The Library: Innovate, Act, Think



Your agent started to write a response to the Bob Ledrew comment on finding an example of an Internet library but it got out-of-hand taking on essay-like proportions.

So now it is a post.


Bob wrote: “Ken, it’s obvious you feel strongly about this. But I can’t envision what you envision. Can you find an example of the sort of “Internet library” you think is the way to go and write a post about it?”


Here is my response:


You can go to Google and enter the words “Internet libraries”. There are countless examples of Internet libraries. You can call them up.

You’ll see many are very practical as is the Ottawa Public Library online example. But that’s not enough.

Our city is piling up debt quickly. As citizens we need to find ways to conduct municipal business more efficiently at city hall. Building a new main library is horribly expensive especially while this city is throwing billions of dollars at light rail and tens of millions at a sewage diversion operation.

The consequences of huge government debt are well-known. The federal government can do it because it has the tools to pay the bills. That’s why the federal government can be elastic on spending.

Video above: The trailer from the movie Spotlight.

Municipal governments have limited revenue streams. Debt is hard to cover. Spending must be handled carefully.

City staff says this is the time to borrow because interest rates are low. But they won’t be low forever. They are starting to rise now. An increase from one per cent to two per cent is enormous.

Businesses have had to painfully adjust to the economies of the Internet. My industry in particular has been badly damaged by the Internet.

Would I rather be working in a vital newsroom than operating this small undertaking? Sure. The problem is they aren’t out there anymore.

When people went to the movie Spotlight in 2015, they saw an outrage in the Catholic church. I saw a vital newsroom set in 2002 that doesn’t exist anymore in almost all newspapers. Thirteen years. That’s how fast change is coming. I was concerned that those outrages wouldn’t be found anymore because journalism is crippled. And that is exactly what is happening right now.

But people in the industry saw what was coming, took buyouts and retooled themselves. The economic imperative is there.

I chose this route … looking for an economic model so that some form of journalism can survive. Did someone say: “Find the example of the economically successful online journalism endeavour.” No. There wasn’t one. So I built my own. I do it not because it is easy but because I care about journalism where I spent 40 years and think it is important. I don’t want to lose it. The easy way was to do nothing or wait for someone else to do it.

There is very little economic imperative for governments to be efficient. Be inefficient, tax revenue comes in. Be efficient, tax revenue comes in.

So we have bulky governments operating with methods that are cumbersome. For example on light rail, Ottawa built a line that is three times as expensive as the previous example at one-third the distance. You waste billions of dollars like that in the private sector you’re so fired it hurts. In fact such a foolish endeavour would not get out of the planning room.

So you build a $100 million library on principles that were appropriate when Carnegie was doling out money for them. Or you build these monuments on examples of 30 years ago. Well 30 years is a long time. Thirty years ago my craft was getting a 30-per-cent return on equity.

Not now. So do you build a library in a traditional way in a world that is changing like lightening which is inefficient and expensive or do you move as businesses have been forced to toward a smaller, more efficient model.

Sure libraries are nice. I love them. But nice don’t pay the bills.

There is no economic imperative to build the future library. In government it is comfortable to continue doing what you’ve always been doing. However the revenue for that model is diminishing in the face of unbelievable competition in the private sector from computerization and globalization. Government has to become more efficient or society won’t be able to support it.

Build enough debt through gaffes like a huge library, a faulty light-rail project and other mega-projects and you’ve got a financial crisis on the small revenue base of the City of Ottawa. Your children won’t thank you for that.

Innovation has to come from people like you and me.

Find an example of a new Internet library? Do what I live. Do it yourself.

Innovate. Act.

That’s what Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft did.

They didn’t work off a model. They did it themselves.

And that’s why a bricks-and-mortar library doesn’t work. That’s building horribly expensive obsolescence in the most monstrous way.

Don’t look for the old, comfortable model. Don’t ask other people to do it.

Empower yourself.




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One thought on “The Library: Innovate, Act, Think

  1. Ken.
    The mantra of ” it’s the way we’ve always done it” is and always was wasteful.

    If money was unlimited then yes – let’s build monuments but, since there are many things that are far more important than monuments let’s spend on them first.

    I guess it is about where one puts priorities.

    I am not against a library. I am against spending that kind of money for a luxury when that kind of money could be better spent on buildings for people to live in.


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