After all the relatively bad news regarding ebooks and libraries, I found some hope for public libraries in this article: As The Age Of The Physical Book Retreats, The Cult Of The Physical Book Advances.
It might be the case, as I’ve predicted, that with the rise of digital media, publishers of the most popular media that has driven public library circulation from time immemorial will gradually stop providing access to their wares. The recent support of major publishers for SOPA shows they’ll go to ridiculous lengths to protect their ebooks from “piracy.”
I feel sorry for them more than blame them. Publishers are suffering as the world realizes it doesn’t really need them anymore, and they’re doing all they can to take libraries and the Internet down with them. Fear and panic are never pretty, even if they’re understandable.
But all might not be lost. Printed books aren’t going away, even if the most popular of them won’t be available for lending or purchasing, just licensing from Amazon and maybe a couple of other places. There will still be printed books and people who read them, and along with specialty bookstores libraries will be a place to find those books.
As the new book world order comes to pass, libraries can make themselves more attractive by obsessing less about the popular. Let’s face it, the blather about libraries being the cornerstone of democracy and all that is a little hard to take when one of the biggest challenges is making bestselling novels available to library patrons. If the bestsellers aren’t freely available, democracy – such as it is – will survive, or at least the absence of free bestsellers won’t be the cause of its demise.
Instead, libraries can try to be cool in some way, something they’ve never really been. They’ve been stuffy, useful, and useless, and some of their workers have tried to be “hip,” but libraries have never really been cool.
As the digital era passes libraries by, it’s time to celebrate the traditional qualities of libraries: print books, quiet corners, dusty shelves. Instead of updating libraries with renovations, libraries should be backdated.
Make the library look antique. People like antiques, probably more than they do libraries. They also like the traditional physical culture of writing and reading. I write my journal in a leatherbound notebook with a fountain pen, and I can’t be the only one. So libraries should also start selling leatherbound journals and fountain pens.
Instead of the ugly metal shelves in most libraries, put in wooden shelves. Instead of new computers, put in some steamtop computers. Instead of the garish colors so many books come in, rebind them all in leather, or at least provide leather covers for them.
Paper, wood, leather, and brass, that’s what the library of the future needs more of.
Instead of wasting money on the bestsellers of today, which are sure to be the moldy detritus of tomorrow, libraries should invest more in timeless and aesthetically pleasing environments that will make people want to visit. People want beautiful libraries, and instead they often get bland libraries with ugly computers, steel shelving, and bad lighting.
Even if there aren’t a lot of bestsellers available, people will want to visit beautiful public spaces with steampunk computers and leatherbound books on mahogany shelves.
The retro look is in, and there’s nothing more retro than libraries. Libraries should take advantage of that.