The Bookless Library

They are, in their very different ways, monuments of American civilization. The first is a building: a grand, beautiful Beaux-Arts structure of marble and stone occupying two blocks’ worth of Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. The second is a delicate concoction of metal, plastic, and glass, just four and a half inches long, barely a third of an inch thick, and weighing five ounces. The first is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). The second is an iPhone. Yet despite their obvious differences, for many people today they serve the same purpose: to read books. And in a development that even just thirty years ago would have seemed like the most absurd science fiction, there are now far more books available, far more quickly, on the iPhone than in the New York Public Library.

It has been clear for some time now that this development would pose one of the greatest challenges that modern libraries—from institutions like the NYPL on down—have ever encountered. Put bluntly, one of their core functions now faces the prospect of obsolescence. What role will libraries have when patrons no longer need to go to them to consult or to borrow books?


Less than twenty years ago Nicholson Baker could lament, in an eloquent New Yorker article, the disappearance of physical card catalogues from libraries. (Among other things, he criticized electronic catalogues for their “neolithic screen displays and excruciatingly slow retrieval times,” as if the technology would never improve.) But how many readers are still troubled, in any serious way, by the disappearance of those old catalogues? (Recently the Yale University library unceremoniously junked its old card catalogue drawers, filling a large dumpster with them.)


The Passive Voice Blog

Our school library does not have a card catalogue.

We Meant Well

This is about a book,We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People telling of Peter Van Buren’s experiences in Iraq. I loved his writing style, both descriptive and snarky. But now, years later, the State Department is trying to fire him! How dare he actually tell the truth!

From a TV interview:

JUAN GONZALEZ: We end today’s show with an update on a story we first covered in November. The State Department has taken steps to fire a longtime employee who publicly criticized the U.S. government’s so-called reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The employee, Peter Van Buren, has worked at the State Department for 23 years. In 2009 and ’10, he headed two Provincial Reconstruction Teams in rural Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: After returning from Iraq, he wrote a book called We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. Van Buren has also exposed State Department waste and mismanagement on his blog, He has been facing a State Department investigation for over six months, but it appears the Department only moved to fire him once he filed a whistleblower reprisal complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.


When I bought this book, little did I realize I would be watching history unfold as the DC bureaucrats tried to cover their asses!  You go, Peter!