Do you know that there are large publishing companies that refuse to sell any of their e-Books to libraries? It’s true! They believe that allowing libraries to loan these items out will cut into their profits. Similarly, many publishers resist sending their authors to events at libraries, because libraries don’t sell books, so there’s perceived to be no advantage in it.
Bookstores and libraries are two important venues for the flow of information in our society. Public libraries in America ensure that everyone can have access to information (and sometimes a warm, dry, safe place to sit). We have new books, old books, e-books, audiobooks, movies, music, and a whole lot more. We don’t sell books; we encourage curiosity and support learning. Perhaps most importantly, we create and nurture readers.
Ray Bradbury said:
“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.”
On the simplest level, our success can be measured by our circulation statistics; the more items get checked out, the better we’re doing. It goes like this: the more readers we create and inspire, the more demand there is for our items, and the more demand there is for our items, the more items we buy, the more items we buy, the more people we can inspire, etc.
Through it all, we strive to foster a genuine passion for reading. We place books by new authors into the hands of patrons who might appreciate them. We recommend “read-alike” books to someone who’s just read a favorite author’s very last book. We help people remember the title of that book with the blue cover they saw at their friend’s house and wanted to remember to read. (You know the one: the thin book with the coffee stain on the cover.) We create readers. And guess what? Readers buy books.
For myself, I have always taken new authors and new books out for a test drive at my local library. When I find something I love, I head to a bookstore and buy it. For me, there has always been a certain joy in ownership. I know that I’m not alone. Bookstores enable us to browse shiny, bright copies of a dazzling array of titles, and purchase copies as gifts for loved ones. While libraries provide free access to materials, you will sometimes have to wait to get a book that is in great demand. Bookstores, on the other hand, can often provide more immediate access to new, in-demand titles, but you have to pay for them.
Libraries and independent bookstores are essential to our society; I cannot imagine life without either of them. Come visit the library! Find out all of the wonderful materials and programs we have to offer you! Free of charge! But I also I urge you to support our brothers and sisters hard at work in the independent bookstores around town.
For inspiration, take a look at My Bookstore : Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop edited by Ron Rice. In this wonderful work, authors like John Grisham, Anne Patchett, Dave Eggars, Tom Robbins, and Wendell Berry (84 of them, in all!) celebrate the booksellers and bookstores who have inspired them, supported them, and encouraged them. Perhaps not since Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road has there been such a moving ode to the magic of bookshops.
In the end, there should be no competition between bookshops and libraries. Authors, publishers, booksellers, and libraries would do well to view each other as allies in the struggle to preserve literacy and instill a passion for reading and learning in all of mankind. When everybody reads, everybody wins.
As often seems to be the case, Dr. Seuss said it best:
“The more that you read, the more things you'll know, the more that you know, the more places