Thursday, January 04, 2007

It's amazing how little people know about libraries

and how much they think they know.

The complaints about the Fairfax Library are just the tip of the iceberg.

Libraries can't be all things to all people--why not? They actually manage to do this pretty well. They supply bestsellers to those who want to read them, and great books to those who want to read them.

But libraries are voluntary--you can't force people to read a book (unless you're a teacher). If classics are not being read, perhaps it is because the library copy is old and tattered and smells bad. If you order a new copy and put it on the new book shelf, people will take it home.

Even if you select a random bunch of books and place them on a book cart near the front entrance, people will browse them and take some of them out. If you put out a book display, ditto. Closeness to the main entrance is the key. Hide the ephemeral stuff at the rear of the library and force patrons to walk through the building.

When a library discards a book because no-one reads it, and puts it up for sale, an amazing thing happens. People buy it, paying money for a book which they would not read when it was free.

Writers are always bitching about purchasing some classic at a library book sale. What's wrong with that? At least the book has a chance of being read by its new owner. In my last library, one of the missions in our mission statement was to encourage love of books and reading. It says nothing about high circulation. Circulation is not what matters, necessarily, in the end.

Reading is what matters.

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