My friend Andy Oram, an editor at O’Reilly and Associates, visited his local library the other day and found just two working terminals.

“That means that when two people are looking up something,” he says, “everybody else has to wait. In the days of card catalogs, hundreds of visitors could search at once.”

Libraries would also do well to consider his suggestions for easier-to-use computers. Both in my hometown (Alexandria, VA) and apparently in Andy’s, the interface can be hard to puzzle out and hog too much of your time.

“The standard library catalog interface,” he notes, “dates way back; I used to see it running on Vax/VMS systems. Everything about it is counter-intuitive, unforgiving, and obstructive.”

Needless to say, a TeleRead-style approach could address both of his problems–first by driving down the cost of book-optimized computers and second by reducing the complexity of finding the right book. The more our libraries standardize, the easier the latter task becomes.

Please note that both Andy and I are pro-public library and appreciate the positives. For example, users in many towns can renew paper books online. But so much more can be done.


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