Libraries – but no books….then what?

 Libraries – but no books???

I had some very concerned thoughts as I read the New York Magazine article that was highlighted on the Library Link of the Day . The article titled – The End – details the current challenges and serious issues facing the book publishing industry. So I started thinking…. and I ended up with some questions I can’t answer and some thoughts to ponder:

If publishers are all chasing the few and perhaps rare “mega, bestseller title” that seems to be the only way publishers can make a profit…. then fewer mid-list titles get published. Over time the backlist begins to shrink…. the breadth of new titles diminishes….. choices become limited……. hmmmm.

What happens to libraries as the pace of published titles slows down based on the challenging economic realities for publishers?

If Amazon begins to control an ever larger slice of the bookselling world and the “publishing” world…. do they become … just another wholesaler resource? Or will Amazon choose to only sell directly to the public and cut both bookstores and libraries out of the book consumer supply chain?

If the “Kindle” or whatever the next generation electronic gadget becomes a true book replacement…   where does that leave libraries?

If traditional marketing: book reviews, newspaper advertising, author tours and booksignings can’t be shown to actually improve the sales of books…. then all these activities will go away. How and who will control or influence the word of mouth or “viral marketing” that will lead to increased customer book demand?

If the currrent trend of a smaller and smaller book reading adult population continues…… who will actually read all those books currently on library shelves? If the books go away… because circulation declines significantly…….. what will libraries do with all that empty space?

As publishers possibly shift toward producing books as web based “movies” or online story “experiences” and the actual printing of books on paper diminishes….. will the library be needed as the “place” people go to to borrow books? And if they aren’t going to the library for “books”…what will they go there for?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. I don’t even know for sure if any of these things will come to pass.

But what if they do….. will libraries be ready?

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4 Responses to “Libraries – but no books….then what?”

  1. Sara Jane Says:

    I read the article as well. Publishers have a choice to not pay authors so much of an advance until they see how well they are selling. That’s one way they can change their investment strategy.

    Isn’t part of the problem that we aren’t raising readers anymore? I read in Time Magazine that 97% of our youth under 17 play video games. I’d be interested to know how many have a read a book for pleasure. Schools seem to enforce required reading – how many enforce reading a book for pleasure?

    People use libraries for the technology (computers), and the entertainment via CD/DVD, as much (or maybe even more) as for books. If libraries were to change to be a place for the exchange of ideas, for the development of new creative projects, they would change their value to the community.

  2. Beth Says:

    These are all great questions and ones that libraries should be asking if they need to remain relevant. I think sustainability has always been the focus. Now we need to look at relevance, for the reasons you cited. This might mean looking at new ways of using space and determing what being a community center or third place means to individual communities. In a way it’s very exciting and creates many opportunities!

  3. Brad Fish Says:

    Sara Jane,

    You are right – many students don’t read for pleasure. Although my early elementary grade daughters are still very excited to be able to go to their school library once a week to pick out a book or two. They come home excited to show us their new books. However, many school districts use reading programs that don’t use “real” books for students to use to practice their reading skills. They use shortened version of books or “manufactured text” that kids use for reading practice. It is no wonder that without “real” books to read….books with an engaging storyline, interesting characters, some good visuals (pictures, drawing, color) …kids just are not excited about reading. Then we wonder why they turn on the TV or computer.
    The school or public library is still the place where “great” books for kids can be found. If libraries continue to add the other things you mentioned: exchange of ideas, creative projects, etc….kids would have yet another reason to become hooked on libraries.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. Brad Fish Says:

    Hi Beth,

    I agree with you….this can be a very exciting time for libraries. As long as they get out of their “bunker” – that defensive place where they are: resistant to change, fearful about funding cuts, trying to do so much with limted resources….that they just don’t spend enough time keeping their customers engaged and happy. We also need to keep challenging the status quo and looking for ways to keep adding value and improved “experiences” for our customers.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts.

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