Buying books was eating a considerable way into my budget, especially those published by the traditional publishers. Self-published (e-)books are often prized reasonably enough to persuade me to part with a few euros of my dwindling book budget. But traditionally published books, even the e-books, are expensive by comparison. I do not want to be dictated by the way books are published whether I can afford to read them or not so I’ve decided to renew my library subscription. Not only will that allow me to read the latest bestsellers, libraries these days offer a lot more.
Audiobooks, streaming e-books, online courses and interesting lectures are only part of what’s on offer. Internet, WiFi, writer booths and coffee are also part of the package once you get through those sliding doors. The rows of books on shelves are still there, but comfortable reading chairs, computers and laptop facilities are also part of the scenery. In order for libraries to keep drawing in the public, they have to broaden their core business of lending books to becoming a cultural hub. Our local library offers tablet cafes and is looking to offer a range of courses, sometimes in collaboration with different learning institutes. As less money is available in subsidies, they need to come up with lucrative deals to keep the doors open. Those that do not innovate will disappear.
In the last ten years, over 300 libraries closed in the Netherlands. A commission, set up to explore the future of Dutch libraries warned that closing down more will have implications for literacy levels and the economy. Not everyone has found his or her way to e-books and internet. In fact, not everyone is computer savy or wants to read their books and do their research online or in digital formats. Libraries are therefore having to balance their traditional role of lending paper versions of books with modern alternatives. Both are needed to remain relevant in a highly changing world of information.
Do I like the changes? Yes, I do. I love the feel of those paper books and after a year of reading exclusively digital, a paper book feels solid and comfortable. But I have to search for the right page to start my next reading session because I forgot to place a bookmark there. I also restrict myself in pages because wordy tomes are heavy. But the real benefits for me are those writing booths and a convenient socket to plug in my aging laptop. And did I mention WiFi? Next week I will attend my first lecture and I’m considering a painting from their art lending scheme. It would look great on the wall above my desk at home.
What are your thoughts on the changing face of libraries? Has your local library changed? Do you think there’s still a role for libraries in a world of digital books and internet?
Happy borrowing and reading!