
"As mentioned earlier this month, a brand new version of Subtraction.com is coming soon. Very, very, very soon, maybe as early as next week. I’ve been diligently working with my friend Allan Cole to sort out a ton of kinks, rewiring a lot of the site behind the scenes. I’ll talk about that in greater detail soon, but one major change that we’ve made is that, in this new design, user comments will be no more.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. In 2011 I wrote this post about how the volume of comments had dwindled on my blog, and extrapolated from that some observations on how blogging in general has changed. If anything, that change has accelerated in the intervening three years, and now commenting on Subtraction.com is a tiny fraction of what it was at its peak.

Moreover, it just feels like the time for comments has passed. At least for me, it has. I’m frequently and conspicuously absent from comment threads on my own blog, a byproduct of my ridiculously crazy schedule. That situation makes for a less than stellar commenting experience for everyone; commenters feel as if I’m not paying attention, and I feel embarrassed that my name is missing from threads entirely."
commenting  blogs  blogging  khoivinh  2014 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Unbuilding — Lined & Unlined
[now here: https://linedandunlined.com/archive/unbuilding ]

Here's another something that's too large to unpack in a quote or two or three or more, so just one, then read and view (many images) the rest.

"Unlike the thesis, Antithesis was an optional class. Instead of a constant, year-long process, it was interstitial, happening during a “down time” in the year. We didn’t really have class meetings — instead, I spent my time hanging out in the studio. Everyone loosened up. After thinking intensively about the thesis for 12 weeks, it was time to stop thinking about it — at least, consciously. The goal was not to keep pushing forward on the thesis but to get new projects started in parallel."

[video: https://vimeo.com/63008758 ]
completeness  sourcecode  viewsource  critique  susansontag  webdesign  aestheticpractice  criticalautonomy  canon  andrewblauvelt  billmoggridge  khoivinh  community  communities  livingdocuments  constitution  usconstitution  metaphors  metaphor  borges  telescopictext  joedavis  language  culturalsourcecode  cooper-hewitt  sebchan  github  johngnorman  recycling  interboropartners  kiva  pennandteller  jakedow-smith  pointerpointer  davidmacaulay  stevejobs  tednelson  humanconsciousness  consciousness  literacy  walterong  pipa  sopa  wikipedia  robertrauschenberg  willemdekooning  humor  garfieldminusgarfield  garfield  danwalsh  ruderripps  okfocus  bolognadeclaration  pedagogy  mariamontessori  freeuniversityofbozen-bolzano  openstudioproject  lcproject  tcsnmy  howweteach  cv  anti-hierarchy  hierarchy  autonomy  anti-autonomy  anti-isolation  anti-specialization  avant-garde  vanabbemuseum  charlesesche  understanding  knowing  socialsignaling  anyahindmarch  thinking  making  inquiry  random  informality  informal  interstitial  antithesis  action  non-action  anikaschwarzlose  jona 
november 2012 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: Introducing Mixel [See also: http://mixel.cc/ ]
"Our goal with Mixel is to turn the act of art-making into something incredibly easy, fun and even addictive. Just as importantly, we also want art-making to be deeply social. Mixel is a social network of its own…You can also comment, like and share the art, just as you would on any other social network.

But we chose collage for a very important reason: it makes art easy. Photos, the component pieces of every collage, are among the most social and viral content on the Web, and allowing people to combine them into new, highly specific expressions of who they are and what they’re interested in is powerful. Collage also has a wonderfully accessible quality; few people are comfortable with a brush or a drawing implement, but almost everyone is comfortable cutting up images and recombining them in new, expressive, surprising or hilarious ways. We all used to do this as kids."
khoivinh  mixel  art  collage  applications  ipad  ios  social  2011 
november 2011 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: The End of Client Services
"Digital media requires something different, though. It’s not sufficient to just publish a narrative to the Internet. You have to build an experience around it, a system that lets the user experience the narrative but also one that responds to his or her inputs and contributions. Basically, to create anything meaningful in digital media, you need to think in terms of a product, not just a story.

