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Why Libraries Are More Important Than Your Hard Drive

Miami Beach 411

What happens when you delete or block a web page?

It gets deleted. Or blocked.

What happens when you censor or ban a book?
It becomes contraband, but the copies are still out there.
Stark differences.
The Internet is immediate. It is all inclusive. It is interactive.  Every individual who uses it is a potential publisher. It is far reaching and susceptible to fraud and misinformation. It is by no means a permanent medium-- at least not what I consider permanent.
A book is not immediate. It is not all inclusive. It is not interactive. Anyone can be a writer of some sort, but distribution of a book is a very hard thing to get. It is susceptible to fraud and misinformation, though the industry has safeguards against this. It is what I consider a permanent medium.
Let me be clear that when I speak about books from here on out, I am really speaking about anything that you can hold in your hand, be it a book, magazine, a note between friends, the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Rosetta Stone.
How many unnecessary things do we read everyday because of the all inclusive aspect of the Internet? In the modern world, we are overrun by information and by an influx of opinions that don’t really matter. Not that your Facebook friends don’t matter, but let’s be honest - more often than not, your feed makes for a crappy, uninformative read. This overload of lukewarm content breeds minds that skim material. Knowing that most of what we read is a commodity leads to the inability to recall what is really important from what we read over the long term. It all becomes noise.
On the flip-side, how many necessary things did the world miss out on before technology like the Internet existed?  Has the exclusivity of the publishing industry silenced voices that the whole world should have heard? Logic would tell us that this is clearly so. But surely the process stopped a lot of nonsense from being made public. The sheer amount of classical works of literature that have crossed generations is testament to the editing process and of the positive effects of curating information. Reading books forms minds that are able to concentrate, and sharpens the ability to think in depth about specific ideas.
The Internet has been described as a democracy, but in many ways this is its biggest flaw. Things become important because the majority deems them important. It favors things and people that are ‘in,' and forgets about the little guys.  Nobody can become a celebrated blogger after a mere two or three posts, but these posts might just be the best reading this world has never heard of. This popularity vs. quality issue brings forth an interesting concept:
If Jesus had a Twitter account he might only have a whopping twelve followers.
The point is that if something doesn’t go viral, then you are likely to miss it. Klout has replaced quality, and only through good marketing can something be deemed as a ‘must-read.’
Books, in the classic sense, are not judged by this interactive audience with a fleeting agenda, and as such they are taken on their merits alone. They can be found in a cave, millennia after they were written, and still hold truth and insight that is worthy for the world to read. They can be banned and kept as contraband, transcribed by hand, and shared. Just look at how John Steinbeck’s little-known novel, The Moon is Down, changed the course of World War II, or how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin began turning the tide in the American Civil War.
And a website can be banned. Or hacked and deleted. Or, the government can simply restrict access altogether (See: Arab Spring).
I fear that the short-sightedness of Internet publishing will make everything that is going on now look like static in the future. We will have no ‘essential reads’ of this era, because all we have is billions of blog posts, almost all of which is fluff. If we forget about books, we are doing future generations a disservice. This is the difference between a hard drive crashing and a library burning.
Credit must be given to the Internet for helping more people become writers and thinkers.
But even more credit must be given to books for preserving curated knowledge and information across the times.
Only one of these mediums has a track record long enough to truly be trusted.

This article was republished from our Social Media Editor Danny Rivero's Tumblr blog. He wrote this piece in 2012, and we found reason to republish it considering Miami-Dade County's decision to close about half of the county's libraries.

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.