READERS ALL

In the weeks before Christmas, my husband and my children asked me more than once if I would like an e-reader.  Given the amount of reading I do, they thought it would be something I would love, hundreds of books on a convenient gadget.  My husband would have been happy if I had expressed interest; it would have been an easy out from the trauma of trying to find something at the mall.  As for my children, I realized that they needed some re-education.

The world became mine when the letters on a page started to make sense.  I was just starting kindergarten and I was reading whatever crossed my path.  The content frequently didn’t make sense but the words did.  I got the keys to the kingdom and the golden ticket all in one the day I got my library card.  As the letters began to form words for my children, the day each got a library card was a day for celebration.  They now had something that they could enjoy for the rest of their lives.  School, church, and the library were part of their lives every week.

The United States is a country in dire financial straits, a reality for most countries in the world.  When money gets tight, the money managers go after those things that don’t add to the bottom line.  In most places, that means schools and libraries.  The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island fired all the teachers, everyone.  He says he will re-hire the “best” teachers  On what basis will he make this decision?  I suspect that the “best” teachers will be those on the lower end of the pay scale.  Cost effectiveness will determine staffing, class size, enrichment programs like art and music, and how many books are in the classroom and in the school library.  Quality of education will not enter into the equation.

Cities and towns will  examine their library budgets and decide, unfortunately, that since libraries do not generate money,  the cost of maintaining them will have to be contained.  Library hours have been cut and acquisitions will be limited.

Besides the obvious, what do public libraries and public schools have in common?  They level the playing field for those members of the public who have the most limited financial resources.  The rich are getting richer and those on the other end of the scale are having their opportunities reduced.

On Friday, Dan Waddell posted a piece on his blog entitled The Greedy Ghost, a phrase from an essay by Philip Pullman.

Dan writes:
Then there was the local studies section of Kensington and Chelsea library where I did much of the research that made up The Blood Detective. Without it, it would have been half the book. I doubt Kensington and Chelsea library, being a true blue Tory borough, is under threat, but many libraries out there with local studies collections are, so other authors, researchers and students will suffer. Libraries also give a community its focal point, a place to gather and meet. The death of libraries is just another part of the destruction of any concept of community.

Philip Pullman gives us these ideas: That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for.The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.”

Please read Dan Waddell’s article at http://www.murderiseverywhere.blogspot.com

Getting back to e-readers, one of the reasons I have not been interested in acquiring one is that my primary source of reading material is my local library system.  There are a limited number of mysteries available for loan to e-readers.  Nook supports  library loans but Kindle does not.  On Friday, the Library Journal had an article written by Josh Hadro which suggests that the issue has already been decided:

“In the first significant revision to lending terms for ebook circulation, HarperCollins has announced that new titles licensed from library ebook vendors will be able to circulate only 26 times before the license expires.”

Please read the Library Journal article at
http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/889452-264/harpercollins_caps_loans_on_ebook.html.csp

Independent bookstores are disappearing and Borders declared bankruptcy.  Publishers  want more from writers while giving little support to the writers who would appreciate it and lavishing support on the writers who don’t need it.

So, as readers all, how do we keep the libraries open,  the bookstores from disappearing, and the books by our favorite writers appearing where we can easily get our hands on them?




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8 Responses to READERS ALL

  1. What a great article. I hope the mayor of Providence is able to do better than considering payscale in his re-hiring decisions. We just watched ‘Waiting for Superman’ and I am woefully aware of both sides of this question–I recommend the film for anyone interested in where our schools stand and what might be done to fix them

    I am with you on the importance of books and libraries. Even if e readers were able to offer content in the same way a physical book can, I hope that so-called “real” books will always be with us. To my mind, there’s just no beating the turning of a page.

    I would love to hear from you, Beth, or anyone else who might like to become involved with the first annual Take Your Child to the Library Day this June. Last year we launched Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and it was a wild success, from the accounts I received. Personally the year would be a happy place for me with these two Days in it 🙂

  2. Beth says:

    Jenny, I have written more than a few times about the role libraries have played in my life. Bookstores were a weekly “date” when my children were young and the first library card was a rite of passage that was celebrated.

    I have read that the sale of children’s literature has dropped considerably in the last few years. Early readers are children who have been read to.

    Please let us know what people can do.

  3. Hear, hear, Beth. There’s nothing like the sense of relaxation I feel when I’m about to start reading to my kids. No matter how tired or grumpy I might be, that’s always a time of pure pleasure.

    Anyway, I’m just starting to put feelers out about Take Your Child to the Library Day–to librarians mostly right now. But it was bloggers who really got last December’s Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day off the ground, and I’d love it if the same thing could happen here!

  4. Maine Colonial says:

    Hello Beth,

    To me, an e-reader is just another medium to read a book. I read both physical books and e-books. I am mystified by the near-religious fervor of some Kindle-ites and appalled at the people (like Jeff Bezos, for example) who refuse to read a book if it’s not available for the Kindle. On the other hand, I don’t relate to the people who wax rhapsodic about the feel and smell of physical books and vow never to touch an e-reader. That might have something to do with my dust allergies, though!

    It disturbs me that Amazon purposely made the Kindle unfriendly to library borrowing and that the company wants to get way too involved in the economic relationships between publishers and authors. When I decided to get an e-reader, the lack of library friendliness put the Kindle out of the running immediately.

