Found Sign: Why the Internet is No Substitute for a Library

Joe Sabia says, "This is a sign that hangs from the wall of my local public library in Milford, Connecticut. It's a large but quaint building occupied by maybe 6 or so people, and 3 elderly kind women at the check out desk." Click for larger size.


Update: Boing Boing pal Seth Godin writes,

Apparently, it comes from this book which is in itself quite an amusing read, as far as the reviews indicate...


  1. This is very cool, but I totally disagree with #6. E-readers have changed my reading habits for the better! I can now carry a library of GIANT, HUGE, HEAVY books with me all over the place. I can also leave my signed first editions at home (not that I have a ton of them, but I do have a few) and carry their electronic equivalent in my bag to read. This preserves my books and keeps my back from exploding under the weight.

    Seriously, even just two of the larger tomes I have on my iPad (Matterhorn and Infinite Jest) would be enough to put me in traction if I hauled them around with me everywhere on paper. I’m exceptionally thankful for e-reading technology.

  2. When you are a teen who doesn’t want to go to a bad home you can go hang out at the library and say its for studying and not get in trouble.

    1. Absolutely! We get teens (and younger) hanging out in the library for hours. Most are quiet and respectful too. If the library is your safe place, or just a place to pass a little time (and maybe even check out materials!) we librarians welcome you. We might be too busy sometimes to acknowledge you, but an e-reader doesn’t smile and say hello in quite the same way, does it?

  3. Half of the reasons portrayed there are just ridicule, and the other half are wildly inaccurate.

  4. It’s a nice sign, Xeni and I really don’t mean to nit and pik but in the world of found stuff (see: FOUND Magazine and any number of online found item websites) this is technically not a “found” sign. Rather, it’s it’s plain old sign. Perhaps “Sign That Was Seen and Photographed” would be a more appropriate header. That being said, the content of this sign is pure quackery and seems to quack more and more as it goes from Reason 1 to Reason 10 – nice sighting!

  5. number 6 made me LOL. really? an entire generation away?? unless you mean software/hardware generation, then maybe i’ll agree with you.

  6. #6 – gotta disagree, I read more on my iPad now than I do printed books – the backlit screen makes it much easier for me to see the text than I can normal books these days (getting older bites)

    #9 – apparently they’ve never heard of Project Gutenberg or other such collections.

  7. Makes you wonder what year this piece is from.. I’d be shocked if this was written in 2011..

    Also amusing that a lot of these rest on technical hurdles. Which are closer to falling with each passing day.

  8. I just have to comment really because tho i’ve been a long time CA resident… that’s the library I great up with in Milford… Ah, the past… same rug! Can’t get that on the internet!

    1. But the gag is spoiled if people read the URL. That’s why I used a URL shortener. Thank you anyway for untwining this.

      1. The gag was even more spoiled by never being seen because the system automatically comments out that domain. Your comment was publicly invisible.

  9. #8 To digitize half a million volumes would cost almost a billion dollars.

    Isn’t that $2,000 per volume? It seems a little excessive. Let me put my bid out right here: I’ll do it for half the price.

    1. Yeah, no kidding. This is a ~70k Euro machine that scans 2,500 pages/hour without any human intervention, except of course for putting the books in there. If there really is a place that pays around thousands of dollars per hour for that kind of work, I’m definitely interested…

  10. Sounds more like someone pleading to keep their job. Stop the future – it will never be as good as the past!

  11. Most of what you find on the internet is only 15 years old, except things like Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Lewis Carroll, Jules Verne, and so on. The might bring up the average.

  12. You know, I love my local library (and not just because it’s San Jose’s combined city/university library), but this thing is just… bad. It’s got so much stuff that’s either inaccurate, opinion, or soon to become false. If you’re doing a research paper you absolutely want a good library (for now), but half the other objections they raise to the internet can be overcome with just a little bit of skill and common sense. You do need to be skeptical and consider the source when looking to the web for information, but that’s not all that different from print books.

    And I’m with mellowknees on e-book readers. I recently got a Kindle, and I love the thing. It can’t replace everything a book can do–and in some cases I wouldn’t want it to–but it’s idea for stuff like reading a novel.

    Also, don’t tell us why the internet sucks; tell us why libraries are awesome!

  13. #8: $2,000 to scan a book? Wow, the government really IS inefficient!

    Or maybe it wasn’t intended to be a factual statement.

    While I appreciate that they are trying to convince students that their research shouldn’t be entirely internet based, something with so many problems discredits the valid points they DO make.

  14. I’ll barely give you #1, #3, and #4, and by extension of giving you #4, #7. The rest are pure asshattery. The fact that you printed a poster of an article that originally appeared in American Libraries, April 2001 is an indication that you don’t grasp the evolving technology that is the “Internet”.

    Humorous line from original article that proves my point:

    “Whether you’re using Hotbot, Lycos, Dogpile, Infoseek, or any one of a dozen other search or metasearch engines, you’re not searching the entire Web.”

  15. Why is the most obvious advantage of paper books the least mentioned? They are so much easier to browse.

    In a library setting books of related topics are in the same area, and my visits to libraries are undirected rambles where I judge books by their covers.
    In other words: at the library you don’t have to know what you are looking for to find things that interest you, or better discover something you didn’t know interested you.

    When it comes to ebooks and the internet you have to have a pretty good idea what you want to avoid junk. I have yet to find a recommendations system that doesn’t assume that just because I like one book by an author I will want to read them all. Worse are the keyword recommendations which always end up suggesting the same three or four titles because they are the most popular.
    I dread the day new books stop appearing in paper to the same degree I fear that one day a recommendations system will predict my tastes.

  16. Yes, I think they are already behind the curve on #6, and possible #10 (I curl up beside the fireplace almost exclusively with a tablet now, not a book or magazine.)

    However, they do make good points at #1-4, all of which are concerned with research and scholarship, not casual reading.

