Fairfax City Public Library

For many moons I have been looking forward to the opening of a new library building in Fairfax.  I’ve been going to the old location for eighteen years, so surely progress is a good thing?  I noted:

1. The apex of the ceiling is now four or five times higher.
2. The space for computers is now four or five times greater.
3. The space to sit and read is now four or five times greater.
4. It now takes seven or eight minutes to park and get into the new fortress-like building, as opposed to one minute for the old building.
5. The space for parking is about ten times greater, much of it underground in a complex garage.
6. The space for books does not appear to be greater at all.
7. The shelves for the "New Books" section are slightly more squat, which means that about a quarter of the new books cannot be shelved with the spine and title facing outwards.


In my opinion, thats a shame. I'd bet all that money would be much better spent as donations to the Wikimedia Foundation and $100 laptops for the poor.

...or would the poor just use their laptops for p0rn?

Some years ago, the city where I lived built a beautiful new library. When it opened, many more people came to use it than had visited the old building. But those of us who had used the old library were disappointed to find out that all of the books were the same.

Relevance of the post? Is there a deep economic truth here that I'm missing out on? Or at least, can someone tell me what I should be looking for in those points Tyler made???

Ironic to read your post today. I recently moved within Arlington so my branch library changed. It is the new one (Shirlington) and is much like you described. I miss the old one a lot. Today I drove over to pick up 3 books on hold, and spent almost 20 aggravating minutes looking for parking. Since the checkout is all selfcheck, the librarian was freed up to spend time lecturing patrons who were taking up a machine about an annoying relative. Both libraries are pretty well used, but to me, the new one is a colossal waste of money that could have been partially spent on materials.

Yes bigger is better, especially when the library is renamed after a wealthy donor. Perhaps the higher ceilings are more sound absorbent for cellphones and the modern, talky clientele.

Libraries seem to be evolving into multi-media entertainment centers--you can check out movies, books on tape, music DVDs, surf the internet, etc. etc. Same can be said for some churches (with gyms, bands, entertainment, etc.). It is about keeping up attendance by holding peoples attention and giving them lots of different things to do. Well and then you have all the community meetings, seminars, voter education, and so on that are done in library conference rooms. Perhaps they are used in some places as temporary shelters at times.

Not necessarily a bad thing unless you are a purist.

Alas new science books (Dewey Decimal 500-600) at my local library branch number about 10 compared to hundreds of new fiction books.

Smaller shelves indicative of things to come? Cost saving measures?

Going there, to the Fairfax City library branch, on Sunday, 1/27/2008, at noon,
parking under the library in its 200 parking spots beats finding no parking spaces then driving around to the post office to park.
Don't forget 5 times more space to sit,
including isolated rooms like George Mason University's.
I like the grandness of that new Fairfax County (Fairfax City) Library.
I like the VERY high ceiling, the natural light
which is rare in modern buildings.
Yet, I understand Tyler Cowen's interest in books only, in the same way great Asian Indian statistics came out in the mid-1900's in university buildings that were really houses including original kitchens.

Just for Tyler Cowen:
that Fairfax City branch library has now consolidated to one long wall the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of university professor lectures on video and DVD, although mostly undergraduate level, so we can now get our philosophy, history, and most social sciences from top professors without paying university fees.

I still remember reading "Lies My Teach Told Me"
from Fairfax County Public Library 7 years ago, then heard its author James W. Loewen speak at Ethical Society in Vienna about the North's many Sundown Towns for blacks.
The area around where you live is stock full of opportunities.

I agree the new Fairfax City library has no more books and won't have any more.
What's more disconscerting -- they've always removed unpopular books, which I sometimes get from a woman that works in FCPL's big (the size of a library) Chantilly office that buys new books and exits unpopular books.
So, I don't expect to find classics like
DeFinetti's "Theory of Probability"
Cramers's "Mathematical Methods of Statistics"
Lecky's "History of European Morals"

I don't even find
"Ethical Toolbox" by Anthony Weston
although I have found one copy of it at George Mason University.
But for the two years I've gone into GMU's stacks, some professor has always had it checked out for most of the semester.
One day I'll be in GMU's stacks at the same time
Ethical Toolbox lives there.

Two hours later on Sunday,
I went to the FCPL library branch just west of
Falls Church. It's another magnificent library with no more books than the Fairfax City library branch.
The fellow next to me had difficulty connecting to internet with his laptop running MS Vista.
At least public libraries no longer have TV's in their main room as they did in the 1970's.
Perhaps libraries are more like coffee houses,
using eyes rather than mouths.
I'd welcome libraries having a Starbucks like arena for discussions.

