For nearly 85 percent of kids living in rural areas, the only place where they have access to technology or books outside the schoolroom is in a public library. For many urban kids, the only safe haven they have to study or do homework is the public library. Librarians are soldiers in the battle for our place in the world, and in many cases they are getting the least amount of support our communities can offer.
Who doesn’t love libraries? Conceptually, at least.
The public library is one of the fundamental pillars of our peculiar flavor of democracy, and yet, recent events in both political and publishing circles suggest that our commitment to them is wavering. And there’s certainly no shortage of opinions about their place in the “digital future,” some optimistic, but most some ignorant variation on “Who needs libraries when we have Kindles, Netflix and Wikipedia?”
This week is all about Book Expo America, and while most of the attention has been soaked up by ereaders, ebooks and Amazon’s formal move into publishing (along with the occasional mention of an actual book or two), on Monday I had the refreshing pleasure of attending both School Library Journal and Library Journal‘s respective “Day of Dialog” events, the latter of which included an inspiring appearance by thriller author, Karin Slaughter, who is also the founder of the Save The Libraries campaign.
Slaughter made a passionate and vigorous case for the importance of libraries, and while she was preaching to a very receptive choir, her words have been more than matched by her recent actions. Even her website prominently directs attention to Save the Libraries right on the home page, and when answering a local librarian’s question about the lack of NYC-based authors prominently supporting libraries, she even promised to email some of her friends to ask, “What the hell are you doing?”
While many authors heartily praise libraries when asked about them, the kind of proactive, strategic initiatives Slaughter and others in ALA’s Authors for Libraries Members are engaging in seems to be an exception.
And that’s a shame.
Beyond all of the philosophical reasons to support libraries, there are three very concrete reasons I can think of:
- Discoverability: With the volume of books being published each year growing exponentially, it’s increasingly difficult for any book to rise above the noise and connect with its audience. While “curation” is the buzzword du jour, librarians have been curating books forever, and there are far more libraries than bookstores in this country. Most library websites are better than your average independent booksellers’, too, and as ebooks become increasingly popular, being visible on more than Amazon, B&N and Goodreads will be a critical advantage. As ebook business models evolve, direct partnerships with libraries become an option, too, like the recent innovative deal between the Colorado Independent Publishers Association and Douglas County Libraries.
- Digital Literacy: Libraries aren’t warehouses for books and movies, they’re often the only resource for people in their communities to learn about and interact with new technology. Only the most cynical of publishers can believe there’s no value in nurturing new readers, and libraries have long been invaluable in that regard. Today’s borrower is tomorrow’s buyer, but only if they have equal access.
- Diversity: Library collections tend to be more diverse than bookstores because they are community-oriented, not driven by commerce. Beyond the bestsellers and trends du jour, libraries can connect readers with books that “the market” has pre-determined to not be commercially viable.
I recently joined my local library’s “Friends of…” association and have offered to help them out any way I can, and I’m intrigued by the Geek the Library campaign, but I think there has to be more we can do, not just as individuals, but also from the publishing industry’s perspective.
Why is Slaughter’s initiative exceptional rather than one of many all across the country?
Why don’t more authors and publishers “get” libraries?