Are Libraries Obsolete?

Are Libraries Obsolete?

Since I purchased my first e-reader I’ve rarely darkened the doors of my local library. Before yesterday, it had been three years. Three! With the onslaught of inexpensive or free e-books and lots of Barnes & Noble gift cards, it’s just been easier to buy rather than borrow. But, on a whim (and search for a local book club), I drove over to the county library.

What a colossal disappointment. First, you’d think that a library would be a haven of book clubs, wouldn’t you? I certainly did, but was unpleasantly surprised to find that my library had just one and their current book was an essay. (An essay? Seriously?) Next, I headed upstairs to the fiction section which was really nothing more than a museum of books well past their publication dates. As my favorite genre at the moment is New Adult, I was on a mission to check out a few authors that I wasn’t willing to risk my cash on…but when I asked the librarian whether there was a New Adult section she directed me over to the newly published section, you know, for books that are new.

*face palm*

Call me crazy, but if I were a librarian, I’d at least spend some time learning what people are reading or what’s hot in the publishing world.

*edited to add: in fairness to the librarian, while she wasn’t hip on New Adult, she was extremely helpful otherwise, going out of her way to research book clubs and answer all the questions I had*

blackandwhiteRegardless, I set out on my own to look through the fiction section and found…nothing. Not one single NA book. Or books from smaller publishing houses. Or anything that wasn’t already on my grandmother’s reading list (and she died almost 9 years ago). I felt that I was looking at a giant, dusty cliché of books. I could almost hear the shelves (which I imagined wearing pink velour track suits) calling out to me:

“Look, I have Sandra Brown and Nora Roberts! Don’t you want to be my friend?”

Pretty much, no.

Always the optimist (no laughing from those that know me, please) I managed to pull a few books, dropping them into my basket before heading over to the teen section. Yes, I felt like a complete perv, standing under the sign that glared “TEEN” in big letters while the people around me side-eyed me. The selection there was better (Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, hello!) with books by Lauren Oliver and Maggie Stiefvater, but most trilogies or series had just one book available, and naturally it was the second or third, never the first book in the series.

So, are libraries obsolete? Has the popularity and convenience of e-books and programs like Kindle Unlimited put libraries out of business? Based on what I saw yesterday, yes. Even when it comes to research, with the internet at our disposal (at least for now), we don’t even need to leave the comfort of our homes. Sure, there was a young mother with a stack of books for her little girl, but six-year-olds will read the same book a thousand times, so they pretty much don’t care if it was published in the last century. And, yes, if you like classics, there are five copies of The Catcher in the Rye waiting patiently for you. But, for the reader looking for what’s new or popular, the choices are limited unless you’re willing to place your name on a waiting list with a hundred other people for the one copy of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr or Caroline Kepnes You.

What, if any, have your recent library experiences been like?

11 thoughts on “Are Libraries Obsolete?

  1. Check out your library’s online book selection? Many libraries loan out e-copies. You probably already know this – but just in case you don’t =) That’s where I discovered Kevin Hearne years ago (adore his Iron Druid series!) I’m crossing my fingers for you on the ebook side, because otherwise it’s a sad story with a sad ending.
    Also, meetup.com is great for finding book clubs in my area.

    1. Kate, it’s been some time since I checked out my library’s online selection, so I might need to give it another go. Honestly, though, I’m not hurting for ebooks (good grief, no!), I just enjoy having a book in my hands on occasion and hoped that using the library would help my wallet 😉 And thanks for the link, I’m definitely going to check it out.

  2. Hmm. My local library is engaged with the community in a host of ways that transcend books yet keep books as the central focus. They had an author’s fair last year, their first annual one, and have created a shelf for the works of local authors. They have acquired all four books that I’ve written and published independently (Hijacked, Unholy Bonds, Opal’s Jubilee, and Christmas Hope). And they offer a wide variety of ebooks for loan, so I don’t have to spend money on the best sellers that will never go on sale or for free.

