by Rebecca Tischler, Head Editor, INALJ Tennessee
Public Libraries: The Compromise
I recently read an article on the MacLean’s website called, “Thanks for the Tip, I’ll Get It on Amazon,” by Brian Bethune, which explained that even though bookstores are having problems with sales, people still come into the stores to browse, or to ask for help on reader’s advisory. Bethune says that physical bookstores can’t compete with the low prices of the online stores, but the online retailers can’t compete with the guidance that the employees can provide, or with the immersive browsing experience. So, the online retailers are trying to find alternative ways to provide advice and immersive browsing in order to compete with the bookstores.
One of the main examples is, of course, Amazon. In their attempt to compete, they have created areas on their website that suggest books similar to the ones you are examining, and they also provide suggestions based on your purchase history. Unfortunately, your purchase history may include gifts, assignments, continuing education, and books you’ve discovered that you don’t like. But, Amazon has also included areas to provide reviews and forums for people to discuss their favorite books, and they’ve also purchased the website Goodreads. The major problem with this is that many of the reviewers may be hired to post glowing reviews, which means that the customer can’t tell which reviews or comments are real. So far, online retailers just can’t compete with the service that bookstores can provide, even if the bookstores can’t compete with the prices.
However, I find it highly ironic that everyone seems to forget about the libraries in this debate about price vs. service. Most libraries allow patrons to borrow books, audio books, cds, ebooks, and movies for free. The public library can also provide free family and academic programs as well as access to the internet, which in our society, has become necessary in order to apply for jobs, to do homework, etc.
So not only are public libraries providing these services at extraordinarily low prices (usually for free), the library also has a physical location with thousands of books for both research and pleasure through which patrons can browse. They can come to the library for reader’s advisory assistance, and talk to people who can give personal recommendations tailored to the patron’s desires and can provide troubleshooting with technology. The public library is the compromise between the online retailers and the physical bookstores; low prices with personal service.
Public Libraries are the best of both worlds, and we need to advertise ourselves as such. We need to let people know about our services, about our programs, and about our books. We need to let people know that we are here.