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?