Are Libraries Our New Bookstores?

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Image by Sarah Brabazon.
Today I read a book about the sweeping changes that have happened in the publishing industry in the last two years. The author, Kristen Lamb, pointed out that in the past, bookshops had more shelf-space for an author’s older books, her backlist. A good browse might result in the discovery of a new author, and allowed new authors time to cultivate a readership.
But these days, bookstores have become a place to buy bestsellers or mid-list authors, the latest self-help about how to find peace in an ever more frenetic world, pick up Nook accessories and grab a coffee. When was the last time you stood by the shelves reading back cover blurbs and perhaps the entire first chapter? Now it is easier to download the Kindle sample to see if a book is worth buying, and then to ‘Buy now with 1-Click.’
The library on the other hand, has whole buildings full of backlist, plus a handy online system to find them.
They even take requests. Some time ago, I wanted to teach my children chess, but none of the available books, DVDs or apps grabbed their attention, or mine. Using my social network, I found ‘Chess is Child’s Play‘ by Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick. It looked great, but due to the complex layout of the book, they had decided to publish in hardcover only at first. No Kindle sample. I asked my local library if they would buy it, which they did. The librarians who processed the book clearly liked the look of it too, because an immediate queue formed behind my hold. I used it to teach my sons the rudiments of chess, and when the loan period was up, ordered my own copy. I’ve been recommending it ever since.
I often find this is the case with the library. They have lovely face-out shelves which allow busy mums to see a range of themed or new books in the thirty seconds before the toddler reaches the lower shelves to commence pulling books down (it has been some years now since this happened to me, but the memories are fresh and painful). Those were the years when I chose my entertainment venues based on the understanding staff and lack of breakable objects.
The library is a place where book-loving staff patiently explain to young children who wrote ‘The Lion,The Witch and the Wardrobe’, and that there are seven other books, including a prequel. Who show them how to find books in the shelf and how to reserve books if they aren’t. They have comfy places to read, and sometimes even coffee shops nearby.

I am lucky enough to have at least two great branches of the State Library of Tasmania nearby, and one independent bookstore with cafe attached. Our other surviving independent bookstore doubles as New Adult Daycare by dint of an upstairs room with a great selection of comics, Dungeons & Dragons figurines and war gaming room. My sons, Flotsam and Jetsam, now nine and eleven gravitate to this bookstore like zombies to a warm brain.
Do you have a great library or bookstore nearby? Do you agree that the best browsing these days happens in the Library or on Amazon? Do you prefer the convenience of a familiar name on the best-seller display in the airport lounge bookshop? Or are you an omnivorous reader who doesn’t mind if her reading experience comes with dog-ears, headphones or an easily scalable typeface? Are you (like me) addicted to One-Click Buy?
Tell me about it in the comments, and while you are there, tell me what is the best book you read last week?

2 thoughts on “Are Libraries Our New Bookstores?

  1. Sophie Grant says:

    Love the library, Sarah! We have so many great ones here. I normally pick up a few books for the kids and they appreciate them like presents, and I don’t have to pay anything for them and they don’t clog up my house! I have been known to never pass by a second hand book store and come out empty handed though.
    I have read so many books by so many authors that I have lost count. Now I mainly read romance by authors known or recommended to me.
    I find new authors through Facebook now, and check them out through the library. We would be broke if it wasn’t for the library, but they don’t have everything I want, so it’s the One-Click option.
    Best book I last read – Charming The Prince by Teresa Medeiros, an historical romance (purchased on iTunes)

    1. I have very limited bookshelf space, so I am a bit like you, I tend to get new authors out of the library first, then buy them in one-click if I love them and the library copies take too long to come. I often get amazing books from the face-out section, and go on to buy them. If I buy a physical copy these days, it usually goes straight into storage, only electronic books and selected non-fiction texts make it on board the boat.

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