    So maybe the sign should read “Several Reasons Why the Internet is not a Substitute for a Research Library”

  17. According to #8, it costs about $2000 to digitize each book.

    I think the worst thing about the sign is the clip art (which could have been improved by searching the internet).

  18. Last I checked, a good number of research papers and academic articles were on an online database for Universities. I did all my research and analysis through contemporary art databases like JStore.

    They should stop pushing the library as an alternative to the internet and see it as a public location that can foster community involvement. Study groups, children’s readings, discussion groups, etc. I use my library all the time for those reasons.

    The Internet and the Library are false nemises, just like Science and Religion. It’s a useless polemic argument.

    1. To be fair, most of us (librarians) see the internet as a rival of the library. This list does not represent a position the vast majority in the library and information science field hold. The internet is really no threat to us. The big point is to communicate the necessity of learning to distinguish reliable sources from the wealth of unreliables that can pop up in general searches.

  19. mmmmYeah, this sign is complete nonsense, and looks like it was written a) 15 years ago, and b) by a disgruntled, crabby, middle-aged librarian afraid of losing her job. Look, I love libraries. I love book stores. Hell, I love anyplace that contains books! Books are great! I even own one or two. But I’m pretty sure this whole Internet deal’s going to stick around for a while.

    1. mmmmYeah, this sign is complete nonsense, and looks like it was written a) 15 years ago, and b) by a disgruntled, crabby, middle-aged librarian afraid of losing her job.

      The sign/book was written by a man. I don’t know his age, and it’s not pertinent info anyway.

      Make your point without stereotypical bashing, kthx.

  20. I and my family have always been big fans and/or sponsors of libraries, but this is just wrong.

    1. Not everything is in the library, either.
    2. And yet it’s still faster than dealing with a card catalogue and then paging through volume after volume looking for the exact piece of information.
    3. I can’t totally refute this one, but can counter with the claim that what the internet lacks in quality control it more than makes up for in timeliness. How old are those books on your shelves? How accurate is the information 10, 15, or 20 years after they’ve been printed?
    4. Um? I’m not sure I get this one. Wikipedia, just going with the most obvious database, offers footnotes, formulae, pictures and graphs.
    5. I really don’t get this one. Are you arguing against state-funded online libraries? That’s my best guess, and I’m sorry if I’m wrong, but if that is what you’re saying then you’re going off topic here. Thought this sign was about libraries vs. the internet, not libraries vs. other libraries?
    6. I have HUNDREDS of books on a device that’s less than half the size and mass of an average hardcover. It is limited by screen size/resolution, battery life etc, but I most definitely think that we’ve arrived at something equal to or more convenient than books. In any case, though, this “reason” is subjective instead of objective.
    7. I can’t dispute this point since I don’t have any data on it (though I’ll note you didn’t cite any either) but this sign is in a public library, right? Not a university library?
    8. … What? Seriously, what? Half a million volumes = one billion dollars? You’re saying that each volume would take two thousand dollars to digitize… I don’t have the data on this one either (again noting that you’ve provided zero citations) but that number sounds something like 100 times higher than it should be.
    9. I’m not even sure how to respond to this one. Information is only good when it’s old?
    10. Yes, I have curled up by the fire with a laptop, and yes I have brought my iPhone along with me and read books on it on a camping trip. The latter rocks, btw. Plus this is another subjective “reason”.

  21. More humor from the original 2001 article:

    “Moreover, the cost of readers runs from $200 to $2,000, the cheaper ones being harder on the eyes. Will this change? Doubtless, but right now there’s no market forces making it change. Will it change in less than 75 years? Unlikely!”

    Plus, the fact that I have to quote the original article because it’s not on the poster, makes #4 especially ironic.

  22. Studies have shown that students who used ebooks and ereaders retained a lot less information than those who used print books (I work in an academic library at a university that took part in the study). Ebooks eliminate the tactile part of sense memory. That is, where you saw the text on a page, and how far into the book it was, and if there were diagrams or illustrations or figures on the page or opposite page all plays a huge part in how you recall information. That all becomes fluid and relative in ebooks.

    While ebooks might be convenient for carrying around large books, you loose all relationship to them. It all becomes just a stream of words on a screen.

    1. nothing beats the smell of a book, the feel of it…. holding it in your hands and the whole experience. but i must say that while i was hesitant as to whether i could read a book on a device, i have read several now and i find it easier because i am a mom who has to stop all the time. i prefer a real book, but i think kids who are used to computers and such will be able to read on a kindle or other device and retain info. I haven’t tested this on my 12 year old who reads voraciously. she has read one book on my ipod but has asked for the real book. that made me smile. nothing beats holding that book in your hands.

    2. Studies have shown that students who used ebooks and ereaders retained a lot less information than those who used print books (I work in an academic library at a university that took part in the study). Ebooks eliminate the tactile part of sense memory. That is, where you saw the text on a page, and how far into the book it was, and if there were diagrams or illustrations or figures on the page or opposite page all plays a huge part in how you recall information. That all becomes fluid and relative in ebooks.

      While ebooks might be convenient for carrying around large books, you loose all relationship to them. It all becomes just a stream of words on a screen.

      Mind tossing us a citation? If studies have shown something… it’s a good idea to come up with at least one study. I’d like to see its methodology – what ages are we talking about, for example?

      What you argue seems possible, but even if it’s valid, some of us are outliers (I am, certainly; I use my kindle for academics and it has improved my retention of material) and the effect would undoubtedly be different for people who grew up reading digitally. There’s a tendency to knee-jerk react to changes with the assumption that just because a future generation will have a different experience, they will be losing something and will feel its lack. Those of us who love books would hate to see the print kind go away. If we grew up without them, we wouldn’t have those feelings – and we would be used to relating to text on a screen. The weight of the reader in your hand, the font, the speed at which the text flows or pages turn – all sensory experiences. I already think in terms of “I think that was about 30% of the way in.”

