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Bits and Pieces: Libraries gave us power… Civilization/Despot, Sean Hughes and the (indirect) link between Buffy and the 2000 US Presidential Election January 26, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.

I happened to visit the Central Library a week or two back, the first time in a month or so. And a fairly unwelcome surprise greeted me there. Instead of the previous desk just beyond the entrance there were now four self-service kiosks. Kiosks makes them sound grander than they are. They’re essentially free standing machines with a screen and a large platform on which one places the book to be returned or loaned. The platform is able to read a chip on the book, indeed when I used one simply by placing three books on it simultaneously it was able to read them all correctly. Handy, but…

I asked one of the staff what they thought, and they were remarkably positive. They particularly liked the fact they took pressure off the people working at the desks at lunchtime. And they told me that they were encouraging people to use them.

I’m no Luddite, and I can see how at lunchtimes these would be a real plus for people trying to get in and get out quickly, but hard to feel that this isn’t another step towards automation of public services. It’s not that they don’t need people, a library by its nature requires people to collate, stack, order and so on. But…

Anyhow, here’s a link to a photograph of said kiosks, and an article from the Telegraph from a while back which wouldn’t make one optimistic about the future. Does anyone know how widespread the introduction of these machines actually is?

Oh yeah. And one last thing. I got a printed out receipt telling me what books I’d withdrawn and when they were due. Again handy but…oddly cold and with more than a whiff of the transactional.

Speaking of books, many years ago I read Iain Banks thriller Complicity. And a pretty good read it was too. Anyhow, this would have been bout 1994 or 1995, and there was a description of a computer game in it called Despot which the protagonist plays addictively. It sounded at the time like a boosted up version of Sid Meier’s Civilization which I have to admit to being addicted to too, at least in its first and second incarnation, with better graphics and more interactivity. In the book one runs a civilisation competing with others, but it’s a bit more than that. It seems that the player can become engaged directly in battles, and in one scene the protagonist playing it sees his capital city and Senate (IIRC) is in chaos and climbs into a flyer, flys across the country and… well, let’s just say it sounded great. Immersive.

Seems, though, that I’m not the only one who was taken by the game. There’s links about it across the net where people who are curious have tried to see if there was a real world analogue.

Naturally enough on the Iain Banks forum, but then here and here and there was even a fairly academic tome on Bank’s works which referenced it, reproduced in part on googlebooks which I couldn’t find again.

Even now the actual Civilization series hasn’t quite reached that stage of engagement.

An interview with Sean Hughes in the Irish Times has some interesting stuff in it. He’s given up on a lot of contemporary comedy because as he sees it too conventional, and there’s something in that. I don’t dislike Michael McIntyre, but one can see the limitations of that approach. Or indeed many of the approaches. Certainly the world he describes of agents demanding new comics should essentially offer a conveyer belt comic ‘product’ is pretty grim though I wonder was it always thus?

Anyway, I liked this bit in particular.

Inspiration comes from elsewhere. He mentions TOY, a psychedelic rock band from London. He thinks a reaction to conservatism will happen in music first – “it needs a bunch of punks basically to start a cultural revolution” – and he sees the art world as being increasingly vibrant.

Perhaps he’s got a point there though it sounds a bit like whistling in the dark, for where is this cultural revolution going to come from (though I like TOY too).

Finally, over Christmas I managed to get hold of an HBO film based around the 2000 US election, and in particular the goings on in Florida. It’s called Recount and I’ve yet to see it, though it’s got a good cast. But here’s an odd one. Who wrote it? Why, according to various sources, one Danny Strong, who some will know better from a certain vampire themed television series of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Why yes, it’s Jonathan.

Sadly no libertarian reference or link this weekend. Apologies.

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1. LeftAtTheCross - January 26, 2013

“where is this cultural revolution going to come from”

I don’t know, but did anyone foresee the hippy movement or punk before they happened? If the times are right it’ll happen.

As for the comedy, maybe we’re all just turning into grumpy old men. The last time I had a really good uncontrollable laugh was a good few years ago in the comedy club upstairs in the International, PJ Gallagher was on, amongst others. The few pints probably helped the mood. It’s something my other half remarked upon in relation to her work as a teacher, she reckons younger people laugh more, the teenage kids obviously enough but also the younger teachers in their 20s. I blame it on parenthood myself, 16 years without a good night’s sleep, but maybe there’s more to it that that.

WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2013

I ran that thought in your last paragraph past someone who completely agreed re kids and younger staff laughing more.

I hope you’re right re a point in time where something like that described by Hughes will happen. I worry that it’s too corporate now to allow it to develop organically, indeed where there have been roots of those sorts of developments in the last decade or so they’ve been corporatised so early they just fizzle out.