What I regret most about all of America's libraries is their short weekend hours.
When teenagers look for a place away from their parents, perhaps a place to cool off,
perhaps a place to think and read,
rather than cavort and cause mayhem,
they find the libraries closed at 5pm or 6pm.
Ridiculous -- those are the evenings libraries could offer the best social service.

Does Tyler Cowen have a better idea for libraries, an idea in the GMU economics tradition?
Abolish all public libraries,
then let capitalism rule.
Does he imagine immense private libraries that charge only $1 per week per book?
The abolition of libraries would probably leave only book stores -- new and second hand.

Wherever one lives, one must ask,
what comparative advantage does this place have.
In the D.C. area, including Northern Virginia,
one of the best comparative advantages appears to be foreign languages. Even Fairfax County's community colleges teach an inordinate number of languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Korean, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Vietnamese, Hindi, Russian, Ancient Greek, and Latin.
When I was 45, and my daughter 4, 10 years ago,
I first began taking German with my daughter at Deutsch School just over the Virginia border in Maryland.
The teachers there came from Germany, the festivals and stories differed from ours, diplomats occasionally hobnobbed, and students shared stories from diverse backgrounds, including Finland and Japan.
Since my daughter was 3 (she's now 14),
I began taking her to one of 24 Chinese schools/academies in the D.C. area to learn Cantonese and Mandarin.
These Chinese schools typically occupy a dozen rooms in a high school on Sunday afternoon.
This vast enterprise teaching Chinese at 24 sites,
includes the contributions of even GMU professors like Dr. Lin who teaches mathematics/statistics at GMU. Much more should be said about the huge demand for Chinese and the huge private supply of Chinese language, a language virtually untaught in Fairfax County's schools.

Wherever you are, take advantage of your area's comparative advantage.
I regret growing up in the mountains of Montana,
10 miles from where midwestern and eastern universities studied rocks, yet I never looked at rocks and land formations while I lived there.

What's the utility of a library? A few suggestions:

- People like going to the library for the same reason they like going to Starbucks: its a third place.

- Browsing books is fun. If it wasn't bookstores would be out of business.

On the merits of new books, take a look at George Stigler's nice paper which came out after the Fisher, et.al., paper on model changes in the auto industry.

I'm really not sure where libraries are going. Making themselves into places where one goes for computer and internet access seems like a very short-term strategy -- with computers becoming ever cheaper and internet access more ubiquitous. Imagine if early 20th century libraries had expanded to provide telephone banks or 1950 era libraries had built new buildings to accommodate TV watching booths.

For my purposes, the library has already been eliminated as a research tool -- that's all available online. And for books, I prefer and electronic copy if available or, if not, it's more than worth the $5-$10 to buy a used copy over the net, since it includes free delivery to my door and I can keep the book indefinitely. Even without putting any value on one's time, it's as cheap to buy a used copy as it is to pay to drive and park.

So libraries are to morph into expensive taxpayer-funded public meeting spaces with coffee-bars? Oh joy.

Libaries are not solitary experiences. My kids see a trip to the library as a joyful treat that may involve story time and the kid's play area as well as a big collection of new books, often very different from the books they would find by browsing in a bookstore.

Bummer... we've been looking forward to the opening of this new library... I disagree (somewhat) with your assessment of parking at the old library... on the weekend, it could take a long time to find a place to park, unless you didn't mind parking in the lot next door, despite the sign warning of being towed...

Seems to be part of the typical "revitalization" effort in Fairfax City... form over function... style over substance... doesn't make it any less of a pain to drive through, unfortunately...

If kids are an important reason for libraries, and I think they are, why is most of a library devoted to other things? Or, given that perhaps a childrens' sections are limited by the amount of children's books, why are there not 5 specialized kids libraries to every normal library?

When the renovated Southeast Branch library opened last year in Capitol Hill, the shelf space was much smaller than pre-renovation. Ever forward?

GZ, the four (non-college) libraries I know have kid sections that take up 1/4 - 1/3 of the floor space. Since 4-12 year olds (for whom the kid sections seem to be generally intended) presumably make up about 10% of the population, my small sample suggests they are considered important constituents. The kids sections are also the most heavily used, at least in my small sample at the times I go.

thank you for this information

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