      So… we shouldn’t use e-readers because then people won’t learn as well… you know, just like we shouldn’t use written language because then people won’t have to remember things?

      I love books. I love libraries. I also love the internet, and the multiple forms books can take, and the ways that libraries connect with the wider world. This is not either/or.

  23. Libraries around here are indispensable cultural event sponsors. I’ve seen more musical performances in libraries than in bars lately. There are plenty of lectures and presentations that attract only a dozen people or so, which wouldn’t be served by university programs.

    Also, more a case for one’s personal library, but on the subject of dead-tree books not going anywhere too soon, I like having certain titles visible as real-world placemarks for the mental benefit I got from them. I’m convinced that having my glance fall across the spine of Catch-22 a few times a day has kept some dark times in perspective. And there are some I’ll reread a bit of when I have a free moment, that would have been spent in compulsive web-browsing if I had the book only in electronic form.

    There’s also the conversation piece aspect… I bet anyone reading this site has at one time or another covered an awkward shyness at a stranger’s party by browsing the host’s shelves. What’s going to replace that when nearly everything has shifted to e-readers? Is that a niche for social media developers, augmented reality apps to structure in-person conversation?

    I guess it would be something like the interacting contextual awareness clouds of information agents that swarm around some characters in the Ian Banks Culture books, or in Greg Bear’s Eon.

    1. I bet anyone reading this site has at one time or another covered an awkward shyness at a stranger’s party by browsing the host’s shelves.

      Had a friend who turned down a hot “blind date” because the photo he was shown had the girl’s bookcase in the background, prominently displaying the entire “Left Behind” series, in addition to various unicorn figurines. Crisis averted, thanks to dead tree books.

  24. I would have expected to see things like community programs (local hostory, area artists), a safe environment for children, access regardless of income (including internet), and so forth. I love libraries, but these arguments were written by someone who doesn’t understand the internet well.

  25. I have just started frequenting libraries over last few years (minus childhood and student library visits). I often use the interwebs to find what I might want to read (thanks Amazon), then reserve it on my libraries website and then check it out and read it for Free (hahaha, free is good!).
    The people who made this sign are kinda missing the point that the internet(s) and libraries can indeed compliment each other.
    Paradoxical to this list, often most the people I see in my library are there to use the internet…

    Libraries can in no way compete with the internet in potential scope or search-ability, but if you are in search of anything more than a magazine level of understanding, at least without paying or being a part of some sort of Lexis Nexus type service, sadly you will eventually have to go offline, at least now, which kinda sucks. I am sure that wont always be the case.

  26. Honestly, I like libraries, but this sign has convinced me of their absolutely irrelevance. They are the way of the dinosaurs, and this pathetic misinformation sign makes me sad. Die gracefully libraries, die gracefully!

    #1. Sure, not everything is on the internet, score 1 for the sign.

    #2. Sure, it can be hard to find certain things. Turns out, try looking for something esoteric in a library… and watch it fail as well.

    #3. Wow, poor point and trying to muddy the waters with porn and crazies. Low blow.

    #4. Abridged works! Your right, thank god libraries only carry unabridged versions…. wait a second.

    #5. … not even trying to make a point on this one, just something the sign DOES NOT LIKE!

    #6. Kindle and iPad for those who like natural light or backlit. Generation away my ass. Getting new books with a couple clicks rather than going to the library is the real win.

    #7. … no one else is doing it! We shouldn’t either, progress is for the weak!

    #8. Holy made up numbers batman! Google has already done 12 million (according to the math here, spending 24 billion dollars on it… I doubt that) and intends to do all 130 million and counting in the next decade (quarter trillion dollars according to made up sign numbers).

    #9. The internet is new and fancy, and can’t possibly cover stuff older than itself… wait… yes it can, of course it can, this point is patently dumb.

    #10. E-Books — now just as portable as books!

  27. Hey, 10 things that are better in libraries, does not mean Libraries are overall better. I can come up with 10 positive things about having to stay home with the flu, that doesn’t mean the getting the flu is better then being healthy.

    I agree with SOME of the items on this list, but I’d prefer it was “Ten things the internet could learn from a library.”

    We have enough false apprehensions of having only one choice or the other.

  28. Look, I like libraries as much as the next guy, but this sign belongs on for it’s utter bonkersness.

    “NOT! We all want to save money but this isn’t the way.” Doesn’t even attempt to make a rebuttal. There are plenty of sound reasons why this isn’t feasible currently (publishers aren’t ready to allow this, and the public is too masochistic to force them), and instead they revert to slang from the 1990s and stammering bluster.

    1. Seriously. Why even list it if they aren’t going to explain why not? It makes the entire sign look like one big, “nuh uh.”

  29. This sign gives a bad name to all the bad-ass librarians I know. The sentiment is good, but as people have pointed out, some of these items don’t stick :-/

  30. Certainly the Internet and ebooks have their good qualities. They really aren’t a substitute for a library, though, be it home, public, or private.

  31. I’m studying to be a librarian right now –yes, there IS a degree for that. The specific argument on that sign aside, I wouldn’t want to work for a library that believes tech is irrelevant to libraries.

  32. It is a shame that the gate-keepers of knowledge are so little informed about what is happening with the internet.

    1. Not everything is in the library either. I do not know any library that could currently afford to contain all of the books that are on the internet.
    2. It is not hard to find things on the internet. That would be a good reason to consult a librarian. Why aren’t the Milford librarians taking the time to teach then online critical thinking skills required to find academically viable materials?
    3. The internet contains numerous repositories of vetted information (open access journals, MERLOT, etc. Librarians have the opportunity to catalog these repositories and again, teach the critical thinking skills required to find good information.
    4. Exactly my point. What these librarians don’t know about the internet is hurting our children.