LeftAtTheCross - January 26, 2013

But is it (the culture industry) any more corporate now that it was back then, relatively speaking? There were always routes to the fast buck back then for people to chase after if they were that way inclined, whatever aspect of cultural production one might pick, music, comedy, theatre, film. If anything the distribution channels have democratised since then. Not wanting to sound formulaic here but if things fizzle out maybe its because the circumstances aren’t right yet for them to catch a public mood. I’m not a particularly cultured person in fairness so I may be talking complete rubbish, but from a distance I would have thought the underground (for want of a better phrase) cultural space is pretty healthy and anti-corporate in outlook, so any sparks from there that do grow into flames are unlikely to be captured by corporate interests?

doctorfive - January 26, 2013

Aside from the corporate, though not unrelated, is the situation where things don’t have the same time to incubate as they once would. Instant access or publicity & the turn over of bands or what have you is so quick. Things are in and out before they’re even half baked.

The other – and probably bigger – obstacle is how fragmented and niche everything is and within that, a lot that mass focus on one thing has slipped away. The big shift is probably kids more likely to have finger in several pies then the factional stuff of militantly identifying with one thing we use to have.

Still lots happening though

New SBP RedC should be out later this evening btw

WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2013

I think that’s a great point re stuff being literally half-baked. The journey from underground to overground is so fast, everything is monetized and so on that it can ruin stuff. That niche issue is a definite phenomenon.
Another thing is how there seem to be fewer ‘tribes’ so to speak.

Though taking your point about still lots happenign and LATC’s thoughts on how the underground seems pretty healthy perhaps there’s no need for excessive gloom.

Should be interesting to see how the figures stack up in the poll.

Michael Carley - January 26, 2013

Somebody made an interesting observation about the way the arts develop nowadays: with the disappearance of cheap housing, starting a band, or working on visual art, have become limited to people who have some kind of external support. Working class young people cannot find somewhere cheap to live, where they can support themselves with a part time job, or whatever gigs they can pick up, so music is becoming a middle class preserve.

LeftAtTheCross - January 26, 2013

“Working class young people cannot find somewhere cheap to live, where they can support themselves with a part time job”

Is that really something new?

doctorfive - January 26, 2013

I think it has some limited currency but better applied to making art pay. The creative communities can still come together online without the physical proximity that would once have been crucial. The cost of producing, promoting and distribution has come down to nothing but so has chance of sustaining yourself from it.

WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2013

@LATC Not entirely, but… I’ve seen it mentioned, and it certainly struck me, that a lot of groups, for example, that get some profile appear a lot more middle class than they were even fifteen years.

And I also wonder at the impact of other issues. The effective whittling away of squatting, the factors Michael refers to as well…

2. que - January 26, 2013

“but hard to feel that this isn’t another step towards automation of public services.”
its hard to isolate the PS from a trend of automation thats long been prevalent in industry. Course cause PS is a service sector then naturally it took a long time before some automation could be brought in that would functionally make an impact i.e like self check out.
Progress? no not necessarily and thats not luddite to say so.
There is a trend of moving manufacturing back into Europe and N.America to be close to markets . The key is its capital intensive – using highly automated processes to replace low cost labour. Once thats completed then why locate in china. You are far from your market, transport costs are globally low and you need a few highly skilled workers which you get of course in the Eur/N.Amr markets.

Krugman has explored this in a few posts and questioned as this goes on the power of capital becmes greater, that of labour less.

WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2013

“…cause PS is a service sector then naturally it took a long time before some automation could be brought in that would functionally make an impact i.e like self check out.”

Hadn’t thought of it in that way but I think there’s a lot to that.

3. CL - January 26, 2013

There are a few automated checkout machines here at the NY public library’s main branch. You don’t have to use the machine. You can also stand in line and have a human/worker do the checkout. I always use the machine, I find it very convenient.

Since the onset of the industrial revolution there has been continuous technological change and associated increases in labor productivity. The question that arises is how the benefits of these increases in productivity are distributed.
In the U.S for the past 30 years or so wages have not kept pace with increases in productivity, resulting in ever-increasing inequality in income. This is not due to any economic law but to the power of capital relative to labor. But it has reached such a point now that some claim that it is adversely affecting aggregate demand and macroeconomic growth and is contributing to the current crisis. Marxist economists have always paid attention to such developments. Recent books by Stiglitz and James Galbraith also discuss this regressive development.

