8/06/2010

Could This Happen in Many Other Communities?


Camden Closing Library System

Either I don't follow enough people on Twitter or nobody else thinks this is really news. I don't think it's the absolute death of libraries in Camden, but it's a definite disappearance for a good while unless something injunctive happens. If they do close, I hope that the collections that they say will be donated/sold/destroyed (and honestly I don't think there will be mass destruction except of things that should've been weeded long ago) will go to other regional libraries that are supported and continuing to thrive and/or be developed. It's just going to make it harder for former library users in Camden to access those materials, sadly.

Did it have to come to this? I honestly don't know. Camden is a city that's trying to turn around its decline. Unfortunately, the changes are coming hard and fast, and usually anytime sweeping changes occur it means that libraries take a big hit.

At the same time, interestingly enough, the owner of Barnes & Noble is looking to sell. (If you are an online subscriber to WSJ or can get your hands on yesterday's paper, there was an interesting opinion article in there titled "Bye Bye Bookstores."

Articles have been saying for a long time that libraries and physical bookstores can't compete with digitization.
The thing is, I'm not sure libraries ever wanted to, for better or for worse. If that's all people think libraries have to offer, though, then they probably don't understand why it's so distressing to see libraries close, especially when people seeking jobs or trying to take care of themselves and their families in spite of pay cuts need them even more. But that's probably not news to you.

The other thing I rarely see pointed out--maybe because few writers of those articles analyzing the death of bookstores haven't visited actual ones lately--is that bookstore users treat bookstores they way they had used libraries in the past, but for some reason (users driven away by bad staffing, libraries failed to keep up collection, libraries unsupported by community and public funding, or whatever) stopped using them.

I can't tell you how many times I was approached at my former bookstore job by a parent looking for research materials for a child's report. Or how many times I reshelved dozens of books on the same subject because someone was looking up colleges, or seeking medical advice (a librarian could help you with that and maintain your privacy!), or planning travel. Or processed an entire return of books I knew were for a high school student's project--her mom bought them, she used them, and then her mom returned them just before the expiration of the return policy.

The libraries that are surviving are fighting an uphill battle. Many of them seem to think they have to convert to that bookstore model (offer coffee, outlets for computers, etc.) in order to gain users.

The bookstores lost money operating like that.

What are libraries going to do differently so they don't go the way of the bookstore?

9 comments:

archerychic said...

I think I've shared I was one of those kids who thought the studious looking 20's something studying or reading in the library or coffee shop or bookstore was the coolest ever.
Alas, now that I am that 20 something it's not so cool anymore. Yet, if I'm not in my apartment I'm likely at the library or the coffee shop.
Therefore, the idea of any of these places going to the wayside chills my bones.
People want online content but they don't realize, online content is expensive, bank busting expensive. So that's a temping but not cost effective idea for libraries.

lettersfromchristine said...

It's so sad - many Camden residents rely on the library, I'm sure.

Pammy pam said...

libraries used to be a place of community. a place where you knew the librarian and felt welcome there. i think the reason for the coffee and the computer terminals is to get some of that feeling back.
maybe.

Kate P said...

AC--I know e-book reader producers are trying to convince us that we can study anywhere. But can they really supply everything we need? And you're right that digital content (the really good stuff that Google users don't even know they're missing) is expensive. I was really excited for my former college when it announced the library got a subscription to JSTOR!

Christine--Yup, especially kids and job-hunters this summer. It's an outrage.

Pam--good point. I hope maybe, too.

ccr in MA said...

I don't have any answers. I find the story so sad, and it perplexes me that they might get rid of the books because they're supposedly a fire hazard. Why does closing the library make them a fire hazard?

Annie Coe said...

I wish I knew the answer to this problem. It is sad to see this happening.
xoxo

Kate P said...

CCR--I'm guessing the facilites won't be climate-controlled or really monitored that closely if they're closed. Fire could happen. I did hear an update on the radio about what's going to happen; gotta check out that out and do an update here.

Annie--it is rough. I'm hoping things sounded better today. Stay tuned! :)

nightfly said...

We use our own local library, and it seems to be well-patronized. (We're on the opposite border of NJ.) Part of the issue isn't just the nature of libraries, but the nature of the city in question.

Camden spent many years as sort of a bargain-rate Detroit, a basket-case of a city whose administrations often followed their terms in office with terms in prison. A lot of folks fled to neighboring towns: Cherry Hill, Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, etc. A lot of the folks who remained did so only from necessity. Library time sadly falls between two stools in such an atmosphere - it's not something you do when you're just trying to scrape by, and it's not a quick escape like a video game or substance abuse habit.

It is getting better lately... slowly. I hope it's not too late to keep the libraries open. In so many ways it's an ideal resource for people.

Kate P said...

'Fly, thanks for your two cents. You pretty much confirmed what I thought was going on with the City of Camden.

Business news has been saying lately that bookstores are going away in the same way other news is reporting that libraries are going away. If bookstores go out first, maybe libraries will be rediscovered. Maybe!