    I continue my tirade here:

  33. you had me until, “reading on any e-reader is a chore.”

    “more than a generation away” my ass

  34. The hypocrisy and irony are making my head ache. Here is an article, also written by the same man, for sale on

    From the summary:

    A search of public libraries paints a bleak picture of politically conservative reading material available to the public. The Electronic Conservative Clearinghouse Library would make conservative literature available to the public. Books, periodicals and mass media published through the Internet would benefit users regardless of location and cost a fraction of the price of traditional libraries.

    Or, in other words:

    Article 1: Libraries rock, Internet libraries sucks
    Article 2: Let’s build an Internet library because libraries suck.

  35. I love our local public library. It’s a great place for kids to play with books, for people who wouldn’t otherwise have Internet access to have Internet access, for kids to learn how to cite books in their school reports, and to pick up a pile of light fiction for the weekend.

    There’s also certainly still a place for reference libraries (probably one per large center or school), and if we assume this sign is in a proper reference library, it makes some more sense. I mean, I love the Internet; I remember what it was like to not know something (especially something to do with new technology) and have no real recourse. However, there is certain kinds of information that is still hard to find. I was about to give an example: the last thing I failed to find on the Internet was the Preambles to the Articles of War of the Royal Navy. However, I just tried again and now it’s the first result (though on a site dedicated to Patrick O’Brian historical fiction, which might not be ideal if I really needed to trust the answer).

    Anyways, for the “branch” libraries, there seems to be a real split among the librarians I see. Some seem to understand how a small library fits into a modern community. Others are still trying to run the library for the patrons of 1987. I had a librarian shush me out of the children’s section a while ago; my one-year-old was banging a board book on a table. The only people in earshot were three-year-olds playing on a train, and a teenager playing a Flash game. At this point in history, I think a library’s purpose is better served by my kids experiencing a bunch of books than it is by preserving quiet for somebody who theoretically could come in to do some research (and by research, I mean read self help books, Word 97 for Dummies, and the Encyclopedia).

  36. A good reference librarian at a local public library is worth their weight in gold sometimes – and a shout out to the ones here in Tallahassee at the Leon County Public Library, because you DO rock! – but there’s nothing wrong with electronic means either.

    To blame “the Internet” is an error. It’s not “the Internet” that is the problem, it’s the trolls, slugs, and worms out there – and you can encounter those folks in the stacks at your favorite library too.

    As for e-readers: how many of the people at that library would give up their cell phone and go back to pulse-dialing phones made by Western Electric in black Bakelite? As nearly all commenters are pointing out, both e-readers _and_ books have their advantages.

    1. Those old rotary western electric phones are the most comfortable phones to talk on. Cell phones are actually really awful to talk on for an extended period of time. Best of both worlds if i could connect my home line to my cell phone network. Then i could just use my cell phone when away from home.

        1. Those are cool. There are several old roatry phones around in my family though, just hope they can still be used when land lines finally actually die off

  37. Half of the reasons given make no sense at all. I love libraries, but this is really stupid.

  38. #11 The internet is just a series of tubes!

    Anti-interwebs propaganda at the library. Wholly inaccurate and unconvincing.

    I like libraries, but havn’t been in one in a while. It seems what they do have is the poorest representation of books on any given subject, and then only a few can have copies at once.

    Better poster would be – Ten ways the library is using the internet to not suck as much.

  39. It’s a great idea to put all our books and knowledge on electronic proprietary devices that require electricity to operate. What could possibly go wrong with that?

  40. These arguments are specious. E-ink resolution, contrast, color and touch screen sensitivity will vastly improve with time. The cost of digitizing a book may be around 10 cents a page and besides you only have to digitize it once and everybody can get a copy. Currently there are some issues and the technology needs to improve before E-books replace print but, it is going to happen and when it does, Library’s mandate in a society will have to change radically.

    1. E-ink resolution, contrast, color and touch screen sensitivity will vastly improve with time.

      What was that again? I was distracted by all the hovercars outside.

  41. Books are better.
    Film is better.
    Vinyl is better.

    And before you respond, allow me to just say “Go piss up a rope.”

  42. Fool’s Gold: Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library:
    Kindle edition: $16.49
    Paperback: $45.00

  43. In 1997 they were already preaching this at the library at my collage.

    Maybe something it is good for. I remember the Library in Pomona, used to have a very large smoking lounge, users can come in and smoke with the books.

  44. I’d like to hear if some librarians agree or disagree with that sign (other than the one/ones who posted it in that library). My local library is already distributing ebooks and downloadable audio books. As with almost every point on this list, good libraries are incorporating tech, not worrying that it will replace them.

    “Virtual state library”, like = Michigan eLibrary. It doesn’t necessarily replace a state library, but it supplements the hell out of local libraries.

    Re: “Quality control doesn’t exist” and “a mile wide and an inch deep” — see Clay Shirky, information overload vs. filter failure. . “Filtering” is as much of a problem for finding good or appropriate info in paper books and libraries as it is for anything conveyed digitally. Assessing the credibility of sources is as much of a problem with paper books and newspapers as it is for things we read on the internet.

    1. Academic research librarian here. :) You are probably only going to get one viewpoint, since really, anti-internet librarians are unlikely to even know about Boing Boing.. but I’ll go ahead anyway.

      Some librarians do feel threatened whenever they hear something akin to “the death of the library”, usually related to a discussion about the internet. And yeah, that’s a little scary. But most of us see the internet as a wonderful tool for discovering all sorts of things. Sure, those doing scholarly research need to learn about the limitations of using the internet to find good information, but I promise you that most of us aren’t sitting there hissing at our computers. Just as an example, a quick Facebook search for “library” will show you how many libraries out there are trying (for better or worse) to use the internet to connect users with information, because that’s what libraries and librarians are here for.

      And thanks to those who’ve chimed in with various reasons that they love the library. Public libraries are a great value in communities, and I hope they remain that way for some time.

