Yes, it's time to bring a beloved institution into the 21st century -- but not by making it less effective
As a former head of the state library agency in Massachusetts and a taxpayer myself, I read with interest the recent Atlantic editorial in which an elected official from Swampscott, Massachusetts proposed public library user fees as a reasonable and "modern" solution to some perceived imbalance.
Under this proposal, a 50 cent user fee would be added to each book circulated by the library. In addition to addressing the supposed tax inequity created by the current system of funding for the Swampscott Library, the proposal would generate an estimated $300,000 in additional funds for the library.
The fact is: This would be the costliest additional revenue ever generated.
The reasons for this are twofold: First of all, this fee, while described as nominal, would hurt those most in need of the free services the library offers. While Swampscott is a relatively well-to-do town by national standards, there are plenty of unemployed and/or poor people living in the town. The costs that might not make a difference to the wealthiest users would certainly constitute an additional barrier to use for almost everyone else.
This would be even more the case for young people. Given the overwhelming proof that library use makes better readers, higher achievers, and more successful workers, we want our young people to feel comfortable coming into their local library, whether or not they have money in their pocket. The impact of these fees would certainly be a disincentive for those young users who would benefit most from library use.
The second reason is plain old economics. The municipality invested $560,000 in local taxes library services last year, about 1 percent of the total municipal budget and about $40 per capita for each of the town's 14,000 residents. In return, the library circulated 161,000 items in 2009 (not 600,000 as claimed), about $3.50 per circulation. And that's not counting all the story hours for children, public access computer usage, public programs, assistance in locating information on health, financial and e-government information, interlibrary loans and many other valuable educational services provided to the community. The 50 cent fee would actually generate about $80,000 in revenue, not $300,000.
The impact of the "nominal" user fee would unquestionably be a reduction in the library's use. This is very evident in France, where some local libraries charge small user fees in addition to receiving public support. The result: Libraries are used much less, resulting in a much lower return on the public support provided.
In short, the small amount of additional revenue results in a much less effective use of the public support. With a fixed investment in a service that benefits those who use it and their community the more they use it, you want them to use it as much as possible. Seems perfectly clear, right?
Now, as to the notion that we need to stop thinking like it's 1900. Libraries stopped thinking like it was 1900 many years ago, and are now providing users with access to online digital resources (and the really valuable ones are not free) e-books and 24/7 online access to library services. And national surveys show that the public considers public libraries the most effectively run of all municipal services.
Libraries provide all residents with unlimited access to the reading and information resources that will mean the difference between success and failure for Swampscott residents as individuals, Swampscott as a town, and the United States as a nation. They are supported by a very modest contribution of public tax funds, and provide a fabulous return on this investment by any measure.
Sure, the library is an old fashioned concept. So is democracy. So is equal opportunity. So is getting your facts right.
The internet’s favorite fact-checkers are caught in a messy dispute.
On Monday, the editorial staff of Snopes.com wrote a short plea for help. The post said that the site needed money to fund its operations because another company that Snopes had contracted with “continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage.”
“Our legal team is fighting hard for us, but, having been cut off from all revenue, we are facing the prospect of having no financial means to continue operating the site and paying our staff (not to mention covering our legal fees) in the meanwhile,” the note continued.
It was a shocking message from a website that’s been around for more than 20 years—and that’s become a vital part of internet infrastructure in the #fakenews era. The site’s readers have responded. Already, more than $92,000 has been donated to a GoFundMe with a goal of $500,000.
There were numerous attempts to establish contact with the campaign and the transition team.
In trying to fend off suspicion of collusion with the Kremlin, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner have recently provided the public with two very interesting documents. Shoving responsibility for any outreach onto the Russian side, the two men have given us with a partial account of Russian methods in approaching the Trump camp in 2016.
If the accounts are true—and, given that their accounts have changed in the past, these latest accounts could change too—then, taken together, the Trump Jr. emails and Kushner’s statement show a Russian side that is experimenting with ways of getting the Trump team’s attention. They show a side that really is, as one former Obama administration official told me, “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick.”
As Donald Trump’s troubles deepen, he keeps trying to shift attention to his old rival—but finds it no longer works like it used to.
Donald Trump’s brand-new communications director got a glimpse of the challenge he faces this weekend. As Anthony Scaramucci toured the Sunday shows, promising a new era of better relations and positive vibes, his boss was firing off his most active string of Twitter complaints in some time, taking shots at Democrats, Republicans, the press, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and—for the second time in less than a week—his own attorney general:
So why aren't the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?
