An interesting blog entry from The Bookseller site about the future of public libraries.
Interesting as it is written by a Waterstones branch manager who has probably(?) never worked in public libraries. We in libraries are often being told to look to retail to raise standards. In Swansea, we have taken this on board. We have improved presentation, stock management, customer service skills, book knowledge of staff, opening hours, library layout and environment.
We even (just), pipped the big W with the introduction of a black polo shirt for staff.
And yet, here is Mr. Latham, telling us that we shouldn't have gotten rid of the books that no-one wants to borrow, and criticising libraries for not wanting his Dad's old book collection.
All reserve stock should be orderable via the internet, he proclaims. Held presumably in giant warehouses, staffed, lit, heated, rent payable &c. on the offchance that bucking the trend, someone should one day want to borrow a copy of of Lord Snodbury's guide to modern manners 1936 edition. Hardly a good use of public money. It might be alright in Dr. Who but where do you stop? With publishing seemingly expanding every year, soon every square yard of this sceptered isle would be covered with huge hangars storing every book ever held by any library ever, as if that were in itself a mark of quality.
You know what - no.
Libraries are public services and have to repsond to customer needs and demands. Library managers apply principles of collection management that boil down to basic common sense when deciding what to keep in store for a rainy day. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. It's not as perverse as the retail practice of returning everything at month end that hasn't sold, even if the same day more copies of the same book arrive in boxes. We are not governed by the same commercial principals but we do have to ensure good use of resources to maximise usage.
This doesn't mean dumbing down - far from it. In fact I know that Swansea Central library boasts a far wider range than the local W, even in very popular areas such as fiction and childrens.
If Mr Latham had his way, libraries would be full of dusty old books and Waterstones would be full of shiny new ones. Libraries would be staffed by "veteran librarians" for whom "customer skills" would not be a priority, and Waterstone's staffed with customer friendly book lovers.
I wonder if Waterstone's believe that you can't have both customer skills and book knowledge? Do their staff need LIS degrees to select and recommend books or do they just employ people who love books and people?
I wonder if he's a little bit scared of what a good library could mean for his business?
I know the answers to a lot of these questions - do you?