MSE Blog: It didn't want my books – so what's the future for my local library?

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Hi all, this is a thread to discuss the MSE blog:
It didn't want my books – so what's the future for my local library?
"My wife and I are currently going through a clean out of what some refer to as "treasured memories", and I refer to as "a load of old clutter", to create space for our first child..."


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  • I remember visiting my local library a lot when I was a kid. It's still there today, but it seems to have transformed into an internet cafe. It has a few books, although I surmise they are there for a legal or contractual reason rather than part of the library's core business. In fact it still has some of the very same books I remember from my childhood. My guess from reading the blog post is that your local library isn't capable of accepting donations from outside the supply chain, either because the staff don't know how, or because they're not allowed to.

    Still, libraries are essentially doomed in their current form. The social and economic conditions that drove their uptake no longer apply; none of the mainstream political parties are interested in the kind of people who go to libraries - intellectuals and poor people - and there are simpler ways of getting hold of information than books. The buildings tend to be located in prime real estate and as you have pointed out, the books themselves have zero, zilch, nil value as assets. You had to give yours away. The market for used books operates with razor-thin margins and relies on volume.

    If we're being honest, books are a luxury item nowadays. If you don't own your own home, they're a burden when you have to move, and if you are a homeowner they take up space that could be given over to the television or media library. They tend to be ornaments, or a way of showing off your taste to other people. I suppose they have been for hundreds, nay thousands of years. In olden times, country houses had huge libraries filled with books that were never read.

    No, I don't miss the books. I read a lot; the books are just objects, it's the information that's important, and information occupies no physical space at all, and there's no need to visit a building in order to read a book. Nowadays I surmise that most reading happens on trains and aeroplanes, and the internet means that everywhere is a library.
  • edited 5 November 2013 at 11:30PM
    SparhawkeSparhawke Forumite
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    edited 5 November 2013 at 11:30PM
    Libraries originally started out as places of learning for the masses who for whatever reason hadn't the ability to go to universities and other places of learning, nowadays if you want to learn something you just go on wiki, they have died massively in the last 10 years and will likely continue to do so.

    There is still a big place for national libraries but local ones are dying faster than pubs it seems, a shame really.

    I worked in a charity bookshop and was always thrilled to get new donations in, the excitement of never knowing what you may find (our best donation by far was a 1st edition Jules Verne, 20,000 leagues under the sea) but most librarians now are way too arrogant, and no Darren, the attitude you found there was certainly not isolated.

    (Did you know, the 20,000 leagues under the sea is a monumental mistake? If you did go down 20,000 leagues you would end up somewhere a third of the way to the moon, give or take a thousand kilometres)

    Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookshops to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.

    This is why I love books, they will never be replaced by e-readers fully because there is something special about the way they feel and smell.
    The market for used books operates with razor-thin margins and relies on volume.

    Actually it operates on thin margins because of Amazon sellers pricing their books at 1p and getting the rest of their money on the postage as they have a fixed commision rate and simply price the rest of us out.
    "Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't blink. Good Luck" - The Doctor.
  • googlergoogler Forumite
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    Tread warily around the assumption that all knowledge is 'somewhere on the internet' and doesn't need to be recorded in books.
  • MobeerMobeer Forumite
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    Library staff I know seem to spend most of their day doing either kids club or IT support to people using the public computers.

    University and research libraries may be able to prosper with a pure academic focus, but regular public libraries need to adapt. Either they get into ebooks and online access or they sit in the past and die in an electronic age where information is expected to be available 24/7.
  • fifekenfifeken Forumite
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    I've never thought of a library as a place to dump second hand books.
  • I work in a library. The way that librarian spoke to MSE Darren is horrible and was bad customer service. I can't help but think though that his perception of the service provided was a bit skewed by his shock that the librarian didn't want his books. Darren clearly hasn't spent a lot of time in libraries.

    Customers usually think their books are really great and important titles, and they may well be, but if they are we will already have them. We have limited space - and this is a Central Library - and a rolling programme of new books and discarded old, tatty, damaged ones.

    A lot is automated and books come on supplier selection. Books now arrive from the suppliers jacketed, labelled and processed. Catalogue entries are downloaded. As a result we now have a huge cataloguing/bibliographic services room which is left with only a skeleton staff. You would be amazed how much time processing and getting a donation on to stock takes. It's quite like how you can spend a long time wording a tweet correctly. Although it's only 140 characters, it has to be right and succinct for the very reason of its brevity.