4. Passing through - January 26, 2013

We librarians do tend to be positive about self-service stations. We introduced them to our library 4 years ago and though their introduction did lead to a reduction in hours for our part-time desk staff, we used the savings to help fund two professional librarian posts (like a number of sectors, there are far more qualified librarians in Ireland than there are library jobs). I’m acutely aware that we are more likely to be the exception rather than the rule in regards to this however.

Our desk staff are very positive about the self-service stations as it’s taken a lot of the repetitiveness out of the job; instead of mostly scanning and stamping books, there’s more engagement with our patrons who come to desk with queries – the lack of queues also means that staff can spend more time with patrons when they do have queries (we’re an academic library, so there’s always lots of queries).

One thing to bear in mind is the cost of these machines. They can work out to be more expensive than desk staff especially when you factor in peripherals. They’re not suitable for a lot of smaller, specialist libraries, but you’ll probably see more and more of them in public libraries.

IMHO the Civilisation series peaked with Civ II and it’s been downhill ever since.

WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2013

+1 re Civilisation II. The perfect balance between complexity in terms of the overall control of ones civilisation and simplicity in gameplay. It was never the same afterwards.

That’s a useful insight into the view from the other side of the desk and the points you make are compelling, particularly about repetition and the possibility to deal with enquiries in depth.

One thought re peripherals, while I was in the Children’s section of the Central Library one of the machines had broken down and there were spools of paper for the receipts which seemed to have got caught up in the innards. Early teething troubles no doubt but the machine was out of action for the best part of an hour.

5. yourcousin - January 26, 2013

My grandmother was a checker years ago with UFCW local 7 before scanners when it took skill. Even though barcodes have rendered the skill set of checker obsolete in grocery stores and big box hardware stores I have a hard time using self check out because I feel like I’m betraying my grandma. Not a very articulated or developed position but I dislike that there’s one less person to interact with(although on many days that’s not a bad thing imo), quite frankly “Player Piano” may need rereading.

WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2013

“I dislike that there’s one less person to interact with,”
That kind of sums up my feelings, and it links in with CL’s point earlier as well, albeit his was framed differently.

crocodile - January 26, 2013

You can find yourself standing in a food-only M&S in a UK railway station, faced by serried self-sevice checkouts and not a human employee in sight. It chills the soul – not least because the calculation seems to be that virtually no amount of shoplifting costs as much as paying a human being a living wage.

Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 26, 2013

A good reason never to use the self-checkouts.

CMK - January 26, 2013

SIPTU’s members in the grocery sector urge people not to use self-service checkouts. I’m not sure what Mandate’s view is but it would be interesting to know.

6. doctorfive - January 26, 2013

Poll: FG 28, FF 21, Ind 21, Lab 11, SF 19

doctorfive - January 26, 2013

Labour leak two points to SF & one to FF I think

7. Joe - January 26, 2013

On the Sean Hughes interview. A remarkably similar interview with Alexei Sayle was in last Thursday’s Guardian. Remarkably similar sentiments expressed. Sorry can’t do link.
On libraries. Self service machines in libraries are surely small beer compared with the arrival of the internet. Twenty years ago if you wanted to find out about say the Tuareg people in the Sahel, you’d have to go down to the library and, maybe ask the librarian to point you in the right direction or go to the shelf and find something yourself. Now you google – no human face to face stuff needed. The main thing is the library is still there – am I right in saying that few have been closed here with the austerity stuff, whereas they seem to be more under attack in the UK?

WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2013

That’s true, and you’d have more experience in this area than me. But for serious research I think it’s still necessary to get secondary sources which are most easily/cheaply accessible in a library. And of course beyond that it’s free and for a lot of people who don’t have the income to purchase books in any volume it’s the best possible means of access to them. Can’t see that changing too soon. I started going back in the last two years after a two year hiatus cause of the monster and it’s been brilliant. Every four weeks or so an injection of new reading material, a lot of which I’ll use as reference or whatever but it keeps the brain ticking over not least because it’s got little to do with contemporary politics!

CL - January 26, 2013

‘ Despite the relatively short hours, the study found, New York City’s libraries “have experienced a 40 percent spike in the number of people attending programs and a 59 percent increase in circulation over the past decade.”’-

ejh - January 26, 2013

Also, bear in mind that librarianship as a profession (a qualified librarian writes) is aware of changing trends and the consequent change in the nature of the job. One of the important things that has been happening in the past, say, twenty years has been that the librarian has been expecting to become kowledgeable about all sorts of information sources that are not paper and are not physically located in the library.

Thje point is that this

Now you google

is actually quite inadequate as a means of finding the information that you want, that is useful to you, in as short a period as is reasonably possible. even if everything were on the internet – and it isn’t – how to find it and how to evaluate what you find are tasks for which it can be helpful to have experienced and knowledgeable help.