However, it’s very hard for a design studio to create digital products on a contract basis because the messy timelines and continual course corrections that are required to launch a truly effective software product are anathema to the way clients like to be billed…The most critical time for designers to be involved in a digital product is all the time, but it’s perhaps most important for them to stick around after the launch, when they can see how a real user base is using it, and then amend, refine, revise and evolve it…"
khoivinh  clientservices  business  design  2011  startups  time 
july 2011 by robertogreco
The end of client services? Nah… the end of _traditional_ client services – Thinktiv
"The problem that Khoi will run into a few years from now is that he will get bored. The innovation thinking of the start up will turn into spreadsheet level optimization—and the hay-day of infinite possibilities will narrow to polishing a button. When that happens, he will move on to the next start-up or the next project or maybe the next venture accelerator.<br />
<br />
The reason a venture accelerator is different from the traditional agency model is that it marries the idea of a consulting team (best practices and models that work) with an entrenched team (close knit, trusting and iterative)—and in doing so, it builds a practice of repeatable success. It removes the barriers and walls that separate agencies and clients and throws everyone into a pot to collaborate and innovate together…"
khoivinh  innovation  startups  clientservices  ventureaccelerators  2011  thinktiv  paulburke  design 
july 2011 by robertogreco
Khoi Vinh: Publishers Should Be Developing for the Mobile Web Instead of Making Replica Apps | Betabeat — News, gossip and intel from Silicon Alley 2.0.
"For this week’s cover story about Condé Nast’s struggle developing for the iPad, Betabeat had the opportunity to talk to Khoi Vinh…On his widely-read design blog, Subtraction, Mr. Vinh has repeatedly expressed his skepticism toward publishers like Condé Nast and Hearst and software companies like Adobe for thinking that what iPad readers want is a magazine replica app that takes a print-centric approach to tablet design. But we didn’t get the chance to include some really interesting predictions Mr. Vinh made about the direction he thinks consuming content on the iPad is heading (in short: back to the browser) and what readers really want.

Mr. Vinh, who recently released a book on web design, seem to have contracted that start-up fever making its way around the city and is currently working in stealth mode on an app of his own. He compared the bells-and-whistles of the current magazine app rush to the CD-ROM bubble and advised publishers to think more like Netflix."
khoivinh  mobile  ipad  mobileweb  webbapps  content  2011  html5  browser  apps  applications  browsers 
july 2011 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: Commented Out
"I think what’s really happening is a simple matter of divided attention: there are much more absorbing content experiences than independent blogs out there right now: not just Tumblr, but Twitter and Facebook and all sorts of social media, too, obviously, and they’re drawing the attention that the ‘old’ blogs once commanded. Moreover, these social networks allow people to talk directly to one another rather than in the more random method that commenting on a blog post allows; why wouldn’t you prefer to carry on a one-on-one conversation with a friend rather than hoping someone reads a comment you’ve added to a blog post, number 59 out of 159?"
blogging  community  khoivinh  web  online  blogs  2011  twitter  facebook  civility  communication  follow-up  conversation 
april 2011 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: Commented Out – Marco.org
"Comments have always been a dysfunctional medium. They solve a real problem: authors’ need for validation, criticism, and feedback. But they solve it in a way that discourages civility and following up, and encourages hatred and spam.

To address the same problem that comments solve, I post links to my articles on Twitter, read my responses there, and react if necessary. This has most of the value of ideal comments, but with very few of the drawbacks."
commenting  tumblr  twitter  blogs  blogging  2011  marcoarment  khoivinh  civility  feedback  onetoone  conversation  follow-up 
april 2011 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: What’s Old Is New Again on iPad
"theiPad is something entirely new, & that it should be treated as such. But it’s worth noting that the current prevailing perception of the iPad seems to be that it is a digital reinvention of analog conventions… newspapers, magazines, books, & subscriptions…why an exhibition of essentially analog paintings rendered through digital means draws interest at all from art lovers & writers.

