Thursday, September 02, 2010

Time To Revive The Library?

More Intelligent Life: The Blog

It's no wonder that the world's largest bookseller, with 720 stores around the country, has been wobbling. As we've reported, bricks-and-mortar bookstores are on the outs, except as spots for leisurely coffee and book signings. Online retailers, with their serious discounts and 24-hour availability, have hurt the hegemony of even the grandest bookstores, and more than half of book sales in America take place at big discount retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target. In August Barnes & Noble announced it was putting itself up for sale.

This is of course grim news for those who love to browse and thumb through actual physical books, and share space with others who are doing the same thing. But now would be a good time to recall another community landmark where we once happily did all of those things, and for free: the library. It's true that there is something vaguely titillating about browsing in an atmosphere where the temptations are to purchase and own, not simply borrow and read. It's also true that libraries have felt like dormant, dated spaces of late, where WiFi is absent, coffee is banned and budget cuts are rife. But if book-buying trends now sidestep bookstores, yet people still crave hushed public spaces in an atmosphere of books, then it is time to rethink our libraries: what they look like, what they offer and how they store their wares. (September, incidentally, is Library Card Sign-Up Month in America, but you probably knew that already.)

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