    2. I agree with the overall sentiment, though the sign obviously simplifies some aspects of the argument and challenges some biases of the technophiles who comment on BoingBoing.

      The Internet is useless if you don’t have access to it (as many poor Americans do not) and if you don’t know how to do proper searches (as most people don’t).

      A librarian can help you find that one article that would make your paper but would otherwise go unnoticed because it’s in a specialty database. They can put into your hands books that are out of print, not digitized and have orphaned copyrights and never will be.

      There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are indexed in Google.

  45. I spent most of my grade school years volunteering my time in libraries (yes, I was -that- kind of dork), and I love the smell of libraries and bookstores and I love the tactile feel of books, and I think that reference librarians are an excellent community resource.

    However, I have to admit that I’ve read more in the last 3 months or so that I’ve had an eReader than in probably the 3 years before that. It’s lightweight, convenient, remembers my place, fits nicely into my backpack, and allows me to buy new books on the fly, allows me to read 5 or 6 books at a time (which I couldn’t do at all if I had to carry physical books with me), and allows me to read for a few minutes on the bus during which time I would otherwise just be staring out the window.

    As several people have pointed out, this sign (and other sentiments like it) miss the point: librarians should be learning how to leverage the Internet as an additional research tool and then teaching people those skills, rather than pretending like it’s not there.

    Yes, books are great. But information flows more easily, more quickly and less expensively online, and I would like to think that a true librarian would feel that their job is to “help people find information”, rather than “help people find books”.

  46. sex in the stacks is not listed, or is this just a rumor told to college freshmen?

    but without the sex in the stacks, then i would say my ipod is better than a library.
    try reading hp lovecraft without a tap dictionary. i don’t know how they did it in the day or what they were thinking.

  47. but then again, now that i think about it, a library adds a sense of community. a good place for the kids to go so that i don’t have to hear them.

  48. What a bunch of floppy whiners. Umm, haven’t google and the folks at instructables already placed #8 at fractions of a penny per page if not book?

    Let me see, when I go to my library I sit at a computer (not an old fashioned text terminal running off the county server) and run a (gasp!) web browser. Yes, I search the catalog over the internet. Just like I can at home, using the internet. I’d use the card catalog, but it’s long gone. All of it’s cards used up in the 90s as scratch note paper. When I’m really stuck and ask a librarian, what do they do? They break out the internet and show me how to search using queries and services I didn’t previously know existed. Wow! All of this on the internet. Did I mention I can request books that my library doesn’t have for inter library loan, via the internet! they will even tell me when my requested books have arrived for pick up via e-mail, another service of, you guessed it, the internet. I suspect in the next decade the author of that list will be unemployed and disgruntled because they failed to see the value in and learn how to properly use, the internet.

  49. A couple of things to note:

    -DRM on e-books are ugly things. In many ways, you don’t own a .xtx file, you own simply have permission to view. A book is a book is a book. Also, once created a book requires little more in terms of power to be accessed. E-readers speak to a reliable grid more than n

    -The sign dates from 2001, so the quip about e-book readers being a generation or so off…not bad future-casting actually!

    -Information glut is the biggest complaint I get from patrons. They want to trust Yelp but they heard some random bad story here or there about the service. A good chunk of my bibiliographic instruction is about sounding out good databases, weighing the pros and cons for what you need and settling on what you’re comfortable using.

    -Libraries and the internet work together to connect people on and offline. Sounds like pablum, but it’s so very true.

  50. Its no surprise that so many BoingBoing readers fail to see the underlying point of the list. So many people are perpetually wired in that they think: “If its not on the internet, it doesn’t exist!”

    I for one, want my doctor to use the Medical Library database instead of Googling my symptoms.

    Why isn’t the medical library database on Google? Because research and peer review costs money.

    1. I for one, want the Medical Library Database on the internets.

      Research and peer review cost money, yes, but it’s mostly publicly funded anyway, so we’ve already paid.

  51. There is a place for Libraries and a place for the Web and a place for using the Web at Libraries (and for using Libraries on the Web). It is not a case of either one or the other.

  52. Some background: I am a reference librarian working in a public library (and I have a Master’s degree in the subject). I have a Nook. I use Overdrive through my library. I am not afraid of the Internet. I actually use it every single day to help patrons.

    Seems like this sign is super out of date and might need some updating. However, the library, whether academic or public, remains a very important institution in our society. For universities, research could not proceed without a good library. Who are the ones buying access to JSTOR? Who are the ones managing multi-million dollar collection budgets and providing access? Librarians, of course. They themselves are fantastic resources because many have other graduate degrees in addition to their library science background. I have as yet to meet a grad student who got their degree without using the library website or talking to a librarian.

    For public libraries, that’s more of an everything to everyone situation. That is, everyone has different, valid, and poignant reasons for using the library. We still help a lot of people with a wide variety of topics. A big part of what we do is figuring out how to stretch our budgets and share resources (books, databases, etc) in an efficient way to benefit our community.

    Overall: libraries are trying to show how they’re still valuable to their communities. This sign isn’t helping because it’s 10 years old and has some weak arguments.

  53. The whole thing about digitizing books is somewhat disheartening. Digitizing old reference texts would be a Godsend for academia. For now, I have access to a library that has a lot of the niche texts that get cited in the papers I read. That won’t last forever, though, and I would love to be able follow references without leaving my desk.

  54. “I’d like to hear if some librarians agree or disagree with that sign …”

    I find that sign to be deeply embarassing for the entire profession.

    The best that can be said in its defense is that the article it’s based on was published in April of 2001 (in American Libraries, vol. 32, issue 4, page 76).

    To understand the historical moment, most of America was still using dial up, Wikipedia was only a couple of months old, and the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer did not even have cellphones yet – much less iPads and Nooks. Much of the dot-com bubble’s hype included bold prognostications that that society could replace libraries with the Internet, and now, a year after the crash, cash-strapped municipalities were seriously considering their options.

