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Are Libraries Still Relevant?  RSS feed

 
master steward
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This stumbled into my inbox today and it asks the question: Are Libraries Still Relevant?



The full podcast is here: https://cms.megaphone.fm/channel/STU9669931632?selected=STU4626188696

I just got back from picking up another armload of books from my local library.  I owe them thirty cents right now in late fees, but they were kind enough to let me pay next time.  

The topics I brought home today are mostly about photography (they have over 400 books on the topic, so I chose 20 to start with), writing, making ink, and growing wool.  As you've noticed, there's a link to a place on the internet where I can learn all these things, and the internet is great for getting started.  However, books give us the opportunity to delve deeper into a subject in a friendly, non-threatening way.  I love my local library and my local librarians are incredibly supportive.

One of the things I talk to my librarian about are books that I want to read but they don't have.  When I first learned about permaculture, they had zero books on the topic.  So I asked the librarian about it and she showed me how to request new books (they are always eager for suggestions on what readers want to read), how to do an interlibrary loan, and how there is this fancy system in place that knows what books people want to read because people check those books out from the library more often.  So basically, as I translated it into my head, the reason there weren't any books on permaculture is that I wasn't using the library enough.  So I requested a few books.  When they arrived they were very popular and about 5 months later, there were tonnes of books on permaculture available at the library.  

My library also lends out DVDs and streaming movies and music.  They lend out seeds through the Seed Library programme which includes free gardening lessons.  They lend out free passes to the museum.  I think the library is incredibly relevant.  

 
pollinator
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Every Friday a county wide group discusses how we can impart change to help better address addiction and mental health in our community...at the local library.

The entire third floor of my local library is dedicated to genealogy of Maine and beyond.

I can loan out far more then books at my local library. Want to know how mant watts each item in your home is using for phantom power, or power in general; just loan out the Kill-O-Watt that they have.

 
pollinator
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Books have a different "feel" and, for me, a much pleasanter one than a screen. A screen is the fire hose, a book is the sprinkler...?  Something like that.

Travis, +1

Lots of all kinds media; community gatherings (not religious), lectures, etc. Major plus. I don't much encourage the homeless to snore in the stacks, but on balance, that may be somewhat better than other alternatives. My local has obviously (w/out acknowledging it) removed _all_ the comfortable chairs. This is not something I really get behind, not least because _I_ want someplace good to sit! Aside from that, libraries are nothing but a plus.

Remains to be seen what the next gen of (presently) middle school kids feel about the situation.

Oh, and paper media survives well for a lot longer than most digital media.


Rufus
 
pollinator
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I think libraries are very important, especially in rural areas where (as already mentioned) they tend to be a center of learning and community events. The rural US used to be better developed than it is now; libraries were an important resource then too. I think that as time goes on and we continue to rebuild communities in the countryside libraries will be needed again. My librarians can always connect me with other people in the community; they know of all sorts of clubs and special interest meetups, and can point you in the right direction of any sort of specialized hire help. That goes both ways; if I ever had a business, say, running a home plant nursery, they would be very helpful at connecting me with potential local customers.
 
James Landreth
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I also want to add that I moved out here two years ago. I had only lived in other rural regions of Washington that are very different and several hours away. The library has been a huge resource for me (not only books and media) but also to help me meet people and feel welcome/have familiar faces. They have a master gardener plant sale which was an enormous help to me, because it showed me what people are successfully growing here. The microclimate is very different than even places I've lived that are only an hour away. This post has reminded me that I should really use my library even more.
 
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There are few places where a person can read in quiet without distraction, whether it’s a traditional paper book or multimedia device. Suburban libraries are still popular here because they offer many things to customers. Perhaps the most important is the ability to freely gain access to a professional Librarian and their knowledge of searching both new and old (sometimes ancient) filing systems.

Major city libraries are irreplaceable facilities for in-depth study and research, often interconnected with libraries worldwide. They also house actual historic documents about everything imaginable, which can be accessed by prior arrangement. Most of these types of documents are not freely available on the Web.

A growing interest in Australia are the pop-up ‘Street Libraries’:

STREET LIBRARY

Click on the ‘Find’ function and zoom in to a particular site to get an idea of the often quirky designs and placements.
 
pollinator
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Travis Johnson wrote:Every Friday a county wide group discusses how we can impart change to help better address addiction and mental health in our community...at the local library.



