Why not get all Marxist about the libraries?

We've another of these dirges about how the libraries are under such great threat:

Nearly 350 libraries have closed in Britain over the past six years, causing the loss of almost 8,000 jobs, according to new analysis.

In a controversial move that sparked protests by authors including Philip Pullman and Zadie Smith, councils across the country have shut their reading rooms in an effort to make deep savings.

Children’s author Alan Gibbons warned the public library service faced the “greatest crisis in its history”.

All of which brings out our inner Karl Marx. Who did insist that the forces of production (ie, technology) determined social relations. And if we're to be a little more narrow about this, technology determines, or at least should, how we go about doing certain things. The economic historian Brad Delong has long pointed out that the university teaching style of a lecture is really just a hangover from medieval days. When books were vastly expensive (a scholar might hope to accumulate a library of perhaps a score volumes over a lifetime) then having one person reading that very expensive product to 200 made some sort of sense. When a copy of the book costs less than the hourly wage of the reader perhaps less so.

So it is with libraries. When books were much more expensive than they are today then increasing the Solow Residual (in exactly and entirely the manner that Uber and so on do today, the sharing economy) through reuse and lending made great sense. But technologies change, relative prices change. It may or may not be true that we have reached that tipping point just yet, where the value of the books being lent is less than the cost of running the lending system, but we think we can all see that that is going to happen at some point.

The point is thus not that libraries are closing, nor that we should all fight the power to prevent it. What should actually be the discussion is, well, do we need libraries any more? And if we still do then when won't we?

But of course, as C. Northcote Parkinson pointed out, there's nothing as conservative as a bureaucracy considering its own existence.