    So that’s the context of the 2001 article. But for the sign to be up, in a public or academic library, in 2011, there is really no defense (unless it’s standing as an artifact in some kind of display). The original article was deeply shortsighted, as time has shown, no doubt the product of a backward-looking member of the profession. A quick review of Mr. Herring’s professional publishing history reveals a number of articles *opposing* the American Library Associations principles of Intellectual Freedom extending into the digital age! (ie. OMG PRON IN TEH LIBERRIEAS!)

    Well, ten years later and he’s kept his skills sharo: it appears that now he attempts to peddle this brief article online in book form for an outrageous sum, despite the article’s full content being available in many places. It also appears that he sells the poster himself, through the website of Winthrop University: ( and probably at professional conventions and other venues as well.

    Sadly, some librarians (or Marketing Directors, or Board Members) at Milford seem to think it’s still relevant, but I’m sorry to say that it just makes us all look bad.

    I would have liked to get my comments in earlier on this thread, but after school hours at my branch and we are wall to wall with kids and adults using the library. (Want to see all hell break loose? Be here when the Internet goes down for 5 minutes. Sheesh.)


      oh that CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act)

  55. Paid for by the Buggy Whip Association of America.

    What’s funny (or sad, really) is some libraries are now removing the books in the stacks because nobody goes to libraries for those. It’s about childrens’ books, periodicals, internet, climate control, quiet study area.

    1. “What’s funny (or sad, really) is some libraries are now removing the books in the stacks because …”

      Keep in mind that librarians have always rotated through books and been faced with choices of what to keep and what to throw out, if only because of limited space. I’m sure with a little digging we could find writings by librarians and patrons from 100, 200, 500+ years ago debating whether they should have gotten rid of one book or periodical and picked up another. And they’ve had this debate or dilemma every time some new technology comes into the picture, whether to buy microfilm of some newspaper and throw out the hard copy, whether to buy an encyclopedia on CD-rom and throw out the hard copy, etc.

  56. The ironic thing about most of these comments is that they betray a profound misunderstanding on how libraries work, and the type of work that a lot of libraries are involved in now. So keep being smug about some outdated sign put up in some small public library.

  57. It’s true though, the internwebs are not a substitute for the libraries.
    Internet also isn’t a substitute for nightclubs, golf courses, hospitals and a host of other things.

    I love the net. When I had no access to it I went to the library every day. To use the internet there.

    Having access to the net, my visits to the ‘Brary are bi-weekly.
    I wouldn’t ever want to be without either.

    Stupid sign.

  58. Most of what you find on the internet is only 15 years old

    only 15 years old.

    Well, if it’s good enough for Eminem…

  59. I love the internet as much as the next guy but the library is still extremely important. I’ve had to use my university’s library, NYU’s, Columbia’s and the main NYPL branch and have gotten tons of information that I wouldn’t have been able to find via the web (JSTOR and all).
    The sign is kind of grasping at straws. They should have just kept it simple. You don’t realize the importance of libraries until you do real research.

    1. This is true, and as a scientific researcher I fully understand the value of libraries for this reason. But I believe that ultimately all that stuff should be open access – JSTOR and all the other academic databases being so closed is ridiculous in my mind.

      Imagine having access to all those databases from your home computer – no VPN into your university’s system or other annoying nonsense like that – why exactly are libraries necessary for this? They aren’t, they’re a middle man (though not a leeching one in this case). The money that goes to libraries to pay for the database subscriptions could theoretically go directly to the databases, provided they allow completely open access.

      Just a thought.

  60. Your caption regarding this sign is quite amusing. The people you list as all those that are in your library are just the people that get in your way as you try to get into the library in Vancouver, Canada. And we have less than a tenth of your population. Not so amusing after all, really.

  61. I also whole-heartedly disagree with the sign. The first two points seem to contradict each other “1) it’s not big enough, 2) it’s too big”, #4 is heresy, #5 is irrelevant, #6 is subjective, #7 also irrelevant, #8 & #9 patently false, and #10 also subjective (the day of the tablet cometh).

    That said, I don’t think this is a case of mere Luddism. I’m sure I could come up with 10 things libraries DO have on the internet – for the most part these just aren’t them. I go to my local library all the time!

    #1 on my list – what you find in the library is already paid for – ALL of it. You can get DVD’s at the public library. You don’t have to pay and you don’t have to wait for the mail. Similarly, if you’re doing serious research, while you can get science journals online, get ready to pay for a subscription, at the university, they’re there and they’re paid for.

    #2 would be about quality. It’s not that quality control doesn’t exist on the internet, that’s also a lie, but what you find at the library is certainly an order of magnitude higher then on the internet. The problem with the comparison though is if you know where to go on the internet, the quality is just fine. It’s not really an even comparison though, you must navigate to the good sources of information on the internet just like you have to navigate to good sources of information with a city (ie the library)

  62. I don’t usually post, but this one is notable this week.

    First, let me say that I worked in a library after school when I was a teenager. I love libraries.

    Second, 20 years later, I just moved to a new city and stopped by the library to get a card.

    I mistakenly waited in queue to use the catalog computer BEFORE getting a card. Turns out, you need a library card to search. So I let the next person go and re-queued at the information desk. Which also turned out to be wrong, I needed the customer service desk.

    The two books I was after weren’t in stock (not obscure authors either, dawkins and koontz). Interlibrary loan would be a week. The 3rd book I was after was an introduction to Spanish. “Those are gone to” the staff member says. “Because we are having free Spanish lessons upstairs.”

    “Great!” I thought, this is why libraries rock! “Can I attend?”.

    “Uh… actually, no. The teacher called earlier and said she won’t be able to make it tonight”.