    I think that e-books may be helpful to libraries. Having e-books available allows patrons to borrow easily from library consortia, rather than be dependent on what the local library has. This permits more coordination among libraries, which can take some of the pressure off the book budget.

    E-readers have come down in price and will come down more. In the meantime, some libraries allow patrons to borrow e-readers. And e-books can be read on smartphones and PCs. Since e-books are here to stay, libraries are smart to work to integrate them into their collections and market them to their communities.

    Our library has been under siege from a vocal group of taxpayers for several years now. I have become more involved than ever in our library and I admire the outreach they doing to educate people about the many programs there are available. Children’s programs encourage people to visit the library, as do book clubs, local history and genealogy research services and providing computers with internet access.

    Still, there are a few neanderthals who get up at town meeting and say they are proud to say they haven’t visited the library in years. I’d like to smack those ignoramuses upside the head, but we have to recognize that even ignoramuses vote at town meeting. One way to get those people on board is to be sure they are aware of all the services the library provides to the community as a whole and to patrons who don’t visit in person. E-books (and downloadable audiobooks) are part of that and I’m glad to see libraries embrace them as a way to appeal to a certain segment of the community.

  5. Beth says:

    Maine, I download e-books from Amazon onto my PC. I don’t have anything against e-readers; I will eventually get one and when I do it will likely be the Nook because of the capacity to get books from the library.

    But…as happened this week, the publishers are making a move to limit the number of times a title can be “borrowed”. HarperCollins is limiting the use of a title from a library at 26. If a library allows two week loans, twenty-six patrons can borrow the e-book over the course of a year and then it is gone. How long will it take for the other publishing houses to come up with a similar plan?

    E-readers are becoming less expensive but how much less does it have to become for a significant percentage of library patrons to be able to afford it? For a lot of people, including senior citizens who are the largest reading demographic, what is affordable is debatable. With gas approaching 3.50 a gallon and a full tank of heating oil costing about 700.00, what is desirable and what is realistic are two different things. A library card and library books are free.

    I make all my choices about what books I am borrowing from the library from my computer. I spend more hours than I should tracking down booklists so I know what’s out there. But I do miss wandering through the aisles, having something catch my eye.

    My library belongs to a network and it is wonderful. There are about 3o cities and towns involved and it makes almost every book anyone is likely to be interested in available through the inter-library loan system. This is terrific for both libraries as far as their circulation figures are concerned. The library that owns the book gets credit when I place a hold on it. My library gets credit when I turn my library card over to them and then walk the book out the door.

    Libraries and schools are going to take the biggest hit with regard to budget allocations. I don’t know what it costs a library to have access to an e-book but they are, essentially, renting the book. The a paper book belongs to the purchaser for as long as the book survives the borrowers.

    Amazon made a statement when it required that the Kindle can only use books bought from Amazon. Barnes&Noble took the higher road by allowing library loans to be displayed on the Nook but B&N is closing stores.

    As Dan Waddell wrote in his blog post, libraries offer people a place to go where there isn’t any place to go. Yes, the homeless hang out there, but as long as they aren’t preventing library patrons from conducting their business, it is safer for them than being on the streets. “Public” is literally true.

    The libraries in my town are very busy although some hours have had to be cut. They are available for community meetings, there is an adult literacy program that is very successful, and there are excellent programs for children all year. We have a large, and young, immigrant population who have revitalized the schools and the libraries, the two means by which the children are dragging their parents into life in these United States.

    I don’t feel like a Neanderthal, although others may see me that way, but if a publisher can take back what it has sold in order to sell it again, I hope the library network that keeps me happy spends the greater part of their dwindling funds for books that don’t disappear at the touch of a button.

  6. Maine Colonial says:

    Beth, I certainly hope you don’t think I was calling you a neanderthal. I don’t think that at all. My point is simply that since e-books are here to stay, libraries are smart to use them to whatever advantage they can.

    I agree that visiting the library and borrowing books is the best possible experience and way to support the institution. I do that at an absolute minimum of once a week, together with volunteering there and at our library’s bookstore, donating to its annual fund, serving on its Corporators’ committee and staying to the bitter end of our town meeting so that I can speak up in favor of and vote for its full funding.

    • Beth says:

      I am a semi-neanderthal. I appreciate all the things that make life more interesting, enjoyable, and educational (although I think we all abuse Google after we have been to the doctor).

      There are many people who appear to believe that if it isn’t on-line, it isn’t worth bothering with. And technology, as advanced as it is, is still technology and there isn’t anything created by human ingenuity that can’t go wrong.

      There is a significant percentage of people who are part of my library network who don’t have a hope of getting together enough money to purchase an e-reader. That percentage is increasing because of the economy and because people don’t understand the reason collective bargaining improved the lives of the majority after WW II. It is a scary world for most people who wonder how long it will be before they are clients of a food pantry rather than a volunteer at one.

      The more money libraries put into e-books that can only be enjoyed by people who have the resources to buy the necessary device on which to read them, the less money available for the free to all public libraries. I grew up in the sixties, supporting RFK and benefiting from the programs of the Great Society. Doesn’t seem possible that those days existed.

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