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Librarian Blog

Whence optimism?

I'm wondering why The Wall Street Journal would feel it interesting to have six writers expound on Optimism in the latest magazine.
We hear from Jeff Nichols, a film producer, for example, who, quite naturally, ties his observations about optimism into a promotion for his new movie. We hear from five others who actually and admirably stifled the urge to be similarly self-serving.
Each of them, from Lois Lowry to Dan Barber to Joan Juliet Buck to Dan Savage to Camille Paglia, takes the default position that it is best to be optimistic.
Perhaps not.
I think maybe they all view optimism through the rose-colored glasses of the blessed.
Hear what Ambrose Bierce had to say about optimism:

“optimism, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with disproof - an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.”

Learning to be alone

In the past couple of weeks I have seen several articles in mainstream media about how people can pay more attention to what's going on around them and less attention to social media -- or their cell devices.
"Just put it up," doesn't seem to be a good answer for some reason.
Nor is, "Learn to limit your exposure."
"Grow up," surely won't work.
It's true that people seem to be constantly online, even in important business meetings. They kind of hide their phones down by their hips and glance over there as if no one could notice.
Geoffrey A. Fowler, writing about the problem in the Wall Street Journal, has a load of strategies for readers to try to keep from being complete slaves to their Facebook accounts or Twitter feeds.
I guess they all sound good.
It seems to me, though, that the issue is broader and fatter than mere addiction to information. I wonder if children are ever left alone to discover themselves. I don't mean put out on the highway and abandoned. I mean just left alone in their own rooms or out in the den without the benefit of streaming television or videos on tablets or handhelds. Do they ever have time just to stop and think?
I'm asking because I don't know. If they aren't allowed to learn to be alone with their own thoughts, though, I would say we have troubles as a society that transcend mere inattention.

Images aplenty

Last year the New York Public Library put thousands upon thousands of images into the public domain, allowing visitors to the library's website to download them.
When I first read abou this, I was excited because I like to use old images in artwork. But then I was disappointed when I actually went to what I thought as the public domain collection. What I found was a little less than wonderful, much less visually interesting.
I think I was doing it wrong.
Today on Twitter, the library notified its followers of the first anniversary of its freeing of these pictures. So, I poked around again, and this time I think I got it right.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has just released a thousand images into the public domain, too. I have not had time to check out this collection.
I'll try to get it right the first time.

Well worth it

I recently noted in this space that the return on investment for public libraries is more than $4 for every $1 spent.
That amount was determined in a study published last week by a Texas librarians group.
The ROI of the Wimberley library is significantly higher than that.
Carolyn Manning, library director, recently figured out the ROI for our library last year.
For every $1 spent, the library returned $6.53 in value.
That's a total value of $3.6 million.
And I must say that's conservative. For example, Carolyn figures that every 3D print job we produce has a value of $2. I think that's really low. Most of the objects we print are for fun, just for the heck of it, but there is still an educational value there that cannot be priced. The object itself has a certain value depending on what it is and what it is used for. But $2 seems too little.
I can't argue with other values she's assigned, but just that one variable puts us over the $6.50 mark.
And that's not including the intrinsic value our patrons get from having enjoyed a really good read or a really challenging one that made them think in a different way. Some of those experiences are simply invaluable.

Libraries' value

For every dollar invested in a public library in Texas, communities see a return of $4.64 in "access to resources, programming, services and technology," according to a new report just issued by the Texas Library and Archives Commission.
The Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas at Austin.
Texas libraries offer more than $1.6 billion in services, including educational programs, internet access, books and digital media and research databases.
They provide jobs for 11,000.
I think everyone agree that's a pretty good return on investiment -- almost $5 for every $1.
Very soon, we'll have a report on the Wimberley library itself. I think the numbers are even more impressive.
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