The library industry is, in some ways, quite a bit like the bookstore industry. Many of the same issues are facing both right now. The chief among these is the advent of the eBook. Libraries are struggling with them, same as bookstores, although in a slightly different manner. Brick and Mortar Bookstores are worried that the eBook will put them out of business. Libraries are worried about how they will be able to present eBooks as a viable lending material. There are solutions that are out right now. One that is used in a library system I used to work at is a program called Overdrive. This allows epub format eBooks that are offered through the library to be borrowed and read on the patron’s computer. There are a limited number of copies of each eBook that can be “checked out” to patrons, and if they are all in use, holds can be placed as on physical books. That works well enough, but now that more people own eBook readers, patrons want to be able to borrow books from the library and read them on their kindle or kobo or ipad. The Kindle recently announced having this functionality through Overdrive. Some publishers are completely against the idea of libraries lending eBooks. One publisher has decided that libraries can do whatever they want with his company’s eBooks. Once the library has bought a copy it can lend it to whomever it wants under whatever restrictions it wants. Another publisher has done the opposite, imposing ever stricter policies, including limiting the number of times an eBook can be leant to library patrons.
Something that I have written about here before is the idea of the bookstore acting as more than simply a retail store; it has to maintain a certain level of community involvement. In a time when bookstores are seen almost as being obsolete, libraries are facing a similar issue. When I was earning my masters of library science a constant topic of discussion in my classes was the idea of “library as place.” That is: the library is not simply a building that houses books, it also acts as a community center. Library’s offer more than just books now: most public libraries now offer services such as employment help, computer training, and spaces for community groups to use. Some public libraries have gone beyond this and now offer yoga classes, hold rock concerts (the Toronto public Library recently had a great rapper from the Maritimes, Buck 65, perform at one branch downtown), or have special events on Halloween. The public library, just as with bookstores, has to change how it interacts with the community and benefits the community that it is in. It has to, as I’ve written before, become a value-added operation.
There are also other operational changes that libraries are having to make, some of which are mimicking how bookstores operate: there is one public library in Arizona which has done away with Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress classification. The books are now organized in genre sections much as bookstores are. The books are arranged alphabetically by author within the sections you would find at a bookstore (although with slightly more tightly defined subheadings). As well, there is also a move among libraries to stop referring to the library user as “patron” and instead call them “customers.” This is not a simple semantic change; it represents a shift in how the librarian views those who use the library.
The library industry is changing, just as bookstores are changing. Libraries are learning from bookstores, adopting practices and ideas, and bookstore owners would do well to do the same by watching what libraries do, seeing what works and if it can be used in a bookstore (I’m mainly trumpeting my idea of community involvement once again here, really).