From Chris Knopf:
Predictions of imminent calamity at the hands of the digital revolution are aplenty, yet exemptions seem to be popping up in unexpected places. Notably, independent bookstores have begun to rebound and surveys show that millennials believe physical books are superior to electronic for retaining important information. This might explain why eBooks haven’t swept away the physical product the way iTunes upended the CD market and online streaming video killed off video stores.
Another pleasant development is the continuing vitality of libraries. At least in my corner of the world, they’re doing better than ever.
I haven’t studied this on a national level and I’m sure other people have different views, but in the two towns where I hold library cards, we have beautiful new buildings, dramatically expanded services and herds of happy patrons. I have a few theories on how this happened:
The Great Recession put pressure on book-buying budgets, driving regular readers to the libraries for purely financial reasons. But once there, they enjoyed the experience, and kept coming back as things improved.
Rather than running from the perils of digital competition, library management embraced high tech, installing their own banks of broad band workstations, racks of DVDs and tech-savvy research assistants as a natural extension of their traditional role in dispensing reliable information. Again, once engaged with the library for digital purposes, people naturally scooped up the physical books within easy reach, sustaining the habit.
Consuming media is not experience-neutral. One of the reasons video didn’t destroy movie-going is because no matter how elaborate your home theater, it’s just not the same as going to a place where you buy popcorn, sit in a big room with other people and watch a giant screen. Reading on a Kindle or iPad is just not the same as handling a printed book. Libraries helped remind us of that, and thus fostered continued love of the traditional book.
The libraries I know have evolved into community centers. Humans are pack animals. We naturally congregate with like-minded people, in this case, those who are curious and seeking intellectual enrichment. By providing a venue for speakers, book clubs, historical expositions, study groups, even political debates, libraries have moved to the center of civic society. I never turn down a chance to do a reading at a library because I know there will always be a decent turn out. This is because the audience is composed of serious readers who regularly attend author appearances.
Librarians provide world-class customer service. Do you know of any other profession more tireless in helping you obtain the information you seek? For the librarians I know, it’s not a job as much as a calling. They love research and discovery, and take immense pleasure in sharing the bounty their institutions have accumulated. Before Google, my go-to source was a toll free number at the New York Public Library. I’d call them with some arcane question and they’d happily spend hours chasing down the answer. That spirit is still very much alive and well, and you could do a lot worse than recruiting a librarian to aid in your quest for knowledge.
All of this for me is cause for celebration. As I write this, hordes of librarians are in San Francisco at the annual ALA Conference, and I suspect more than one wine glass has been appropriately raised to the good health and cheer of the local public library.
From Martin Shepard:
Recently I spoke with an older librarian I know, who will shortly be retiring. She “wholeheartedly agreed with the assessment that local libraries have morphed into Community Centers and that their aim is to serve their communities in any way they can.” But she also sees some worrisome trends developing. While appreciating the fact that “local libraries are pouring funds into splendid additions and renovations, the space is often allocated to private meeting rooms, children's playrooms, media rooms (DVDs, music CDs, books on CD etc.), one result being that bound books, unless they are the latest best sellers, are being squeezed to the sidelines and that many tech savvy visitors come into the physical library simply to use their computers or read the newspapers without having to buy one.”
She goes on to say that at her library “the ratio of loans of DVDs to books is about two to one and there are many patrons who never touch a book. However, this is not true of the children's department, the most vibrant area of our local libraries. Here books go out twenty-five at a time and parents are justly proud of their offspring's listening or reading abilities. While this drops off for many once they learn computer games, nonetheless the joys of reading have to take firm hold at an early age.”
I personally think that this gentle lady worries unnecessarily, though the “squeezing out of non-bestsellers” is a legitimate complaint. Still, one can appreciate the fact that a third of the loans are actual books needn’t be worrisome at all, for many of these book loans come about because of all the other services a library provides. In my opinion this should be cause for celebration.
This is particularly true for us at The Permanent Press, since the major buyers of our books comes from the library market due to librarians who read the pre-publication reviews for our titles that appear regularly, and frequently, in Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal. It is their appreciation of quality fiction that has helped many of our writers gain attention in the market place, which they surely deserve.