Why have libraries?

Okay, I’ll admit it…I am a little annoyed. My library is in the process of working on strategic planning, so we have a consultant for that, and we also are working with an architect.  These are both good guys, and they know what they’re talking about…

except, they like to say things like “libraries are not warehouses for books”. They, and many other library experts, feel that libraries should only keep fast-moving, popular items, and we should get rid of the shelf-sitters and the shelves themselves and buy cozy furniture. But here’s the thing: Libraries ARE warehouses for books. They are ALSO community gathering places, and a great place to learn new things, and they are where you can go when your Google search doesn’t get you the info you need but a librarian can.  But it is a teensy bit premature to decide that paper and ink books are no longer needed.

Many public libraries are winnowing their collections down to be lean and mean. “Oh, you can just find that on the Internet,” people will say, only shockingly, not everything is on the Internet. The parent that comes up to the desk saying, “I read this book when I was a kid and I’d love to read it to my daughter,” wants the book. They don’t want you to hand them the newest Wimpy Kid book because that’s all the library has anymore.

Bookstores do an awesome job of stocking mountains of bestsellers. Libraries used to do something different.  When did we lose sight of our mission? And what IS the warehouse for books if not the library? I think our patrons trust us to be that, and I think we are in danger of betraying that trust.

Don’t write me off as a dinosaur who wants things to go back in time. The first thing I accomplished when I became supervisor was adding a lot of in-house activities so parents and kids would think of the library as a destination. There IS a need for community gathering spaces, and I am 100% in favor of that. But I am not going to let the experts come in and say I should allocate x linear feet to books, because that’s ridiculous.  I’ll say more about why in another post.

I am confident that my particular library, which has being old-fashioned as part of its charm, will come out with plenty of books. I am very worried that many libraries are making a different choice.

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This entry was posted in Children's books, Collection Development, Management, Public libraries. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why have libraries?

  1. Janice E. Bojda says:

    Amen to this. I, too, think I’m not a total dinosaur for feeling books still have a place. Actual print books, not just downloadable books. We are repositories of culture. This means having some of those books that aren’t just the newest, latest, shiniest, or most popular. It means having titles that represent the best of human culture. Things that the bookstores don’t have or won’t have in stock 6 months from now.

    When Betsy Bird did her top 100 Middle Grade novels I was thrilled to read Eileen Goudge’s Little White Horse. My library had a copy. If we didn’t keep it, and larger, old collections like my library’s collection don’t keep these titles they would disappear and that is a real shame. Public libraries are the places where these special gems can live on to be discovered, if not by the masses, by just the right reader. I know I just discovered it, but it was exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a child.

    It is one of the things we do that set us apart from bookstores. Let’s not give it up in our desire to “compete.”

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  3. I agree with the original statement and the thoughtful comment. Libraries are not meant to be bookstores with only the commercial hits. Libraries should stock books that are significant, popular or not, for the consumer who is looking for older material. We need to be a balance of classic and new to satisfy all tastes. We can stock the more ephemeral books that have short life spans and get rid of those when they are no longer asked for, but our value is in knowing what to hold onto. That is why collection development skills are so important in weeding library collections.

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