    To their credit, I did get a library card. Nothing to read, but I got a shiny card. I am getting a Kindle next weekend, my two books and a Rosetta version of Spanish. Yes, I prefer paper books because you can take them to the beach, but it’s 45 minutes out of the way to go to the library. It just doesn’t fit my schedule. Yes, I could call ahead, wait for the interlibrary loan, etc. But why? I wasted a few hours in what could have been done in 15 minutes online.

    Let me say again that I LOVE libraries, I have heaps of fond memories there. I also have a lot of fond memories riding a tricycle.

    So just to get it out of my system:

    #1. No, but not everything is in the library either. Like the stuff I went there to get. Which IS on the Internet.

    #2. Are you serious? Learn how to use a search engine. It’s like a card catalog, you need to know how to use it.

    #3. And in every big city library, is a homeless guy peeing behind the rack.

    #4. Some texts are incomplete. How does the medium matter?

    #5. I’m not sure where this is going. I know libraries are getting screwed on digital distribution rights… but how is that an argument against the Internet?

    #6. I don’t have an e-reader yet, but have heard good things. I’ll make that decision for myself

    #7. Agreed, I think uni’s should definitely have libraries. Same reason I’ll go to a restaurant instead of a supermarket sometimes. Doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    #8. And building roads for these new-fangled horseless carriages would be crazy money.

    #9. I’d agree that most of it was added in the past 15 years. And the growth of human knowledge is exponential, so you could make the same argument that everything on the Internet in the past 15 years is much more than the sum total of libraries during the entire 18th century.

    #10. This was why I went to the library. But I’m told the e-readers have really progressed, and I’d prefer reading the book that was recommended to me on an e-reader than not reading it all because it’s out of stock.

    Sigh, /rant. I do love libraries, but my visit this week was a moment where I realized I’ll never go back. And that’s why this sign made me want to post.

    Anyway, have a good night guys!

  63. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are indexed in Google.” Thanks, Keith, excellent point.

    I have spent many an hour in libraries and always will. There is a hallowed feeling to them that a computer just cannot emulate. I also spend time online, probably more than is good for me. I order books from Amazon, but just don’t think an eReader would ever fit my lifestyle. I certainly wouldn’t throw one under the seat of my pickup, like the tattered paperback volume of Poe that has been read more times than I can count. Progress cannot be stopped, but we will lose something when libraries are no longer culturally relevant. It is inevitable that this will happen, but we’re farther away from it than the content of that poster taken from a 2001 library trade journal fears it to be. Patronage in my city library has risen by an idiotic amount due to the economy. One can hardly move around in there during the lunch hour. Families are using it as their primary entertainment source, both for books and DVD video because usage is covered by the taxes they pay. And we can’t ever lose sight of the fact that digital content is easy to control and profit from. This gives gigantic amounts of control to the people who provide the content. Just refer to publishers of eBooks who want to make the copies bought by libraries self destruct after 26 check outs because that is the average life of a hard cover. This means that the benefits of digital content are being both ignored and exploited at the same time. Profit dictates that this be so. Expect to see more of this in the future to the detriment of all but the few. I foresee access to information being more controlled than it ever has once all content is digital. If you don’t think this is so, please refer to the endless posts of copyright control that are justifiably the mainstay of this website.

  64. Funny, I always think of the library as an extension of the internet, not an alternative.

    It’s also the best place to pirate movies and music.

  65. The library is free.

    The internet is free, for now.

    If you want to read the NY Times in the library, you don’t have to pay a quarter…

  66. Libraries and physical collections are important for a lot of reasons, but none of the ones here.

    Libraries are about the free access of information for the public. That includes the internet.

    Also to address that quality issue; if you arent in an academic library you arent getting quality control anyway.

    Also I agree with some commentators JSTOR should be accessible to everyone for free (it wont but should be) – I thouhgt i’d lost access after uni but thank god for my National Library of Wales reader’s ticket. Remote login via athens or something, most excellent (forget if I have EEBO but I hope i do)

    I think the British Library is almost certainly going to have a similar thing (I hope so as im moving to london soon so will be getting my ticket) so if you live in the UK try them if you want JSTOR and access to some other collections.

  67. At 104 comments, I haven’t been able to read them all, so I may be repeating someone’s point.

    I’m married to a librarian and neither she nor her cohorts fear the internet or technology the way the author of this list appears to.* Librarians have adapted to work with technology not against it, which is a losing battle.

    *I realize this sentence is a grammatical nightmare but I’m tired and I can’t seem to get my head around it enough to fix it.

  68. Allthough I totally agree with the general message, I think there is much ignorance in this sign.
    As an example, I’ll just pick point 9) that says that most books on the net are at most 15 years old: I worked for 10 years in a company whose main function is to digitalize antique and rare libraries and bring this content to the net for anyone to enjoy. This is some invaluable progress!

  69. * I love libraries as much as I do because they are free (to everyone) resources by which one can acquire the means to make their lives better for themselves and others. Public libraries often offer databases of learning and self-empowerment tools such as Learning Express Library.

    * The library professions and library professional associations are advocates of information literacy, the right to read and the privacy of patrons. No library will sell, rent or otherwise distribute for monetary gain, users’ personal information.

    * Libraries and library associations have been staunch advocates against censorship. Check-out the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week section. Please also see the Role of Librarians in Protecting Patron Privacy.

    * Libraries have no vested monetary interest in any particular information resource. Guidelines for collection development are created by committee with a well-documented set of standards for doing so.

    * Academic and Research University Libraries also have scholarly indexes of databases of high-quality content that has been subject to scholarly critique and peer-review.

  70. Given that my previous comment – for whatever reason – appears to have been deliberately censored, I’ll present you this:

    What I love the most about libraries that they offer human beings equal opportunity to better their lives and that of others by means of free access to information and information resources without selling, renting, bartering or otherwise disseminating out users’ personal information for monetary gain.