On a philosophical note, just as books are an item that you hold, smell, and turn the pages of, so too is a library where, as Travis notes, you interact face-to-face (in full present body) with others in your community.  As others have illuminated before, digital interaction and media have their power and benefits, but also a downside with regard to how we evolved.  Smart phones **may** keep you more connected with those close to you and otherwise, and the greater access to information afforded by digital connections **may** be more powerful than in-person discussion and dialog, but I feel strongly that something quite valuable gets lost when it all comes down to "information efficiency".  I suspect that before literacy was widespread,the town square or pub or other such meeting place served a similar purpose around which many gather at libraries today....interaction for interaction's sake.   So libraries seem to be a great crossroads for all types of exchanges, not just ones through which information solely flows.
 
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i'm gonna chip in my two cents here! Damn right, libraries are still relevant! And I enjoyed libraries a lot growing up, and then at some point I stopped going to them during junior high and high school, but now at college, I'm rediscovering the awesomeness of libraries! And two things I really enjoy about them are: I don't have to pay for the books, and I don't have to handle storing the books. Those are just two frugal and practical reasons why I'm really digging libraries again. And as before from childhood, I'm loving that I can read as much as I want to on whatever topics that interest me! And like a few other people, I love physical books so much more, and there's just a thing about how at libraries you will come across books that you would not have come across before, if you were just looking for books online.
 
pollinator
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Unfortunately, the library system here is terrible. I don't know if rural areas have better libraries because there isn't much else available, but here in the Bay Area, they are rather pointless. I actually have better luck at used book stores, which we have a lot of.
 
r ranson
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Unfortunately, the library system here is terrible. I don't know if rural areas have better libraries because there isn't much else available, but here in the Bay Area, they are rather pointless. I actually have better luck at used book stores, which we have a lot of.



What is it specifically that you found disappointing in your library?  

The Bay Area, that's San Fransico, right?  I went to one in Berkley and it was amazing to see what great books they had.  I've also read that some of the libraries in the area lend allotment gardens to those who live in apartments and don't have access to land.  This also includes lending seeds and free classes.  
 
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Our library has a sign in it that says "libraries will get you through times without money better than money will get you through times without libraries". My family was pretty poor growing up with my mom raising my brothers and I alone and books were my comfort so many times. I was just fascinated that anything I wanted to know about,  someone had written about it. I read everything I could get my hands on,  fiction and non- fiction alike.  Like others have said, I enjoy reading from a book so much than a screen. It seems much more personal to me somehow and i can lose myself in a book in a way i never can when reading from an electronic device.
 
Stacy Witscher
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raven - I'm in the East Bay, Alameda County, which includes Berkeley and Oakland, but they don't participate in the county library system. So, I'm in a small community in the county and the library is very limited. Some of my disappointment comes from the fact that I've been spoiled, as a child I had access to both the Palo Alto libraries and the Stanford libraries, not much can compare to that. And I've spent my life surrounded by book people. My parents, friends and myself, probably have a better selection of texts that I'm interested in than most libraries. And, at this point in my life, I don't really read fiction, which seems to be the focus of our little library. Berkeley has a lot of amazing used bookstores and an incredible architecture/building bookstore, although it's smaller than it used to be.
 
pollinator
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I love libraries and you all have done a great job of laying out the reasons. 😃 I have fond memories of the library in my elementary school and trying new books plus checking out and rereading the same favorites too. Swiss family Robinson anyone? I have always appreciated them.

I enjoy the variety that is available and that I can "shop" the aisles and try many different genres, authors and topics for free. And yes I love reading actual books. I absorb them better and there is comfort in them.
 
pollinator
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Hello, love this thread. I am a librarian in Stevensville Montana and love to see people loving their libraries. There has been a lot of talk about what you love about your libraries, but what can libraries do to improve?

As an awesome bunch of Permies, I would love your opinion on what the library could provide to make it better. Sorry for hijacking the thread and I do obviously believe that libraries are still relevant.
 
r ranson
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I wish I could have more access to the academic journals.

When I was at Uni, I was able to login to this system to view academic papers and stuff.  I miss that now that I'm not a student anymore.

I would also like to use the interlibrary loan system to borrow some books from the university libraries.  We have a great interlibrary loan system here, but it doesn't cover academic textbooks and other research tools like that.  

I would also like a system where I can put my name on a list for discards.  Sometimes the library sells off old books, but I never know when or where this is.  I would love it if I could say "hey library, I love this book so much that I would pay you money if you want to sell it to me - can you let me know if you ever want to get rid of this?"

I also miss having good writing skills, but I'm too tired today.
 
r ranson
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My library has access to some online trade school courses.  But these are part of a bigger course that I don't understand.

I imagine it would be nifty if my library had more online courses on skills.  Right now I'm learning about photography so it would be neat to borrow an online class about that for a week.  But this might be too tricky.



