Friday, February 1, 2013

On libraries, and bookstores

Once upon a time, there were lots of little independent bookstores.  New book stores, used book stores, specialty book stores.  As time went on, a number of BIG bookstores began to develop.  There was Walden Books, B. Dalton, Powell's Books, Borders Books, and of course Barnes and Noble, as well as a host of others.  In some communities, the little bookstores were able to survive.  But in many instances, they just couldn't keep up with the big stores.  The big stores had more titles available, and typically had cheaper prices.  Many of the little bookstores closed, or were swallowed up by the big bookstores.  And even some of the big stores were forced to close, in part because of the BIGGER stores.

Recently, Barnes and Noble, the BIGGEST of the BIG stores, announced that they will be implementing a schedule of store closures, resulting in a significant reduction in total stores. The news made me sad. I like bookstores, although if they relied on my purchases alone, I can certainly understand why the closures are necessary.

You see, while I love books, I almost never buy books for myself. I get nearly all my reading material...  whether in the form of printed books, or digital ebooks for my Nook, or recorded books to listen to in the car... from the library.

When I was a young child, and first learning to read, we didn't have a library nearby.  BUT...  we DID have a bookmobile, which came to the neighborhood once a week.

I still have fond memories of going up and down the single aisle that ran down the middle of the vehicle.

When a library -- a real library! -- opened up, fairly close, I was beside myself with excitement!  We could go there any day of the week, and there was an entire building full of books.

But as much as I loved reading, I never felt the need to 'own' the books.  I read them once, and moved on.  Frankly, it was easier to choose books from the library, because I always knew it was a temporary choice.  Any book not chosen one week, could be chosen the following week when I returned.  On the occasions when I went to a bookstore, it was always very difficult, as I felt that all the books not chosen, were missed opportunities.

However, there's no question that bookstores serve a very important purpose.  As much as I don't care to own books, I do love giving books as gifts.  Sure, I could go online and order books that way, but unless I have a particular book in mind, I'd much rather walk up and down the aisles, select the books I want, and walk out of the store with my purchases in hand.  And of course there are a lot of people who do, indeed, want to own their books.

For me, personally, the closing of Barnes and Noble stores will have little effect.  I'll continue to go to the library, and I have confidence that, in one form or another, my Nook e-reader will continue to be a supported device, either by what remains of Barnes and Noble, or some spin off.  And the business plan that the company announced, is a decade-long plan.

But still.  I find myself saddened at this news.  It feels like the end of an era.

Time for some tea, and a good book.


  1. I used to buy the book of the week for a £ when I bought the Times. I ended up with a lot of books and I read much wider than I would have done. I gave them nearly all away and there were a few I never wanted to see again. While I mainly loan books from the library, I do take a certain irrational pleasure in knowing that I own books that I have loved reading. I read them multiple times, a few others will read them and the patina of age and use is a sign of pleasure. I feel richer for owning some. Of course, they usually end up lent out and not returned. Books on a shelf may not have material value but they can provide something.

  2. When I was a kid I rarely bought books. Like you, Laurie, I relied on the library. I started buying books in high school and I've never stopped. Every year I tell myself I should get back in the habit of library books, because I know I'd be a bit more adventurous with no money output. Doesn't happen.

    I like to help support the authors of the books I enjoy. (Library books do support them; they count as sales, after all, and help build fan base.) Like Tim, I reread books. Having them at hand means I can do that whenever the mood strikes, independent of library hours. And it was wonderfully fun to watch my daughter going through a box of my old paperbacks, squeeing over how many SF classics were there.

    There are many B&N stores in the area where I live. I won't be surprised if one or more closes. Sad, though. There is a small, independent bookstore in the town where I live. I haven't been in there for a while; need to plan a visit!

  3. I used to be a book hoarder. When I would run out of room on my book shelves, I would donate to one of the retirement homes in the area, but always felt let down when giving my books away. There are only two books I've read more than once...Gone With The Wind (5 times) and The Once And Future King (4 times). (Bible excluded for the purpose of this comment.) Now, all my books are on my Kindle. I have over 300 that I haven't read yet. Hoarding in a new way. But at least I don't have to dust them, or give them away. It's been years since I visited a library. Sad, I know.

  4. I've been a reader since elementary school. Not just books but everything in print. When I was probably Sarah's age, I remember my first trip to the library with my Aunt. I can see it inside and out. I already had a love for books so it was like heaven in that building.

    I've used libraries all over the world in in 5 states and I bought books at the same time. I still use both but stores to a lesser degree. Not because I love books less but because I'm at a point in my life when I see the value of leaving less behind. I had to clean out the drawers and boxes and shelves of my husband. There was no joy in it and the decisions I was forced to make made me see my own collection of things differently. Since 2009, I have donated numerous boxes of books, keeping only those I truly can't part with... yet. Or those I wish to pass on to Sarah. I am still tempted at times to buy a book. I now own a Kindle and have over 300 free books on it, loaded in the last year! I've read approximately 40 on the Kindle and a few hardbacks since I bought it a year ago. It will take time to read them all but imagine the space they'd take if I bought all that?

    I'll hate to see the closing of bookstores. I love just being in a bookstore.