    After years of not taking donations, we recently started a collection where we take all donations and if we want to put them on stock we will, but if we don't, we sell them for 50p. The money raised goes into the book fund to buy books selected by trained subject librarians who will make targeted decisions on what to buy. It never fails to amaze me how regular borrowers and avid library users will buy so many of those books. When we used to have book sales (of ex stock - mostly in awful states of repair) people would buy rucksacks full of books.

    As for the future of libraries - don't get me started. We are facing the closure of 17 libraries and my job and those of my colleagues are vulnerable. Those of us that survive are also facing a pay cut ranging from £500-1200 a year. This is as a result of decreased budgets from central government leading our council to have to save millions of pounds.

    The cut to funding is by far our biggest threat. Much bigger than the threat of e-books and e-services. We have adapted to the changing times and the increasing digitalistion of society. Libraries offer e-books. We offer computer access to the poor and vulnerable, to job seekers, the homeless. It may not seem it, but there is still a large section of the community that cannot afford computers and internet connections.

    Libraries are much, much more than books. But on the subject of books we have to offer new, good condition books and an interesting and diverse range of books (from Tolstoy to Katie Price, from graphic novels to classic literature) if we want libraries to remain relevant in society and if we want to attract the younger generations.
  • SparhawkeSparhawke Forumite
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    Excellently put Purple, I know libraries are facing huge cuts and it is wrong, if we don't keep them open a very important part of life is gone but that means nothing when councillors want to spend £3,000+ on designer light switches :(
    "Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't blink. Good Luck" - The Doctor.
  • Kite2010Kite2010 Forumite
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    My local library has book sales every few months, where for a £1 you can buy a carrier bag and fill it up with as many books as you can fit in it.

    Mixture of ex-library stock or donated books.

    Best place to donate used books are the free book exchanges
  • Poppy9Poppy9 Forumite
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    I loathe my central library. One floor is like a play group and why it needs climbing frames I really don't know. A few years ago when DD had homework to complete and our home computer had crashed I took her to the library to use a PC. As she was then a child she was told she had to use one in the children's area. How she was supposed to concentrate when there were children running around screaming, climbing on chairs around her etc. I really don't know. I managed to bag a machine in "grown up" area and we moved there. Peace at last you would think - no, we had Tannoy announcements about Fathers day at the Library, other PC users watching videos or playing games or just chatting on their mobiles.

    While DD was studying for her A levels she tried using the "quiet part" of the library with friends to study but they gave up due to the noise. Thankfully the Uni library enforced the "quiet rule" and most of the local 6th formers went there.

    I really don't see that libraries should be offering free internet access. In the days when councils have to make cuts in providing vulnerable people with essential services we cannot afford the luxury of "free computer and internet use". Free wifi yes, but not free use of computers.

    I remember fondly going to the library with my mother in the school holidays to choose a book to read. We would spend a few hours browsing and quietly trying out books before making our choice. Now it's a noisy, frantic experience in the central library. My local library is quiet and nice to use but it's under used so really I don't see how the council can justify keeping it open when there isn't money for essential services.

    My local library welcomes donations of good quality older children's books. They were pleased to accept my boxes of Jacqueline Wilson type books which were in a once read condition as they are popular and in demand with older girls. I had to buy them as DD was avid reader and there were no copies in the libraries, if they had even bought them yet. I also found my local librarian had a great list of similar type books so she would help DD find books to borrow. Central library too busy being a playground and I only use to order on line and collect.
    :) ~Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.~:)
  • infjinfj Forumite
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    I'm astonished that a site that is supposed to be about saving money, is criticising libraries instead of shouting about their value. Purplestar133 has succinctly explained some of the reasons why the library didn't want the books. To save money most are supplied and processed now by external library suppliers.
    Most public libraries now offer ebooks and audio downloads. But publishers are out to lock down their profits and ebooks are not owned by the libraries, they are only rented. If library stops paying they lose access and many ebooks have no of loans restricted as well. Remember what Martin says, companies are out to make a profit, not be your altruistic friend. And publishers make a lot of profit.
    I will also recommend Neil Gaiman's recent lecture for the Reading Agency for a reminder on why libraries still matter. It's on YouTube and on the Reading Agency website.
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