Yes, its another post about e-books

I’ve started working as a bookseller at my local independent bookstore part time as well as working at my town’s public library. I’ve sometimes griped here at Nocturnal Librarian that librarianship has become another form of IT help, with so much professional time spent troubleshooting. Well this week someone at the indie actually asked me how to troubleshoot her Kindle, and when I applied my reference skills by asking more about her problem she revealed that she was having trouble downloading books she bought at Amazon.

If you know anything about independent bookstores (and she may not have — we opened a new store this week, and along with our regular customers from the old store two blocks away, we welcomed a large number of new people who’d never heard of us before, even though at 113+ it’s the oldest independent store in New Hampshire and possibly in New England), you know that it’s unlikely a bookseller found teaching a customer how to download her Amazon purchases would have a job at the end of her shift. I clamped my mouth shut so as not to say anything rude, repeated in my head, “she doesn’t know what she’s saying,” and smiled.

I explained that I could not help her with her Kindle but asked if she knew she could get other e-books at our store and that hardcover fiction, which she was looking at, is always on sale at Gibson’s. Later as she was leaving I pointed out she may very well be able to get e-books, including Kindle e-books, at her library. She had no idea about that either.

Part of me wished I’d explained to her why I couldn’t help her, part of me felt like there were lots of people in the store and I needed to move on to another customer. But I attended training today at my library with our statewide library e-book consortium director, and she made some good points about why educating our customers is important. She said we need to be telling patrons and ourselves why and how publishers are making it hard for libraries to buy and lend e-books with higher prices and restrictive lending rules.

She compared what e-book lending is doing to libraries to what Google did to reference: reference book use has plummeted (and reference librarians are becoming adult service or public service librarians who do more troubleshooting and less reference work) so we buy fewer and have smaller reference collections. We’re putting ourselves out of the reference business unless we stand up and say, “Google’s secret algorithm shows you what IT, a giant corporation, says is relevant, including paid ads. A human reference librarian can give you information that YOU can decide is relevant.”

Unless we explain why e-books are less available in libraries and also negotiate for better terms, libraries will seem to have fewer choices for readers, who will decide they can find what they want, along with what they want to know, online. Libraries have put ourselves in this position by accepting what publishers have demanded: an unsustainable model that could cause us to lack content down the road — and without content, we aren’t libraries.


Libraries in mixed use buildings?

Last Sunday, deep in an article about possible market-rate apartments in a redevelopment project here, the Concord Monitor broke the news that city leaders have expressed interest in renting space in the new building if the winning proposal includes a 40,000 square foot library. A library in a mixed use building with apartments and possibly retail, restaurants, etc.? My first thought was “I want to live there!”

But it does pose a quandary: what would people think of our main library being in another building, rather than in its own stand-alone building? Either way it would be a purpose-built main library for the city. Not that an existing building — like this former Walmart — can’t be converted into a gorgeous and very usable library.

Supporters have been lobbying for a new library for years, and if this is the best opportunity, I personally* think it sounds pretty forward thinking and appealing. The location of the site on South Main St. is not far from our indie theater, Red River Theatres, very near the Capitol Center for the Arts, the “Smile!” building, which houses the League of NH Craftsmen headquarters & gallery, and another new building opening this spring, anchored by New Hampshire’s oldest indie bookstore, Gibson’s. This would mean a library located right in the heart of a “creative corridor” in Concord’s South End, well within walking distance of the State House, the rest of Main Street, and residential neighborhoods.

As I said, when can I rent an apartment?

ALA’s professional wiki only lists four U.S. libraries in apartment buildings, two of which are in Seattle and all branches of systems with standalone central libraries. Does anyone know of a main library that’s in another building? How have people reacted to it? Do the other tenants of the building contribute in any way to the library’s mission — for example a cafe that hosts readings or book groups in partnership with the library? Have numbers of people visiting the library changed? I’d love to hear what your experience has been as a patron or staff member of a library in a mixed use building.


*My blog represents my own opinions and not that of my employer.