WTF happened to libraries?

There’s a small town that had a smallish library. From memory, I’d say there were about 30-40 racks of books (by “rack” I mean a set of shelves, about 3 feet wide and 6 feet high). So the selection was limited, and after a few years of living here I had pretty much exhausted the books on topics of interest to me. Maybe once a month or so they’d get a new book of interest to me.

So I was excited when the decision was made to build a new larger library. It took a couple of years, and they recently opened a very nice new building. Probably 4x the size of the old one. Beautiful architecture. There is a large children’s area with tables and toys. They have a Maker room with 3D printers. They have laptops that you can borrow. There is a nice quiet room for studying. There are a variety of multipurpose rooms of various sizes for meetings and presentations I guess.

Did you notice what I didn’t mention? BOOKS. There are now about 8 racks of books. Yes, they now have maybe 20% of the number of books they had in the old smaller library. The book area looks like an afterthought. “Oh, we’ve got some extra space here, let’s throw in a few bookshelves.” I couldn’t believe it. I was sure I was missing some hidden area where all the books were kept. I almost felt close to tears as I was leaving the library.

Is this normal for modern libraries? They don’t consider providing books to the public to be among their most important services any more?

The library in my little city still has lots of books, but it has become the portal to high speed internet to a whole bunch of low-income folks, and a source of e-books, audio books and movies for the whole local population.

On the paper and ink book front, my local library is part of a consortium of Ohio libraries that gives me access to every book in every public library in Ohio. I can browse the catalog online, order the book, and get an email or text when it has arrived at my local library. No charge.

OP sounds unlucky. The public library near me in Northern Virginia is still as well-stocked with books as ever. Since I’m now reading books more than ever, I’m quite happy there.

My daughter is a kids’ librarian and I’ve discussed this sort of thing with her on many occasions.

Over the past couple of decades, libraries have evolved to provide far more services than the circulation of printed material. In many ways they are viewed as community centers, providing resources and services that are not otherwise provided. Meeting rooms, youth and adult programming, free wifi and - of course, sleeping quarters for the homeless! :wink:

My preferences tend towards the circulation of books, but I have to admit my local library seems to be quite busy, and I favor my local government supporting these sorts of diverse efforts. IME, most libraries participate in some sort of network, such that you can access printed material (and audiobooks, DVDs, games, etc) from other member libraries.

Libraries’ deaccessioning practices are hotly debated. It kills me to have trouble finding anything by one of my favorite authors, or a book I consider a classic, but to find shelves of what I consider crappy romance novels. But shouldn’t readers of crap be served as well? How long should a moldy old book be kept on the shelf after the last time it was checked out?

I’ve often considered (tho never put into practice) regularly checking out my favorite material, just to make it appear that it is used regularly… :wink:

They must have looked at bookstores and figured that defining yourself primarily in terms of physical books is a mistake. They’ll likely end up as information-centric community centers.

They also likely have an extensive number of books you can search and ask for which reside in other libraries. Most books are in the long tail so there’s no need to have 1 in each library if it’s taken 5% of the year, you can have 1 per 10 libraries.

The library near me is much like the one described in the OP. Rebuilt a few years ago, now a very modern, cool looking place with a coffee bar and lots of computers. THere’s a reading area for periodicals with a cozy, gas burning fireplace.

One difference from the OP’s library is that all the old books are still there. And I mean old. They look out of place in this spanking new edifice. Not that I’m complaining. I prefer actual books to e-books. But they do look… old.

It’s nice that the town cared enough about the library to build a new one. But maybe the budget is short. Is there a library foundation? Maybe they could do fund raising with the goal of buying new books and the right classic books.
I know in a good world the government would pay for this, but in our world library lovers should.

People read fewer books. So who’s going to pay for a library to provide services that no one uses? No one. So libraries are adjusting their role in relation to the needs/desires of a contemporary population.

That’s WTF happened. :slight_smile:

I have a friend who’s a research librarian for a major university. As far as she’s concerned, libraries are portals to information. Databases, technical journals, obscure antique reference books, PhD dissertations that no one is interested in, that whole thing. If it comes as a printed version, that’s fine; if it’s available online, that’s fine too. If you want popular literature, there’s a database for that, as well.

