The immediate and obvious answer is costs currently prohibit distributing a small portable hard drive and computer to everybody in the world. Add to that issues of copyright for the material currently held in libraries, and you’d find the government providing a lot of largely empty hard drives to people, many of whom wouldn’t know how to use them.
Libraries appear to be increasingly redundant to the haves, but I think its an illusion. Much like the illusion that the have-nots have the same as the haves. Or don’t exist. Whatever cognitive dissonance you feel necessary to stop giving a shit and plough into the future.
Libraries, are a conceptually odd thing in the present era of late-consumer capitalism. There’s a big building in the middle of most towns and cities, where everything is free. You walk in, and you don’t have to buy anything, but you have access to this huge wealth of knowledge, learning, information and entertainment.
Almost all of that information, learning , entertainment and knowledge is only available through other sources at a cost. A huge cost in some cases. A library pays out a fortune in subscriptions to dense and ridiculous legal tomes. Then gives them to you. For nothing. Because you might need it.
Of course, if your ethics and knowhow and technology allow it, you can probably find a lot of that stuff for free through less reputable channels (I wonder if there are pirated law books? It seems a pretty niche thing.)
Libraries are still there for the people who can’t afford computers, who can’t work out how to steal stuff from the internet, for the people who like books, or don’t like staring at screens.
But not just for them. It’s for everybody. Everybody gets the same access to the library.
And it’s all built on trust.
Yes, you get fines if you bring your books back late. But really, you know you just have to bring them back. The fundamental notion of libraries is that something is lent, and returned. Resources are bought for the common use. They are shared. Everybody knows they are looking after the book (or whatever) for a short while, and then taking it back so that someone else can share that experience.
A lot of stuff gets stolen, and you can’t always find exactly what you’re after, but fundamentally, there is a concept of shared ownership and trust at the core of libraries.
You see similar things on the internet; wikis, creative commons, open source software and so forth. You can see, a direct link between the philosophy of libraries and the philosophy of these ideas.
This stuff is for everybody. It should be free for everybody. Sharing increases the value of something massively. The more people that can access it, the better.
I hope that public library buildings don’t crumble, but grow. I want more spaces, virtual and real, with that ethos behind them.
Because libraries have never just been physical spaces.
They are universes.
Illustration by Emma