I recently posted about “Libraries as publishers”, now comes the suggestion that libraries act as booksellers. Publishing Perspectives sets the ball rolling on 2 December with a piece by Deborah Emin publisher of Sullivan Street Press. She instances the Borough of Queens in New York City (now Lonely Planet’s #1 tourist destination in USA) where there are apparently only three bookshops serving the immense area with approximately 2.3 million inhabitants. She refers to The Center for an Urban Future’s recent report, Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries which is available at this link as a PDF download, though the introduction is available there already. Whether or not stimulated by this report NYPL recently had people complete a survey about their usage of the library and its branches, so they are obviously alive to the issues. Capital needs are unsurprisingly immense, and library systems everywhere are a favorites for local administrations to short-change.

Actually the New York Public Library already has a gift shop in the main Stephen A. Schwarzman Building where they sell books as well as other stuff, so a structure exists on which Ms Emin’s wish could be based. Of course to some extent branch libraries have always acted on an intermittent basis as second-hand bookstores, taking in donations of books from their customers and selling off deaccessioned volumes as they are weeded out from their collections. I wonder if it might not be more acceptable to the pro-business lobby to allow local booksellers to set up satellite outlets within local library branches, if the library was reluctant. The Library does maintain relationships with booksellers. The event I attended recently at the main library had books for sale by 192 Books. Another in Brooklyn had sales handled by Community Bookstore. Of course there would need to be staffing for any satellite shops which might be a difficulty, though I suppose a deal could be worked out where library staff tended the bookstore periodically. Whether there would be enough sales volume to fund the operation is the basic problem, but anything which made the usage of the space available at many branch libraries would help the system. Obviously the details would be where this sort of idea rises or falls, but this does seem to me to be the best proposal yet for some sort of government subsidization of the book industry. Having said that, I think we in USA are probably still a long way from accepting that the book industry deserves to have any kind of government subsidy.

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