Much like independent bookstores, public libraries are struggling to come up with a strategy that will help them stay relevant in todays shifting landscape. I recently blogged about the changes taking place at the college library level but the public libraries are also undergoing a transformation.
John Morrison has a post at the Guardian that talks about some of the changes happening to the libraries of Great Britian. On of the most striking tidbits is that some libraries have been remodeled then reopened without the word library in their title! His local library is now referred to as the "Kaleidoscope".
Yes, there is expanded performance space and additional computers but there are also 1/3 less books in there. He also notes that "Public libraries now spend less than 9% of their budget on books". There are also some illuminating quotes from Labour MP Lyn Brown and culture secretary Tessa Jowell.
Then on our side of the ocean The Washington Post has an article on some changes taking place at the Fairfax County Library system in Virginia.
Let's start with this little quiz:
What do these 7 literary hi-spots have in common?
The Sound and the Fury - Faulkner
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Hemingway
Doctor Zhivago - Pasternak
Desolation Angels - Kerouac
The Glass Menagerie - Williams
Rememberence of Things Past - Proust
To Kill a Mockingbird - Lee
The answer: They have just been yanked off the shelves of libraries in Fairfax County, Virginia.
The reason: No one has checked them out in at least 24 months.
Here is what Sam Clay the director of the 21-branch system had to say "A book is not forever. If you have 40 feet of shelf space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked out, that's a cost."
and some other disturbing quotes from the article:
"Fairfax library officials have started running like businesses"
"Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax is responding aggressively to market preferences, calculating the system's return on its investment by each foot of space on the library shelves"
"Fairfax bets its future on a retail model"
Sounds like libraries might soon be sponsored by corporations - How does this sound - The George Mason Regional Library presented by the Barnes & Noble stores of Virginia. Yikes!
I bet Thomas Jefferson is turning over in his grave.
Luckily there was one breath of fresh air.
Diane Kresh, the library director of Arlington County, Virginia who says she is paying attention to usage trends in the system "but if they aren't checking out Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," she's not only keeping it, she's promoting it through a new program that gives forgotten classics prominent display" she goes on to say "Part of my philosophy is that you collect for the ages,...the library has a responsibility to provide a core collection for the cultural education of its community."
While change is good and many libraries need to be updated or enhanced with new technologies and larger meeting spaces they also need more books. If shelf space is an issue why not place one of those soon to be released Espresso, print on demand vending machines in each of these libraries. Then each user will have access to millions of titles at their fingertips. And I think it would also be appropriate to charge them for it. Let's say a suggested donation of $3. The book is printed on demand, the user pays the $3 and can have it checked out for a month. Then they return it and it can circulate for 24 months (since this is the criteria used to weed out books) at the library. If no one else checks it out in that time the book goes to the local library sale and is sold for $1. Essentially their is no cost for library and they are able to provide all their potential users with an extensive selection of material.
I know people are going to say that the essence of the public library is to provide material free to the residents of the community. And this remains true but why can't it offer enhanced services as well? If the format of the public library is changing why can't the policies of what a public library can and cannot do change too.