Even though my local Borders store closed a few months back, I have to admit, when I first heard Borders was closing all their stores, a little part of me was sad. OK, maybe a big part of me. I have lots of memories sitting in that store, browsing books and magazines, studying for an exam, etc. Of course, I realized I still had access to books, but nostalgia can suck big time.
After I boohooed for a bit, I read this fantastic opinion piece inspired by Mitch Albom's hyper-emotional response to the the end of Borders' "magic." Then that thing, lurking around in my subconscious, came bursting to the surface: Borders kind of had it coming. Not only that, but it seemed that people were overly concerned about the demise of a business that was managed horribly since the advent of the web. But, truly, is that where book and information lovers' concerns should be?
Libraries are being used now more than ever. Library usage has skyrocketed due to the bad economy, and libraries continually adapt to provide access to information via new information mediums. I constantly use my library's website to check out books for my nook, and use my library's databases for research from home. So I think that there is huge potential for libraries to remain relevant, as most of my patronage to my library happens through my computer. So why are so many libraries closing?
As a librarian, I have seen first-hand that libraries are much more than a place to check out a book. They are an equalizer in a democracy. They allow everyone in any income bracket to access information. Many children and parents from low income families are exposed to early literacy skills that will help them for the rest of their lives during story time programs. Those out of work come to the library to find information on how to build resumes, apply for jobs, and learn how to use necessary software for a career with classes on microsoft office applications. Many who are underprivileged can only access the internet through their local library. And so many job applications today can only be submitted online.
Libraries are absolutely essential to a free society. Yet that didn't stop America's oldest library to come under threat in recent years. Thanks to community support, after a successful campaign to save it, the library survived.
It should be addressed that citizens shouldn't wait speak out in support of libraries. People need to stand up and say something NOW, before public libraries are threatened. If a person loves their library, they should say so. Whether in a town hall meeting, a letter to a council member or the mayor, they need tell politicians about the importance of having a public library in their community.
Those in positions of power, can become detached from what it means to not have access to information. It is likely they all have high speed internet, the job skills they need, an education, and if they need to read a book, there is nothing really stopping them from buying it outright. Because of this, they start to view libraries as "expendable."
We still HAVE booksellers, and many independent booksellers are thriving. Barnes and Noble is still around because the company was smart enough to jump on the internet bandwagon early enough, and Amazon is still selling loads of books. It isn't as if Borders' demise is a sign that people are no longer reading. To say so would be like saying that Blockbuster went under because people stopped watching movies. It's simply a business run by a bunch of ivory tower folks who were unwilling to adapt to the new markets in time. That's not a tragedy, that's just business.
Unfortunately, even though most public libraries are adapting, and have been adapting to meet changing information needs, they are free, not-for-profit government services. So even though they are being utilized more now than ever, they aren't exactly making money. And when city budgets get tight, services get cut. Mainly because the citizenry isn't saying anything.
Has your local library had to reduce services or hours in recent years? Would do something if you knew your library might close its doors? Do you love your library? (Then please say something!)
Resources to get started with library advocacy:
(Please share your links too!)
PS- If anyone complains that they are upset they are going to have to drive an extra "so-and-so" minutes to get to another bookstore, I'm going to tell that person to get over it. Borders was the only retail bookstore on this side of my island. Now it's gone. So I no longer have access to that fun cozy environment with cafes and magazine racks... at all. Not to mention, ordering things online sucks when you live in Hawaii. Thank goodness for my library. :)