Amidst the seismic shifts taking place in the publishing industry, the role of the library has evolved. Today’s New York Times posits that libraries are borrowing from the bookstore model, stocking their shelves with popular titles like Fifty Shades of Grey to keep pace with reading trends — at the expense of maintaining their cultural position as gatekeepers of literary excellence.
The piece goes on to say libraries are adopting this strategy to hold on to their relevance in the digital age. As bookstores (chain and independent) cede market share to Amazon, with many being forced to shutter, libraries are picking up the slack, hoping to be the free alternative to bookstores and Starbucks for readers and researchers.
I really hope this strategy works to keep libraries solvent.
In the past few years, libraries across the country and around the world have been assailed by/threatened with devastating cuts. In Troy, Michigan, the library had to resort to a fake book burning party to save itself. In New York, the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg nearly chopped $96 million from the budget — a move that would have disabled the library’s ability to stay open at least five days a week. In London, multiple libraries have had to close their doors for good including the Kenal Rise Public Library which Mark Twain unveiled in 1900. Just last month, staff at the British Library planned to strike against austerity measures.
Publishing industry changes notwithstanding, our local libraries have had to pick up the slack for a lot of social issues the government has failed to prioritize. Libraries have acted as After School Programs/babysitting for latchkey kids, daytime shelters for the homeless, and de facto mental institutions. Clearly, when the stone of change drops on one sector of society/business, the ripples are felt everywhere eventually in good and bad ways.
What’s important with respect to libraries is that we help them stay open even as we advocate for laws/social spending measures that alleviate the pressures libraries face. We need to support libraries’ transition into the digital age. Because, in spite of all the reports that show more Americans consuming their reading materials digitally, the truth is not everyone has a Kindle/iPad/Nook/computer. Not everyone has 24-hour internet access.
Outside of the library, there is no free place the public can congregate for the sole purpose of reading, writing, and researching. Obviously, as writers, but also as readers and citizens, libraries are priceless no matter what our situation.