Ops, I discovered our library has access to something called  LYNDA.com which is supposed to have online courses.  I know what I'm doing for the next few hours.  
 
pollinator
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Stacy Witscher wrote:

they don't participate in the county library system

Stacy 1) if you can afford it, some libraries that are outside your 'tax' region will allow you to join for the equivalent of the taxes you aren't paying, 2) this sounds like a good issue to bring up at your local "City Hall" or its equivalent.

I am part of what is called a "regional library system" whose region is a huge part of Vancouver Island and many of the small Islands like Hornby. (British Columbia). There are downsides to such a system - you often have to order and wait for a book to arrive from some place like the Queen Charlotte Islands or Uclulet! But the flip side is that I know that people in relatively isolated communities have access to some pretty cool books. I'm clearly not the only Permie in the system, but I am the one that convinced them to by Shepard's "Restoration Agriculture" and then convinced them to buy two more copies when every time I tried to get the book for a friend to read, there was a 6 month waiting list! When I discovered they had a copy of Jacke's "Edible Forest Gardens" Vol 2, I questioned why they didn't have Vol 1 and the next thing I knew they only 3 copies of both volumes. That tells me that Public libraries are *very* relevant for the permaculture movement.

Daniel Ray wrote:

what can libraries do to improve

This might seem like a bizarre suggestion, but one of my pet peeves is the apparent drop in the quality of driving in my community. I'd like to see a driver trainer computer in my library for anyone to use. It would help people assess their abilities and remind them of things they've gotten sloppy about. With the large number of seniors in my community, it is becoming a larger issue, as they've got the highest accident rate after the beginner driver.  I also agree with Raven's suggestions about giving people access to professional journals and online training courses.
 
master steward
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My local libraries don't have much--if anything--in the way of items to rent out or seed libraries. BUT, they have awesome stuff for kids. They have various different story times for various ages of kids, which ends up being like an hour of free preschool twice a week for kids--they get stories read to them, do little finger plays (i.e. songs with hand motions), play time and crafts. It's pure gold for parents, and I wish I wasn't so introverted that I could get motivated to go to them more often. They've got nice play areas for the kids, too, so you can have story time and then the kids can play quietly or read books in their own corner (in one library, the kids area is like 1/6th of the library!). The libraries were also a great refuge during the month of toxic wildfire smoke we had--there was air conditioning and filtered air and things for kids to do. We went there a lot! We also made use of the library when our modem broke and we were waiting for it to be serviced--the free internet at the library was wonderful!

One nearby library has a science hour, too, and teaches a scientific concept to the kids, complete with an experiment. Good stuff.

Our library system also has "Bookmobiles" in which the librarian drives a mini bus full of books to elementary schools once a month. They read stories to the kids and the kids get to pick out their own books from the library. When I taught preschool, the kids LOVED bookmobile day, and I loved getting to read all their chosen books to them. It was a great way to find wonderful books, many of which I've procured for my own kids.

Our library system also has DVDs to check out, as well as the ability to watch some movies for free from home, kind of like netflix. And it has access to ProQuest and other databases of scholarly articles, and I can access it form home with my library card, which is awesome!

I miss the excellent library I had access to in college--so many books and places to hide and we could request books from University of Washington's big library.

All in all, I wish I had more time to visit the library.
 
r ranson
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I've been on a reading spree this month.  I've read two to four books a week, not including research where I don't read cover-to-cover.  That's an average of 3 books a week, for six weeks, that would have cost me $12 a book... that equals a lot of money I didn't spend on books this winter.  Because I borrowed the books from the library, I saved over $200 which means I don't have to work that many extra hours to pay for my reading habit which means I have more time to read and do fun things.  


 
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YES!  My county library system hosts free workshops on a variety of topics, offers free exercise classes and will buy (so far Permaculture and Wildcrafting) books that I request.  By browsing the new release shelves I am exposed to a variety of topics and authors I would never think to explore on the internet.  Speaking of the internet, it is free to all.  Very important in an economically depressed area.  They exhibit art and provide free meeting space for any community group that requests.  In my opinion, libraries are examples of democracy at it’s finest.
 
Sonja Draven
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Along the lines of improving libraries:

I understand why they don't but I wish they had earlier hours on the weekend.  It would be so nice to be able to stop by on my way to or from running all the other errands or take my laptop to the library to write and browse in the morning on Sat/Sun.  They don't open until noon and by then I'm already back home again and going back to the library often doesn't happen.

I'd also like more new books.  I discover so many different authors and titles by browsing the new offerings and more would be nice.

