Sunday, September 23, 2012

Do Public Libraries No Longer Need Books?

With the growth of ebooks there is a lot of talk about how it will impact the surviavl of brick and mortar stores, the fate of printed books, and how individual authors will publish direcrtly to consumers and skip the publisher as a gatekeeping middleman. But there is another insitution under siege: the public library.

One would think there will always be a need for libraries, especially as the number of bookstores is dwindling. Libraries bring the reading community together and help educate children, studemts, seniors and people of all ages, especially those of a lower economic class. However, if /I were to judge the actions of my neighborhood library, I would have to wonder whether libraries will survive.

I recently went with my son to the library and brought five shopping bags worth of books. There were maybe 150 -200 books, mostly children's books, that were in excellent condition. I couldn't wait to show my seven-year-old son that donating items of value helps the community and is appreciated. Instead, I was met by a less-than-excited library worker who blurted out, upon seeing me, "Oh, we don't normally take that many books. Only one bag per family."

I was expecting a "thanks" and a smile.

When she saw my look of frustration and confusion she hurriedly said, "OK, just put them over there in that room. We don't normally do this."

Now I was placed in the position of having to thank her for making this excpetion to a ridiculous rule. But I instead asked her why the library was turning down resources it seems to be in need of.

"We lack the space" she shot back.

They have plenty of space. I am not an architect or a librarian engineer, but believe me, there were plenty of places to store these books, at least for the short-term. Most libraries either use the books that are donated to them, or they sell them (to raise money for the reosurces and services they are in need of), or ship them to a nearby library in greater need. The books I gave her, even if they were sold off for 50 cents each, would net them about $75 -$100. Couldn't they find a way to make sure they accept the larger donations of others?

Otherwise, what inevitably happens, is people stop donating to them altogether, or they bring fewer books. In either case, that means less money for the library. How can that be a smart policy?

I want to see libraries thrive. In a recession with limited budgets given to libraries -- as well as the challenge posed by the digital wolrd -- libraries will need to navigate in a smart way or they may just perish.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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