It’s not always necessary, if you yourself are confident in a field and skilled at searching for material, but then again you didn’t always need a librarian’s help to use an encyclopaedia. But it really is important to know that “Google it” is not a panacea, any more than “look it up” ever was. It’s a starting-point.

Of course, for this to happen, you do actually want professional, properly paid and properly trained librarians. Casual shelf-stackers won’t have these , nor will they stick around long enough to acquire them.

Michael Carley - January 26, 2013

One of the things the library does at the university where I work is teach students how to evaluate, and properly reference, sources of information. If anything, given that more information comes from Google, and less from academic publications which carry automatic authority, this is more important than ever.

It also makes it less likely that I will (a) hammer students for saying things that are plain wrong, but were `on the net’ and (b) crucify them for plagiarism because they didn’t know they were supposed to say where they found the information.

Joe - January 27, 2013

a qualified librarian writes. You n me both, ejh.

ejh - January 26, 2013

Sayle link. He has a house near the London Review Bookshop? Good Lord.

(Well, so did my late great-aunt, but central London property prices were a bit lower in the forties.)

Ed - January 29, 2013

Yeah I raised an eyebrow when I saw that too – kind of cut across the prolier-than-thou line in the rest of the article.

8. CL - January 26, 2013

“The Automat was one of the wonders of New York. When Joe Horn and Frank Hardart opened their magnificent flagship on July 2, 1912—a two-story facade of stained glass, marble floors, and ornate carved ceilings, right in the middle of Times Square—the city was instantly captivated. Hungry? Drop a nickel in a slot, open the door to your chosen compartment, and pull your dish right out — a modern miracle!”-

9. Alan - January 27, 2013

The absurd thing about those machines in Henry St -aside from them being introduced as there is a determined effort under way to reduce public employment and to subject public services to the workings of a private businesses – is just how out of place they look. I mean, they’re literally just plopped there with little consideration of anything else. The library is a bit of a mess, study desks are added ad hoc, the well worn down (and always booked up) computers are just shoved into a bit of spare space. The whole thing looks like its held together with blue tack. I always feel like I’m stepping back in time when I go to it having passed all of the garish shops and junk food outlets. Still though, it’s hard to imagine a shopping centre development in the near future housing a public library or any sort of public social space for that matter.

Joe - January 28, 2013

Well I just have to defend my old workmates there, Alan. It’s a very, very busy place. They do the best they can with the resources they have. It’s a centre of learning and information for all the people of Dublin – situated in a basic, functional space in a Shopping Centre.
And Dublin City Council have had plans for years to move the Central Library to some flagship premises – the most recent plan than didn’t come to fruition was to move to the Ambassador cinema site. Talk too of siting a new Central Library in the soon to be (well in a few years) ex Central Bank building on Dame St. And the GPO, if it ever became an ex GPO. The vision would be a landmark, iconic public library right in the heart of the city – like the New York Public Library is.

Finally, there does be debate about whether libraries should be situated in shopping centres. Makes sense from the point of view of footfall – the library is there where people go to shop. But, a problem is that the shopping centre security can refuse admission to people for their own reasons – so these people are denied access to the public library. Whereas if the library has an entrance on the public street, it decides who to let in. And traditionally libraries have welcomed all kinds of people in out of the cold.

CL - January 28, 2013

The New York Public Library has more than 40 branches throughout Manhattan in the various neighborhoods. Just curious, how many branch libraries are there in Dublin?

Joe - January 29, 2013

CL. Depends on what you define as Dublin. I counted twenty two in Dublin City plus a music library, business information library, local history library. Another 24 in all in the Dublin County areas (Fingal, Sth Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown). So thats 46 altogether serving a population of about 1 and 1/2 million. Opening hours in branches vary but usually 10am to 8pm Mon to Fri, 10 to 5 Sat and closed Sunday. Personally, I’d favour opening Sundays too but try telling that to the union members back in the 90s!

CL - January 29, 2013

Thanks. Sounds good.

Tomboktu - July 20, 2013

Most of the seven libraries opeated by South Dublin County Council close at 4.30 on Fridays and Saturdays.

Quiver - July 21, 2013

I robbed a book. I had so many problems with the local ‘authority’ at that time and the pinch-faced, narrow, library staff, were in full offensive mode.
Mainly though, I just managed to conceal the (subversive) book on exiting the library; fully intending to return it, by the same manner.
But, being so gripped by this book; I ‘highlighted’ parts.
And so, dispatched a E25.00 postal order to them (anonymously) and specifying what the book was.
And now; these machines? – still do not trust them; tracking what your mind is looking to.

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