Finally, I like it when they have author talks or learning workshops and they don't seem to have them very often.  Most activities are geared towards kids (which I appreciate for the kids) but not as many for adults (or if there are, they are during regular business hours so I can't attend).
 
pollinator
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One of the librarians told me that when she sees something come in on my hold list, she frequently adds it to hers. She thinks I have an interesting mix in my reading tastes😃

In exploring the library website one day, I found a button for "suggest a title". Best find ever! Turns out you can suggest ten titles a month.  They dont always select them but will email me with a yes or no so at least I know whether to try to look elsewhere.

I love my library. I wish I could give them an apple 🍎 (Actually I occasionally bring them a box of chocolates)
 
pollinator
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My family are constantly using our library system here.

All the libraries on our island of ~500,000 people are linked up on one computer system, so there are a lot of books to choose from, and it's easy to 'suggest at title' to get them to order in more permaculture books. I would know a lot less about many subjects if I did not have access to this library.
 
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Relevant and likely to continue to exist are two very different things. We live in an increasingly digital world. The availability of web based access to relevant content is increasing at an exponential rate. Accessing these resources is becoming increasingly greater as technology is increasingly available (cheaper) to more people, and as more people relate to technology. Think about it...who doesn’t have a smart phone today? Further, these phones have capabilities that allow anyone to access content that was otherwise difficult or maybe even impossible to access even in a traditional library. Information is proliferating at an exponential rate of speed and I think libraries will slowly go the way the of the dinosaur only because we have the most powerful libraries ever conceived of...in our pockets. Sad, but I believe this is the future.
 
r ranson
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Mark Whitecavage wrote:...who doesn’t have a smart phone today? ....



Me.



Books have a marvellous advantage over the internet - their content is carefully chosen and curated.  The information on the internet is there-ish, but it's incomplete.  The internet is great for discovering new ideas, but I find it frustratingly ignorant when I want to discover the details.  So I turn to books for detailed research and understanding.  

The internet is changing so one day it may evolve into a truly epic resource to rival the libraries.  I think there's a long way to go.


But there's also cost.  I can read the book series I've been borrowing from the library.  It costs $12 per book and then I either have to store a copy of the file somewhere or hope the e-book provider doesn't change their mind and remove it from their catalogue.  I've had several good books that I purchased via Amazon, removed from my device because they pulled the book.  Alternatively, I can borrow the book as many times as I wish from the library, for free.  It takes them one to three days to get the book to my nearest location unless someone else has requested it first.  It may not be as fast as the internet, but I like that everything has its rhythm.  By borrowing the books from the library instead of buying them, I get to work about 3 days less a month because of all the money I save on books (and nearly 4 days a month I don't have to work because I don't have a smartphone or television subscription).  A whole weeks vacation a month.  Love it!

If I had a different e-reader, I could borrow these same ebooks from my library instantly for free.  
 
Tina Hillel
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One of the new librarians told me they love people who are high volume users when I had apologized for so many books on the hold shelf. Turns out their budget division for each branch is affected by those numbers more so for real books than the web stuff. It also shows that they are still a viable branch.  

To keep our libraries, we have to use them.  Off to make some more add ons to the hold list...
 
Sonja Draven
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I FINALLY got a smartphone a few months ago and I do like it (and my Kindle which I've had for several years) for many things but it has not replaced my desire / need for real books.  You should see my kitchen table.  I currently have 10 library books on it (pretty typical) - gardening, memoirs, minimalist, random fiction, humor.  I got them through a mix of holds, new book shelf and wandering the shelves.  

Even my nieces who have e-readers still love the library.  My sister often sends me pictures of my almost 4-year old niece absorbed in a book open on her lap.  My sister said she had a meltdown when they had to return some of her new favorites to the library but she was all smiles again with her bag full again.  And most of the time when I go to our library, the parking lot is full enough it's hard to find a spot.  Still very much being used.  (Oh, that's another suggestion though - I would add some 5 minute parking for people who want to drop off books and pick up holds.)

...  Mark, you could be right that someday that will happen.  But I don't see it being imminent.  
 
r ranson
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A few months ago I discovered that I can borrow map books from my library.  I was going to a nearby island and I mentioned to the librarian that the local Auto Association didn't have a map for the island and couldn't get one in on time.  She told me to hold on a moment, then came back with the mapbook I needed.  Brilliant!  

 
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What I like about printed books and libraries is that those books can't be changed. I wonder how many are aware of the Kindle controversy where they removed books people had paid for - ironically, 1984 and other books by George Orwell. If they decide to change what is in books you've already bought, how would you know?