The president’s choice of words to describe Attorney General Jeff Sessions is bizarre, though the condescending mockery matches the tone he often uses for adversaries. To paraphrase Trump, somebody’s doing the beleaguering, and that person is Trump himself, who railed at Sessions during an interview with The New York Times last week, saying he wished he hadn’t appointed him, and that Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation was unfair to Trump.
Terminating the special counsel would show recklessness, imply corruption, and irrevocably damage the country.
Last week, President Donald Trump fueled speculation that he might work to oust Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed to probe Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump could do so today, or tomorrow, or three months from now; the news could be announced in a televised speech, through a spokesperson, or even in a late night tweet sent on an impulse after his advisers have gone to bed.
If Trump fires Robert Mueller, few will be surprised. But if that happens, as the Department of Justice is thrown into chaos, as the American public sees its clearly expressed support for the special counsel disregarded, as the vital inquiry into the integrity of American elections stalls, as protesters take to the streets in a show of outrage at the affront to the rule of law, as the 2018 midterms morph into a referendum on the administration, and as American democracy reels into unknown territory, the House of Representatives should immediately impeach the president.
Thirty-one-year-old Ezra Cohen-Watnick holds the intelligence portfolio on the National Security Council—but almost everything about him is a mystery.
Just 24 days into his tenure as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to resign, having reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. When Flynn departed, the men and women he’d appointed to the National Security Council grew nervous about their own jobs, and with good reason. The new national-security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, promptly began clearing out Flynn’s people, among them Dave Cattler, the deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs, Adam Lovinger, a strategic affairs analyst on loan from the Pentagon, and KT McFarland, Flynn’s deputy, who was eased out with the ambassadorship to Singapore. Even Steve Bannon, among the most powerful people in the White House, was removed from the meetings of the NSC Principal’s Committee, where he had been installed early on in the administration.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Stormborn,” the second episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Dunkirk and Valerian had two highly contrasting kinds of crossovers—and Game of Thrones could have taken a lesson from either.
Megaplexes this past weekend staged a battle between two very different battle movies: the realistic World War II suspense of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and the campy sci-fi hijinks of Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Fueled by great reviews and Nolan’s bankable brand as a filmmaker, Dunkirk prevailed with a $50.5 million haul while Valerian, at just $17 million in grosses, seems headed the heap of recent space-adventure bombs. Still, it’s notable how both films, vastly unalike in tone and reception, did share one feature other than their release date—a megafamous musician in their ensemble.
Devoted fans of One Direction have tracked the progress of Dunkirk for more than a year thanks to it being the first major acting job for Harry Styles, the 23-year-old frontman of that currently suspended boy band. Valerian has made Rihanna, arguably the reigning queen of pop, a major feature of its marketing campaign. The tradition of singers attaining “multihyphenate” status by way of Hollywood is richly uneven, encompassing award-winners like Cher in Moonstruck and trainwrecks like Mariah Carey in Glitter. Styles’s and Rihanna’s simultaneous gigs, taken together, offer a neat case study in the two poles of musicians-as-actors: the serious bid perhaps en route to aneventual EGOT and the winking extended cameo meant for fans, fun, and profit.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
... and what that means for affordable housing across the country
Just over a week ago, TheWall Street Journalcalled the neighborhood where I rent, Venice Beach, California, the toughest place in the United States to build new housing, pointing to it as an extreme example of what is happening in a lot of wealthy urban enclaves.
“Apartment developers have stepped up production focused largely on the inner cores of big U.S. cities, where millennials are flocking for high-paying jobs and easy commutes, and where development is often welcomed,” the newspaper reported. “Meanwhile, surrounding low-rise neighborhoods—many filled with older structures and historical character—are keeping developers out. Residents of these older urban neighborhoods generally have resisted newcomers, complaining about congestion on roads and public transportation and seeking to preserve architecture, sunlight and views.”
Curiosity is underemphasized in the classroom, but research shows that it is one of the strongest markers of academic success.
When Orville Wright, of the Wright brothers fame, was told by a friend that he and his brother would always be an example of how far someone can go in life with no special advantages, he emphatically responded, “to say we had no special advantages … the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”
The power of curiosity to contribute not only to high achievement, but also to a fulfilling existence, cannot be emphasized enough. Curiosity can be defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events”. In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. In the school context, conceptualized as a “character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a “hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.