A recent article on our refurbished local library has me wondering
As an author, I love libraries. They are the Spotify of books, only they’ve always been around, or at least for a long time, for people to go and pick books, read, return, get more, in an endless cycle. In this country, where the climate only allows us to enjoy the outdoors a couple of months per year without a parkas, books have been popular, so have libraries, as a part of our public education system as well as adult education ever since reading became available for a broader public.
However, libraries are facing challenges, particularly from e-books (I’ve written about this in the past.) But that’s not all, libraries are apparently also facing challenges on a very different front: a steep decline in visitors. In a recent article in our local newspaper, it is reported that our local library’s overall loans have decreased by 35%, despite a huge investment in the main library, which was enlarged and re-opened last spring. In certain months, the decrease is even bigger, 50%. The largest media decline was seen in CD’s and DVD’s, which, given Spotify (free) and Netflix (inexpensive) makes sense. I believe that services like Amazon Unlimited (even though few Swedish titles are available) will also contribute. Add the increased reading of e-books to the mix (a survey among the library’s customers confirmed that many enjoy the ability to loan from the comfort of their homes, which is exactly what services like Unlimited offer), and you wonder why the city decided to rebuild and enlarge the library in the first place.
Yes, there are 3-5,000 visitors in the building daily, but what do they do there, if not to loan books? Does it really make sense for a city to invest millions into real-estate when the future of books, music & film is digital? Is it the city’s duty to offer people a place to sit and relax? Don’t we have enough cafés for that? What else can libraries offer to make up for the loss in lending? Author readings, discussions about books, public debates and what not could help libraries to remain relevant to the public. I know that many libraries in other countries are already doing this. Here in Sweden, with our century long tradition of socialism, inviting authors for readings is a challenging thing to do, because libraries must make sure that there is not even a hint of “commercialism” to the event, so either the author is already super famous (oddly, Swedish envy doesn’t apply to celebrities), or completely obscure and with no hope to ever make money on their work, except for public grants. For the majority of authors, indie or not, who want to make a living off their art/work, libraries here remain off limits. The risk that the library could be accused of “aiding” a commercial enterprise is too big. A sad reality.
Even more baffling to me is that our city also opened a “house of literature”, less than two years ago, under the aegis of the public library. This organization was recently transferred to a private association, a meeting place for authors and literature. Makes you wonder what the library is going to do? Gothenburg is not a large city, is there enough need for two spaces with similar goals? As an author, I wish that were the case, as a tax payer, I fear we are paying the bill twice.
Libraries that no longer lend books, that is a scary prospect, particularly given that library buildings are expensive and often in prime real estate locations
Here, the debate is non-existing outside the small circle of the people affected. I’d love to hear if you’ve experienced similar things in your cities. What are your experiences? What role does the public library play in your community? Is it merely lending books (and other media) or is the library engaged in other questions regarding the community? I’m interested how others tackling this. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn something.
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