    1. Given that my previous comment – for whatever reason – appears to have been deliberately censored

      I don’t want to spoil the fantasy, but the system holds comments with multiple links until someone can approve them by hand. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some puppies to kick.

  71. I forget there are individuals who post and anchor URLs with undesirable content and/or intent. I reek of naivete that way.

  72. Allow me to be quixotic here on a point that seems to get raised in discussions like this. One is the references that get made to the horse and buggy as obsolete or backward technology to make a “get with the program grandpa” point.
    Lets look at this from a different perspective:
    Fuel used: 100% renewable biomass.
    Waste produced: Organic fertilizer (some methane gas to be fair).
    The buggy is made mostly of renewable organic materials, and is owner repairable, and low maintenance.
    I know that hurtling along in a metal box at dangerously high speeds while being isolated from the immediate environment is representative of the progress that civilization has made over the last 100 years.
    As to libraries: after a few thousand years of serving as repository of knowledge of mankind, and latterly as a free source of all things printed for the populaces of just about everywhere literacy has risen, I think the joyful kicking to the curb that they get from so many seems … unseemly.

    1. Yes, horses only use renewable biomass, and are nice to have in low densities. But if anywhere close to the number of people who drive cars tried using them, cities would be choked with far more waste than now, and occupy a much larger ecological footprint in terms of vast land use. Horses and buggies are obsolete not because they’re inferior in every way, but because they simply don’t work in a modern context (well, not all, but most contexts).

      1. I was not advocating replacing the modern car with a horse and buggy. My point was that the “modern context” doesn’t always live up to its billing. As an example: our cities are often choked with automobile waste; nice, invisible, odourless, toxic, modern waste.

  73. I’m all for libraries and don’t own an ereader (although my local library apparently just started loaning Nooks), but, well… *cough* I guess I’ll just leave this here.

    1. Slanty bookshelf to the left looks like a picture, part of another poster that butts up against the “Why the internet is no substitute” poster. It seems to be lit differently than the shelves to the right of the poster. Also I recognize some of the pixels.

  74. The sad thing to me is that it sets this up as a conflict between libraries and the Internet. Anyone who’s paying attention to the profession knows that libraries are much more than books these days. Most have considerable electronic holdings and offer Internet access to those who don’t have home computers. Library schools study how people interact with electronic media. And libraries still advocate for free access to all information – a much better reason why they can’t be replaced than any of the ones on this sign!

  75. REAL REASON. Internet info will eventually be completely controlled by government. “but the library would say thats a conspiricy theory”. Your E-reader will end up in the dump leaching heavy metals into the ground water.

  76. The library is dead, let technology move us forward. It’s time to shut the doors. We can use some of the saved money to provide computers to people who can’t afford it. We will still need some online librarians to help users.

    If we have to keep wasting public tax dollars then we need to turn those libraries into something productive like public gyms. We can require people who are collecting unemployment to keep the gyms clean and running. That way we can get some use out of people living off the “government dime” while reducing obesity.

    With the public budget issues we are facing, it’s time to pull the plug on many libraries.

  77. I wish I could apply a big label to the post that says, “This sign is 10 years out of date! And we the librarians know it!” But I’m a librarian, so I really want to a) label things; b) save the time of the reader (who may be compelled to leave comments about how of touch *the librarians of 10 years ago* were with 2011 tech).

  78. The “libraries vs. internet” concept is foolish because libraries work WITH the internet to bring patrons information. We purchase databases that individual patrons could never afford. We provide internet access for those who cannot afford it. We contract with e-book lending companies to bring patrons free reading in that medium. We provide research assistance to patrons who know how to type, but not how to formulate searches or choose keywords properly. We bookmark sites that are handy for common reference questions. I’m often amazed that we managed to do our jobs so well before the internet.

  79. While I can see why the author of the poster – and the library – feel the way that they do, I consider it extremely unfortunate that this is “out there” as representing the argument for libraries, as if there is some epic struggle going on between libraries and the Internet. As many have already pointed out in these comments, this viewpoint obscures the many, many benefits both have to offer.

    Libraries are not dead or dying; they are changing as they always have in response to cultural shifts. Yes, we need to recognize their value to society and defend them against budget cuts, etc. but this is not an either/or debate and to turn it into one only makes libraries and librarians seem foolish.

  80. This poster is based on an article from 2001, when e-readers were not as good as they now are.
    Databases such as JSTOR will never be completely open access because they are owned by publishers who charge library consortiums quite a lot of money to have access for their users.
    The fact remains in many communities libraries provide a place for users to access the internet, read the paper, meet friends, study, borrow DVDs and CDs for free, learn new skills, and many more things. They are not just buildings that hold books.
    People who are pro-internet and anti-libraries seems to forget that not everyone can afford a computer, not everyone has internet access. For this libraries are indispensible. In my community the library has three book clubs aimed at different age groups and it provides much needed community for those who are alone. For some of the older library users it is where they go to play bridge and meet their friends. Where else can you go and do this totally for free these days?
    Places that provide internet access (cafés and restaurants, etc) generally expect you to buy from their services in order to use the “free” wi-fi. Some people just can’t afford this. The library provides for this.
    The library has computer skills classes and adult literacy classes enabling users to up-skill, something vital in this economic environment. It works in conjunction with the internet these days, but people (students for example) still use sources which are not reliable, librarians can help you find more relevant and genuine sources. Believe it or not, many people are really not very good at searching, even using something as simple as Google.
    Libraries’ place in the community may have moved away from just lending books, but it still has a place in the community and I do think it will continue to do so.

  81. You might be interested in checking out the updated list by American Libraries. Closer to my experience as a librarian in a large urban public library than the original list (we were so naive then!)

  82. Libraries pay thousands of dollars to subscribe to databases that aren’t open to the public. Project Gutenberg has books from before 1936 mostly, which isn’t helpful. I can tell most of you commenters aren’t students.

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