"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Urban book swap, next chapter: Phone booth libraries

The ubiquity of phone booths is interesting because they are completely obsolete, unevenly distributed in outlying neighborhoods and they carry a strong sense of nostalgia with me. They've already evolved from their original function as person-to-person communication technology into their second iteration as pedestrian-scaled billboards. I wanted to see if there is a third option in that, yes, they get our eyes for advertising dollars, but they can also give value back to a neighborhood. I was most interested in turning what is perceived as an urban liability into an opportunity.

And what more can you say about books? They're the greatest things ever, and everyone should have more.
-- John Locke, Department of Urban Betterment

Of course, there have been a few glitches:

So far only two booths have been converted. There will absolutely be more. Each iteration has to be judged to see what works, both in terms of siting and how to engage the public. For instance, the first test was in a more remote block. The books were neither marked, nor were any instructions given. After a few days the books were gone. I added more, and those too were removed within a few days. After another two weeks, the shelves disappeared.

I find this story appealing, but why phonebooths? In case the person you call puts you on endless hold? Or is a boring conversationalist? I thought laundromats were the swap libraries of choice these days.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No E-Books for You

Melville House reports that Penguin has stopped selling e-books to libraries, in the fear that borrowing them will become too "frictionless" and will cut into book sales.

"That means four out of the Big Six publishers — Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette, and now Penguin — have made their ebooks unavailable to libraries. HarperCollins makes its books available, but in a deal that restricts each ebook to 26 circulations — a deal that has been angrily criticized by librarians. Only Random House, with its own announcement last week, allows libraries unrestricted circulation of its ebooks."

I know the intent is to keep people buying actual books made of paper, but what will the effect be? With fewer bookstores, independent or otherwise, to introduce people to books, and with libraries unable to keep all the physical books in the world on hand for browsing, won't this just mean reduced access to books? Some libraries, like mine, participate in a network-lending system. I can borrow any book in the mid-Hudson system by requesting it, but they still don't have everything, and the books they tend to get rid of are the same older books that nobody is requesting any more. Will it amount to the same thing, sooner or later, or are the librarians putting their heads together to make sure there is at least one volume of each in the system? How much easier would it be to have them all as e-books?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Retailers will boycott Amazon-published books

"Late Friday, just days after the country’s biggest brick-and-mortar chain, Barnes & Noble, announced it would not sell books published by Amazon because its “actions have undermined the industry as a whole” (see our earlier report), two more giant chains announced they were joining the boycott: the 200+ stores of the country’s second biggest bookseller chain, Books-A-Million (BAM), and Canada’s number one book retailer, Chapters Indigo." From Melville House Press.

I can understand why they want to do this, but somehow I doubt they will be successful at getting Amazon to back down. The time to take action is past. Amazon is now big enough to do whatever it wants, including opening retail stores to compete with Barnes and Noble and others. In fact, this boycott may push them to exactly that. We might wind up with ONE major source of books... A scary thought, however well-intentioned Amazon might be.