While I love libraries, their choice to saturate their environments with WiFi means they aren't somewhere I could spend much or any time in. They aren't alone as WiFi is ubiquitous as are smartphones and all kinds of wireless in today's vehicles. So if I want books now, I'll have to read them online or buy them and have them shipped.
 
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Short answer - YES, LIBRARIES ARE STILL RELEVANT!

Long answer - As others have already noted, libraries provide free space for public meetings and cheap/free classes.  


The ability to read well is one of the major dividing lines between the haves and have nots in western (and probably eastern) society.  It prevents many teenagers and adults from getting further education or better employment.  It's a skill that is best mastered young and the best way for that to happen is to have available large numbers of free books in a wide variety of subjects available.  So, what makes kids want to read?  Adults know that reading is useful, but that isn't what inspires kids to become competent readers.  

I had a son who didn't have any interest in reading and was struggling in 3rd or 4th grade.  I got a copy of "Call it Courage" (a boys adventure story).  I read the first chapter to the family one evening and said I would read the next chapter the next night.  I left the book on the end table, but it disappeared.  My son devoured it that night and then started looking for more books like it.  He quickly became an excellent reader, once he found something he wanted to read about. Where is a kid going to get interesting books?  The Library!  Teachers don't always have a good bead on what an individual kid will want to read about.  Online reading is fine, but I didn't let my kids stroll through the internet unsupervised for long periods of time.  There's all kinds of crap on the internet that I didn't want my kids exposed to at their tender years.  The library offered the opportunity for my kids to read all kinds of stuff.  The younger ones got into manga (not my first choice, but it got them reading).  From there they went on to sci-fi, fantasy, poetry and eventually all kinds of non-fiction.  They used to like to measure how long the printout for the books they checked out on a family library trip was.  I think the record was something like 12 feet long.  A printout over 6 feet was normal.  

Some people have problems with reading off of screens for long periods.  Even if you have a computer, a desktop is not portable and a laptop is clumsy.  Even a tablet has problems with power availability.  It's hard to beat paper!  

I believe it was Isaac Assimov who said that the ultimate entertainment device would be small, easily portable, cheap, relatively resistant to damage, not require a power source and not bother other people in the area.  When we get there, it will be called a 'book'.  I read lots off of my phone and computer also, but those are just different ways of delivery.  When I travel, I find a book to take with me.  My phone won't last on a long trip.  Also, lots of stuff that was available years ago is available on line.  Lots is not on line also.  I have a collection of useful or favorite books that goes back decades.  A hard drive crash can wipe out an whole library online.  (Yes, a fire or flood can wipe out my personal library, but I've had a few hard drive crashes in the last 25 years. I have struggled along over 60 years without a single house fire or flood).   I love my computer and cell phone, but I still love books, and every little kid I've known does too.
 
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Location: Schofields, NSW. Australia. Zone 9-11 Temperate to Sub Tropical
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I can't think of a single reason why libraries aren't relevant and so many why they are.

On a permie level they fit the bill for so much in our lives, the principal reason is they are a hub where all people can meet to learn, socialise, be part of community, train our children and ourselves, have parts put aside for meeting and gatherings for different interest groups, access to media for those without computers.

Those who are isolated by illness or distance can also be included by mobile library units, or just simply the preference to handle real paper pages and linger over them instead of relying on "powered" modes of reading is so much more satisfying. Obviously there are many more reasons, but YES, libraries are more relevant today than ever before.
 
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Location: Utah
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About 15 years ago our NPR station reported on a study about how a good community library reduces petty crime. Basically,  if teenagers have a welcoming library to go to after school, they're less bored. The library in downtown SLC, which was just finishing when the radio did the report, is great, really more of a community center than just a library. So many wonderful events are held there on any given day.
 
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I strongly prefer paper books but have to admit I haven't been to a library in many decades. I shop used book stores or thrift stores instead.

Having said that, libraries are very important, if/when the grid goes down and all electronic data disappears having reference books available will be hugely important.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Tee-hee, I ran across this list of funny library signs and displays on facebook, and it's hillarious. https://www.demilked.com/creative-libraries/

Here's some of my favorites:

These poor men. So cold.



Batman returns...his books



Don't know how many claustrophobics would like this cone of silance!



I'm still wating for the procrastination display...



This one has a place you can listen to records!
 
I carry this gun in case a vending machine doesn't give me my fritos. This gun and this tiny ad:
Composting Chickens Comic (e)Book - The Ulitmate Guide to Composting with Chickens
https://permies.com/t/66064/Composting-Chickens-Comic-Book-Ulitmate
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