    That doesn’t take into account their help at the reference desk (they gladly nose out the most obscure details I ask for when I can’t find them on my own), and they provide access to a mind boggling international collection of materials not available to the average reader even ten years ago.

    Are they a free resource for every new book I want to read? No; they have budgets and must choose carefully how to spend. But if they get enough requests from patrons, they listen and do their best to acquire those titles.

    I’m sorry you didn’t find what you wanted, but I truly hope libraries are NOT obsolete! Meanwhile, talk to the powers that be and mention the genres you’d like to see. Perhaps you will be the agent of change for your library!

    1. Leslie, thank you so much for commenting! It’s great to hear that your local library is so connected to the community and I love the idea of a local author’s section. Perhaps I need to spend a little more time looking into what the library is offering beyond my immediate needs, especially the eBook content, though as I mentioned in another comment, eBook availability is definitely not a problem for me, lol. And, to be fair to the librarian I called out, she was extremely helpful in other ways, perhaps I should clarify that in the post.

  3. LOL At pink velour track suits. Exactly! And I feel the same way in the teen section! Old, and vaguely skeezy. BUT I will say it is all about the library. Boise has a great one, and has trademarked itself as Library! because yes, it is just that excited about books. My husband has saved us thousands of dollars by interlibrary loaning textbooks and technical manuals (big thanks from our bank account!). I will say though, libraries are short of the epublished indie romances I’ve come to favor. As for NA, Barnes and Noble doesn’t have a NA section, and Powell’s books (hip, young, the biggest independent bookstore in the WORLD) still doesn’t even have one. Folks, if Powell’s aka “Hipster” Books doesn’t have one, your pink velour tracksuited library ain’t gonna come close. Libraries are wonderful. We need them for homeless people to warm up in (hey, I’ve BEEN one of those homeless people and I read all of “The Sky is Everywhere” still my #2 favorite book of all time, while waiting out a blizzard in a library) and once all the brick and mortar stores go under, we’ll need them for the book browsing experience we’ve all come to miss. OH! Sandra, did you hear Amazon opened it’s first brick and mortar store? They’re partnering with college bookstores. That’s a jaw dropper, hmm?

    1. It is wonderful to hear from others about their libraries and to know not all libraries are still in the 20th century like mine. I suspect that our libraries reflect our community’s values in regard to education and culture. Not to say that my community doesn’t value these things, but it can be hit or miss.

      Michelle, you brought up an excellent point about our bookstores not having NA sections. While that’s true, at least here at the local stores, the NA books are shelved in the romance section, but also have a separate set of shelves within the romance section for the newest and most popular. So, there’s almost a mini NA section.

      And, what? An Amazon brick and mortar? Seriously? I can’t decide if that’s a good business decision or not. Hmm. I will say this, there are already so many people who dislike Amazon, claiming they’re putting the brick and mortars out if business, this will send those folks into orbit…

  4. I forgot to mention that libraries are the best and sometimes only places to find items of historical and/or genealogical interest. Not that those are my favorite things; book, particularly fiction, are!

    I wonder if you sat down and had a conversation with a librarian at your local branch, you might discover open minds (on their parts) and new horizons (on yours). You never know!

  5. In addition to the historical information in libraries and the other points mentioned, I’ll add that in some communities the number of people who own computers (let alone portable readers like Kindle) are lower than might be expected due to poverty or whatever. Here, young people with a thirst for a safe place to explore the real as well as fantasy worlds may only have a small public library to find what they are looking for. I hope libraries will still be around when those young people need them.

    1. You bring up an interesting point, during my visit, every computer was occupied, but mostly by adults. Thanks for joining the discussion!

    1. Leslie, I’ve been surprised by how passionate people remain about their library! All of you have brought up great points that I haven’t considered, and based on conversations I’ve had with people here in my community, my neighbors haven’t been thinking outside the box either! As for classics, I’m just starting to pick them up and have been pleasantly surprised!

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