She loves printed books, and owns literally more than she can count, but she doesn’t think the library’s role is defined as just a big building that keeps books.

Do any libraries have Kindles?

Yeah, ours got a fireplace a couple of years ago. Impressed this cheap old curmudgeon as over-the-top, and nothing I would ever use personally, but i figure given the type of crap our local gov’t pisses money on regularly, it didn’t bother too much to see it going towards the library - especially when I see it used so heavily.

Anyone else just go into the stacks and read the spines, seeing whether any titles/authors appeal to you. That’s generally how I get my writing material - I’ll just go into some portion of the fiction alphabet, or bios, or some nonfic category and pick out an armful of books.

My dtr says that behavior is VERY unusual among their patrons. They’ve gone to many “face-forward” shelves, emulating bookstores, which they believe patrons prefer. IMO, it just means room for fewer books!

Well, I have a “portal to information” sitting on my desk. I can search online at home; I don’t need to drive to the library to do it. The library may have access to a few sites that I would have to pay to access, but it’s rare that I’d need that access. What I don’t have at home is BOOKS.

Boy do I feel old today.

That is a very salient point; most of the books in libraries aren’t checked out even once a year. Most mass market books are impressibly cheaper (when corrected for inflation) than they have been in the past, especially if you get them discounted from or another online reseller, and of course ebooks like the Kindle have cut into physical book sales. I don’t know about most library systems, but the Los Angeles County Library system has a system to allow you to check out ebooks. It makes little sense to keep a vast store of books that see virtually no use when the space can be better used for other purposes that better serve the public, and of course, libraries still serve as a location for information research and interlibrary loan.

Physical books aren’t going to go away in the foreseeable future, but they take up a lot of space and require a lot of physical handling versus electronic books and online resources. I have a copy of Marks’ Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers but I haven’t opened it in years because most of the information I need is available online faster even though the book is just on an upper shelf in my office. I still have a lot of physical reference handbooks and textbooks because the information in them is too specialized or arcane to find online (and Kindle versions of technical textbooks and handbooks are absolutely terrible) and I frequently buy physical books even for more casual reading just because I like handling a book, but for the general public there isn’t such a great need for physical books and periodical libraries, so there is little demand for the conventional services previously offered by public libraries. Even specialty libraries are scanning books and microfiche files for online storage and warehousing sources rather than maintaining publicly accessible repositories of physical references.


In my rural area about 1/4 of the library is a children’s section stocked with plenty of books, about 1/2 is books, and the other 1/4 is tables and computer terminals. A lot of people have to come to the library to get on the Internet with their computers, or use the library’s computers because most don’t have Internet at home. We’ve had various librarians who got sick of dealing with computer issues, but that’s what people need these days.

As Crotalus notes upthread, for many libraries, an important part of their service is now providing online access (i.e., that “portal to information”) to people who can’t otherwise access it.

Did you check out their e-book lending? You might be surprised there.

Answer: The Internet

Why don’t you just buy every book that you want to read?

(For the irony impared, the expected follow-up would be “I can’t afford to buy every book that I want to read”, to which I would point out that millions of people still can’t afford computers and monthly internet service at home either, so there!)

The only physical books that I’d expect to be retained in a library are books with some historical significance; or in a research library, specialized material that is not available in electronic form. With the change in medium, I think we’re at the point where most mass market physical books should be recycled to make better use of library space, maybe keeping a few racks to cater to older people. I certainly wouldn’t be happy if my local town were wasting money on buying new physical books.

Children like physical objects like books; the turning of the page and other physical actions involved in reading and focusing are good for developing psychomotor skills and basic literacy, and there is considerable evidence that excessive exposure to electronic screens has significant impact upon childhood cognitive and affective development. So there is a good reason to maintain physical books available for children, although having to lug around heavy physical textbooks should be considered an anachronism with the availability of electronic ink devices provided that suitable formats can be developed to represent complex equations, charts, and graphs, at which the Kindle is still really terrible.