Harry Potter and libraries vs. bookstores

New York Times article
There’s a lot of buzz in the mainstream press right now claiming that Harry Potter books have not changed the reading habits of a generation–that kids slow down in their reading as they get older in just the same way they did before.

First, I’m not sure I entirely believe it. I think the Harry Potter books clearly introduced a generation of readers to the idea that reading could be worth a certain amount of effort, and that all that practice has to have paid off in their reading skills. There’s just no way to measure what they would have been like without Harry.

But it also strikes me–and I’ll be the first to admit I’m prejudiced on this subject–that when the whole Harry phenomenon got taken over by the bookstores, some kids lost their chance to become introduced to the library as the source for other books that they might like too. After the second book came out and was SO phenomenally popular, bookstores jumped on the bandwagon in a huge way. Our library Harry Potter parties went from being crammed with excited attendees to having okay attendance, but not more than most other programs. The buzz was all with the midnight parties at the bookstores.

Libraries can’t compete with the consumer appetite to get the next new thing NOW, and bookstores can. But it’s a shame that some kids who might have found their way to the library through the Harry Potter craze got sidetracked into stores instead. I can’t help thinking it might have made a difference for the kids to have formed relationships with library staff that might have helped them find their way to other books they might have liked just as well. Of course there are some wonderful bookstore staffs, but I will put a dedicated children’s librarian up against most of them any day. Like I said, I’m prejudiced that way.

This entry was posted in Children's books, Programs, Public libraries, Youth Services. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Harry Potter and libraries vs. bookstores

  1. Kindree says:

    I was in Urbana Champaign for class the weekend HP and the Deathly Hallows came out, and I HAD to get the book, despite having a final the next morning. Fortunately, one of the other students works at the Urbana Free Library, (http://urbanafreelibrary.org) and they were selling the books for $20 flat. Yes, that’s right, selling. I reserved one, and was able to pick it up during their fantastic release party. Supposedly they had 400 copies and sold them all; I don’t have any proof, but I can believe it! There were tons of people there.

    The release party was amazing, with wizarding treats, games, a costume contest, live owls displayed by the local rehab center, and a fortune teller. That’s just what I managed to see.

    The Urbana Free Library figured out that people don’t much care where they buy their Harry Potter book as long as they get it right away. People do look for fun parties and closeness to home as well, but the real goal is to get it fast. I’m sure many of the people there were happy to patronize their library at the same time. The kids (and teens and adults) certainly had a positive library experience, and I’m sure many were encouraged to come back to the library.

    There’s a danger when libraries sell items that they are competing with stores, and, based on one the World Trade Organization’s treaties (I learned this this weekend!) a for-profit can claim that, based on competition requirements, the for-profit should receive the same benefits as the library, but Urbana supposedly doesn’t have any bookstores, so I guess they can get away with it?

  2. Susan says:

    I’ll confess to feeling a bit ashamed of myself for posing it in terms of a competition with bookstores when I love bookstores so much. But that’s fascinating that Urbana stepped onto the bookstore turf to be able to compete, as bookstores have stepped onto ours with things like offering storytimes.

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