Sunday, November 23, 2008

Obsolete? Not Yet.

An Australian columnist wonders whether book rental schemes like Book Swim will make libraries as obsolete as video rental stores - and concludes that they won't. Not only do the rental schemes cost money (and libraries, unlike video rental stores, offer their collections for free) but they don't have a wide enough variety of offerings, focusing instead on current bestsellers. But she also points out something less tangible but very important about libraries.
Libraries still serve as one of the rare public meeting spaces not devoted to commerce. They help kids with research and adults with job hunts and starting businesses and their own formal and informal educations. Libraries buy books based on both popularity and serving their public. They tend to fight the good fight to make sure controversial material is available. You know, good quality-of-life, bastion of democracy stuff.
She also recommends some simple ways that libraries could be even better.
I think with the right savvy, libraries are up to the task of competing with even an improved book rental service. Already, through inter-library loans you can get almost anything, and with my countywide system's online reservation system, it's almost as easy as Netflix to request something. A little slow to get it, but that should be fixable. Make renewing easier, with a warning system when something's coming due, and you're most of the way there for me.
And she closes with a final benefit: when you've grown weary of reading that same picture book fifty-five times to your child, you can claim that it's due at the library.

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