Book him, Dano

Via normblog I find this – the head of a publishing company whining that library book purchase funds have declined. I don’t want to go all Mandy Rice-Davies on you, but… well, he would, wouldn’t he?

The article is a plea for libraries to return to their core business of lending books and stop trying to be “community centres, outreach posts, and IT training camps”. It’s a fair point, and I do wonder at what point libraries would stop being actually libraries. But it’s also fair to point out that libraries’ core business has been declining for decades, despite (or because of) the fact that book buying by the public has been steadily growing. I suspect the reason for this decline has been the steady decline in the relative price of books, so that people are increasingly inclined to buy books (perhaps while shopping at the supermarket) and treat them as disposable items*; coupled with the rise of other ways of accessing information (TV, internet, etc). I honestly don’t expect to see this trend of long-term decline reversed. Whereas museums – so often the poor relation of libraries within a local authority (their traditional status being under-funded, under-resourced, under-staffed and under a librarian) – which are a discretionary, not a statutory service, have experienced the exact opposite. Usage has been steadily climbing, despite competition from a range of ‘ heritage experiences’. Their unique selling point has always been access to the real things, rather than what are at best the second-hand experiences of video, the internet and books.

Perhaps instead it’s time to utter the heretical thought that maybe libraries should no longer be a statutory service, and that local authorities should no longer be legally obliged (though still permitted) to operate public libraries.

* Apart from me. I can’t throw books away, it would be as bad as burning them.

It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke

2 Responses to “Book him, Dano”

  1. Joseph Brennan Says:

    I can’t bear to throw away books, either.

  2. Devil's Kitchen Says:

    * Apart from me. I can’t throw books away, it would be as bad as burning them.

    I hear you: I’m the same…


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