…this is a misconception…underserves the potential of the device…[but] there’s a power to this particular understanding of the device. Perhaps emphasizing its familiarity is part of what will earn it mass adoption, setting stage for more informed uses. If this is a transitional stage, then I hope it doesn’t last too long, because iPad’s potential to remake things like art making is so painfully evident to me. Ultimately, iPad is much more interesting than Hockney’s paintings & artists who truly understand the medium will show us things we can barely even imagine right now."
art  2010  ipad  khoivinh  davidhockney  print  analog  digitalanalog  transitions 
december 2010 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: The New Who Thing
"That’s what was so compelling, I think, about the first few waves of blogs. By and large, they weren’t just venues for the publication of content. They also served as outposts for your identity, a representation of who you were on the World Wide Web. By contrast, Tumblr blogs often seem more like something dishonest — well, dishonest is too strong a word. But when I browse through many of these tumblelogs, they feel as if their authors are trying to get away with something, trying to sneak something past somebody. There’s a sense of evasiveness, or vagueness, of no one really standing behind what’s been published, or no one being sufficiently committed to the content to offer up their name."
tumblr  khoivinh  identity  critique  blogging  simplicity  popularity  attribution  culture  webdesign  webdev 
august 2010 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: iPad Gripe Session [Quote distilled by David Smith]
"iOS 4 is so good, making its current unavailability for the iPad feel particularly vexing. In the few short months since I’ve owned my iPhone 4, I’ve become thoroughly reliant on the iOS 4 unified inbox within Mail, for instance … Also, the major efficiency gains that iOS 4’s multitasking makes possible have become second nature to me on the iPhone. … Among features that the iPad does share with the iPhone, the ability to undo actions seems more rote than useful. … the much larger expanse of the iPad cursor placement can be much more volatile, and it becomes a serious impediment to usage. … I want Text Expander available to every app, and 1Password and Instapaper too … What’s not great is mobile Safari’s penchant for refreshing a browser window nearly every time I return to it, regardless of how long the window has been idle. … I also find myself scratching my head over how the device handles caching of video content. … the platform has so much potential"
2010  ipad  ios4  iphone  apple  khoivinh 
august 2010 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: Pulling Over and Asking for Directions
"“Lost” brings to mind at least a few television series that also followed ambitious narrative arcs, like “The X-Files,” “Heroes,” “Battlestar Galactica” and even “The Sopranos.” One thing I learned from these kinds of shows, to my disappointment, is that they never really deliver on what they repeatedly promise."
tv  television  lost  2010  khoivinh  criticism 
february 2010 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: Notes on iPad
"As a general principle, there’s no way around evolution, and in this specific instance the reality is that there is no direct translation of the print experience to digital media. That is, the content can be translated, but it’s not likely to be as literal as many might expect or even hope. Those looking to the iPad to return us to some semblance of a print-like reading experience are basically wrong, I believe. In fact, lots of really smart people will continue to get this wrong going forward. We’re all still figuring out. That’s the definition of an opportunity."
ipad  publishing  apple  magazines  print  2010  khoivinh  media  design  newspapers  opportunity  future 
january 2010 by robertogreco
Subtraction.com: A Good Day’s Busy Work
"What does it mean, exactly, to “embrace the medium”? Apparently, it means a compulsive dedication to what essentially amounts to busy work: checking in with your followers or friends repeatedly and often, authoring bursts of quasi-communiqués at all hours of the day, continually updating your statuses, tending a limitless onslaught of friend requests, managing an unyielding firehose of housekeeping tasks. It just means spending a lot of time just wasting time. And not just that, but it also means creating all of this busy work for other people, too; creating or updating or inputting more stuff for everyone to read — or more accurately, for everyone to feel they have to keep up with. We’re all blindsiding ourselves and one another with trivial obligations."
productivity  distraction  internet  twitter  communication  khoivinh  culture  society  obligation  work  blogs  blogging  etiquette  time 
july 2009 by robertogreco
Subtraction: Great Numbers, Not So Great Design
"it’s my belief that you just can’t get great design out of a design agency with a staff larger than a dozen or two." - There's that 12-15 person threshold again.
khoivinh  design  groups  collaboration  work  groupsize  productivity  creativity  administration  management  leadership  focus  business  small  innovation  happiness  simplicity  freelancing 
may 2008 by robertogreco

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