I used to hear the comparisons of libraries versus bookstores quite a bit when I first moved to New York City. With experience in both retail and public libraries I felt I discussed this well. My argument point when people stated bookstores had more variety was that they are for profit, and they put the bill to the publishers. For only paying for what sells and returning unsold items to the publishers, bookstores can take chances on every book that comes out. Whereas a library flat out buys the books for the library, and has to evaluate more carefully what to select for the community the library serves. Coffee for sale, atmosphere, and the service experience were other debates in favor of the retail experience compared the library experience. Some people told me they didn’t like sharing books and preferred new ones. Finally people not necessarily comparing libraries to bookstores would generally state libraries would be obsolete because of technology.
A few things have changed this perspective that libraries should be like bookstores. One is the recession in that people have valued the library more. Perhaps it’s more on the public computer access, job information help, but I think people checked out more materials too. If someone is stressed about his or her job, they will start checking out books and DVD’s instead of paying for them. Libraries across the country faced budget cuts, and people stood up for them. I’m sure some budget cuts went through in some cases, but the cuts could have been much worse if people did not value their public libraries. Another big hit to the viewpoint that bookstores are better, is the major retail chain Borders went out of business. The super bookstore model is not invincible. From working in a Barnes & Noble I know that a lot of booksellers are talented and hard working people. I was sad to hear of a closing on such a large scale with thousands of workers affected. I hope full closures of community libraries will not happen, and I don’t think it will. Libraries in addition to dishing out materials can be information hubs for communities. The bottom line is not simply profits as in a bookstore, but improving peoples lives through self-education, programming, and resources.
Lastly one reason Borders went under was they were slow on the online platform and more currently ereader devices. If you go into a Barnes and Noble’s today they are really pushing the Nook. Profits in the book industry are shifting to the ereader sales, and in general the online sales. People do like to sip their caramal peppermint latte at 10 pm and browse the bookstore stacks, but more people prefer to select their reading materials at home online. I’m not trying to be negative on the Internet, and I’m glad you can get so much reader’s advisory material or information on books so easily now. But I can see the physical bookstores really declining as more people buy from home.
Libraries I think will survive because we are multi purpose. Public libraries serve the educational, information, and recreational needs of their communities. That is such a broad service range, that we can adapt to a lot of things. Bookstores being for profit are more narrow focused. I think as long as libraries get funded by the government, and keep the broad purpose of enhancing communities they can be vital.