So Many Books, So Little Time

 

libraryI love books. The covers, the flypapers, the feel of the paper, the enticement on the book jacket. I can get captured inside of thirty seconds.

I used to spend my life in Borders surrounded by books and magazines and literary types in the café that had the world’s best coffee and pastries. I’d sit with friends or sit alone with a silly grin, eavesdropping at people sitting at neighboring tables. I was in heaven.

Then they closed.

It’s not that I bought tons of books, but I have to admit just being in the bookstore made me whip out my credit card faster than Quick Draw McGraw.

Being a realist, I understood that Amazon had pushed Borders out of business, and, if you believe the rumors, they are very close to decimating Barnes and Noble as well. Now I use Amazon all the time, and not just for books. It’s easy, convenient, and you get it fairly quickly. And I hate shopping, except, of course, for bookstores. If there were a kitchen in the back and a cot I’d live in one.

So when Amazon announced they were starting a lending library for ten bucks a month, I had a confusing split personality reaction. Yay because now I can keep reading really good stuff without leaving my chair. Boo because I won’t leave my chair and therefore will not get any exercise. Yay because I can hole up with the cat and leave the world, and boo because, well, I’ll miss the rest of my world.

But here’s a question – what happens to the libraries now? I would hate to see them go away. I’m sure they won’t, I believe books are here to stay, but as a city or county resource, their hours may be impacted if they are not getting as much traffic as expected. (It happened during the recession.) But my library, attempting to keep up with the times, has six Sony e-readers to loan out to patrons. Too late: the Sony e-reader is gone; their website closed last month. Bureaucratic entities that they are, they remain two steps behind.

It may depend on your library district – I understand some are keeping up and ordering books in hard and soft editions in equal measure. Yes, libraries offer ebooks you can download straight from your computer, easy. Your membership entitles you to that and I use it often. But a lot of the newer books aren’t on my library list now in ebook format, and if they are you are person number 371 on their “hold” list because they only bought three ebooks of that title.  Plus, while the library’s ebook category is growing, for now, choices are slim.

And then there’s that pesky question: which formula to use/convert: epub, Kindle, ibooks, etc. to be able to read the pages on your particular reader? Amazon has the free Kindle Reader – et voila – problem solved.

My tablet is full of ebooks I haven’t gotten to yet, books that have been suggested to me, books that came from bookbub, ibooks, kobo and kindle that intrigued me at the time, but at this point I think I have ninety one books lined up. They can be surprisingly cheap, as well, through some email notices like BookBub (not a paid advertiser), and easy to transport.

I still go to the library to get the real thing. I love turning the page, but, sadly, not the library experience any more.

Aren’t libraries supposed to be quiet zones? Plus, I’m personally offended when I see that someone has written in library books. I don’t want to read someone’s interpretation of a passage or an exclamation mark or a section higlighted in a library book. That’s just heresy. But on the tablet they can mark things up as much as they want and when it’s returned, all that disappears.

So Amazon is, once again, at the forefront of books and book lending. They will have whatever you want in unlimited quantity without the wait that the most popular books will have in your library. Again, easy, convenient, and, frankly, the ten bucks they are charging won’t break the bank (although I might have to forego a Starbucks or two).

But the libraries. Quickly becoming the stepchildren of the literary world, they exist now as old-fashioned relics with noisy children and ringing cell phones. It used to be a place to go and study in peace and quiet with others in the same pursuit.

In my research on the opinion of the future of libraries, I was struck by a quote from Jimmy Thomas, Executive Director of Colorado’s Marmot Library Network, who stated:

“I’m enough of a realist to assume that consumers will gravitate to the cheapest, most convenient source of content … Amazon continues to set a high standard of convenience libraries should attend to. And every time this huge corporation does something on a massive scale, libraries should be reminded to approach services differently. Competing with Amazon on its own terms is not a good direction for libraries. But thinking about how to complement Amazon is worthwhile.”

I began this diatribe by bemoaning the fact that Amazon is taking over. But it occurs to me that that may not be such a bad thing after all. Libraries can complement Amazon by going back to what libraries were originally intended for – serious study, research, and resources. A quiet place where one can find others of a similar ilk and nod their hellos in a civilized manner. Leave the cell phones at home, pull out a book or two, make your notes, and become immersed in the quiet peace of a library.

Having a separate wing for children’s books, a reading room, and a computer room with closed doors would just add to the perfection – the perfection of what a library should be.

Just a thought.

Author: Kathy Weyer

Kathy Weyer is a reformed Human Resource executive and Marriage and Family Therapist. She has worked in several hospices as a grief and bereavement counselor.

4 thoughts on “So Many Books, So Little Time”

  1. I can’t see how libraries will stay open if no-one is taking out books. In New Zealand they have not started to close libraries yet, like in the UK. Thank goodness. The thing is, Kathy, libraries employ staff on permanent contracts, with proper working conditions and a living wage. Amazon do not. They say Amazon have put working conditions back fifty years and is responsible for closing shops and killing communities. I’m quite happy to wait for a book, what’s the big rush? It’s still going to be there tomorrow and there are plenty to chose from. My library lets writers use their facilities free of charge for book launches, they hold poetry and literary events, competitions, and deliver books to the elderly and disabled. Not everyone has access to pcs and tablets, and Amazon, unlike a library, is not going to keep you warm in winter. No, my library is not the quiet place it was when I was a kid, but its not scary either.

    1. Thank you for contributing! I agree – I’m happy to wait for a book – there are plenty to take up before it arrives. But we are in the minority, I’m afraid. Your library sounds wonderful!

  2. I have to give a shout out to The Toronto Public Library system. Not only do they have an incredible selection of books (everything I search for is always there), most of the newer books are available as ebooks too. And there are 99 branches throughout the city, all with quiet spaces and computers and internet access for people to use for research, study and work. And the best? When I place a hold on a book on their website, I can get it delivered to the library closest to my house. Awesome! I’m so glad our crack-smoking jerk of a mayor failed in his attempt to downsize it. The outrage for Torontonians was palpable and they didn’t let it happen. And unlike Amazon, my library isn’t having a fight with any of the publishers so all books are available. But… not all libraries have kept up with the times, and it’s true that Amazon should be a wake up call for them to improve.

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