When I wrote the article about integrating libraries and bookstores in 2014, I realized that what we needed were places where both print and digital and archives and rooms for community could co-exist. The best ways of seeing this integration, in my mind, was to allow the public and the private to blend into one. And while I am not portraying the roles that publishers can play in this new mashup, trust me, I will be writing about that as well.
Mutual Assured Cooperation
Public libraries have their own structures for ordering, processing, shelving, cataloging books. Bookstores too have their own systems for ordering books, displaying them and payment methods for books that also allow bookstores to return unsold books. It is easy for any bureaucrat on either side of this seeming divide to say that for these reasons alone, there can be no integration of bookstores and libraries. Yet, there are ways all of this could be managed in order for us to move ahead.
Libraries have an outstanding edge over bookstores. First is they usually have a much larger understanding of and access to e-books. It may come as a surprise to many that you can download an e-book from your library from your home and when it is due back at the library, it will just be deleted from your device. Another thing that may surprise many, is there are currently libraries getting rid of their bookshelves entirely. Seeing the future a bit more clearly than lots of publishers, they know that those who use their libraries are there with a laptop or to use their laptops. Having access to a free wifi site is essential in communities where the cost of such a service is prohibitive and the added benefit is you have trained researchers close to hand.
Libraries now offer classes on how to create e-books, how to code, how to tell stories with digital tools. They provide all these tools for working in the digital world and usually for free and with good teachers who want to share their experience. Having clean, well lit spaces for such work is important and libraries can do this better than anyone else in our communities.
Let There Be Print
That then is not a dismissal of print. Print is still needed in many ways and for many people. It is mostly in this domain where the two, bookstores and libraries, overlap and support one another. Selling books fills a need. Having authors come into our communities to read from and discuss their new books is a pleasure. Book clubs and writing groups like to use bookstores for the ambience as well as the availability of all the newest titles. Print is preserved in many ways by how bookstores function in their communities. I would also suggest that new ways can also be found such as having the sales reps from the distributors come to bookstores prepared to present the books to the community rather than to just the buyer, allowing those interested in what is new to hear the sales speech and to learn more about how books are sold.
We Can Change Everything
Yes, that can all happen and parts of it are happening now. If we integrate the systems and make them work both collaboratively and independently, where they must, we will be saving the book business, expanding the reach of our libraries, giving authors many more venues to speak in and bringing a vibrant book culture into every community. These benefits are not out of reach; they require all of us to advocate for them.