Let’s Talk: Libraries vs. Bookstores

Let’s Talk is designed to be a discussion series that is posted whenever. This means that it does not follow any pre-designated schedule of posting and is posted whenever the author feels that there are things to talk about. These things may or may not be book related, but hopefully are so. 

The Library of Congress, USA. (Wow, just wow.)

Raise your left hand up if you’re tired of buying books from bookstores at exorbitant prices. Raise your right hand up if you’re tired of borrowing books that are musty and threatening to fall apart with another touch. I’m going to raise both my hands up.

The main deciding factor of this topic, I feel, generally comes down to whether consumers of either institution buy into its mission and subsequent marketing of said mission.

Libraries are commonly thought of as vibrant town squares that double as learning communities for its residents. It features activities for the young and old, as well as a slew of books to engage in thought and discussion, all for free (well, unless your books are overdue). However, from where I live, libraries are kind of sloth-like to the times. They are often seen as boring and mundane. Younger students typically visit the libraries to “study” (i.e. taking one’s materials around town to engage in behaviors that suggests study/revision, but upon close inspection, are not). Older students tend to visit newer libraries that are considered hip and cool, if at all, which means the exclusion of residential libraries.

In addition, libraries, more often than not, do not carry books that one wants to borrow. In some cases, it is due to a book being too popular and a reservation is necessary to secure said book. In others, it is due to censorship. Having public institutions that pride itself for learning remove books due to aims that are not related to learning per say, is extremely disappointing. It defeats its original purpose, and undermines the people’s ability to develop thinking minds of their own.

In a bid to make libraries here more attractive, an increasing number have been constructed inside shopping malls, or near one, and commonly boasts a modern, minimalist design. But these libraries tend to be situated far from one’s residence and require a decent amount of traveling to get to. Residential libraries tend to be the neglected cousins of their hip city cousins, and more often than not possess books that are in (dire) need of repurchase, as well as archaic facilities that might not meet the growing needs of its residents. Yet, such changes are slow to come, and sometimes dies on its way there.

There are articles that show that however obsolete libraries seem, they are still functioning machines, albeit slow. Indeed they are, since there are times where I so desire to borrow a certain paperback and find out from the catalogue that it has already been borrowed and a reservation has to be made to secure it. However, such instances do not always necessarily reflect a thriving community of library book readers. It could be a small but dedicated populace, or maybe coincidental, unfortunate timing.

“what about the bookstores?”

For your reference, an average book at a bookstore here costs around $20 or more, and rarely do they have discounts. You’d probably ask me to visit another retailer instead, and such an argument against the bookstore is very poorly constructed. But there is only one major bookstore from where I live, and I could very well run to its other outlets, but the prices would remain the same, I’m afraid. Browsing then, is what I usually do in bookstores and only on very special occasions do I actually purchase a book. Such special occasions include birthdays, favorite-books-that-I-will-reread-till-I-die, or books-that-will-take-me-longer-than-7-weeks-to-finish. (FYI: the library allows the borrower 7 weeks from the date of check out before overdue charges apply.)

It probably seems that I am a hard consumer to please and this difficult person is now on the horns of a dilemma. But really, if more governmental interest and funding is taken into libraries and its infrastructure, I believe the library experience would be much better. A culture of reading and books appreciation should also be cultivated and encouraged, in order to maximize the resources of the library. At the end of the day, the battle is more than choosing between the library or the bookstore. It is more than free books vs. paying for books. Rather, it is the culture and message we are sending to current and future readers, and non-readers, that literacy is important and essential to community growth.

How are the libraries and bookstores from where you are at? What do you think about them? 


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