Practical Solutions Money Libraries and Bookstores Unite

About a practical proposal to unite libraries and bookstores to help synergy.



Libraries and Bookstores Unite

Just this spring, a vagrant thought that has been flitting through my mind from time to time over the past year or two returned in the shape of a conviction. The idea is simply this: Our libraries should go into the bookselling business, with the twofold objective of expanding their usefulness to the public and increasing their revenues.

When I tried the idea out on the great variety of book people I met at conventions during the last few weeks--authors, librarians, printers, reviewers, agents, distributors, book buyers, editors, and all the rest--the response was heartening. Almost everyone seemed to sense the advantages of the plan right away. By blending the best features of modern bookstores and the booksellers' merchandising know-how with the professional librarians' standards, taste, and high degree of awareness of local community needs, libraries can provide a multitude of new book outlets that will make a dramatic contribution to American life. And, in an era when it is increasingly difficult to get tax dollars to keep libraries open, they can make some money for themselves.

I do not mean to suggest that my proposal could be implemented without careful planning. And I acknowledge a high degree of self-interest (a small publishing house like my own obviously has a stake in anything that will expand the market for good books). But I do believe that the plan is workable and that it has the potential for helping everyone without hurting anyone.

To consider practical problems for a minute, let's look at the question of who's to manage the library bookstore. The local bookshop, if one already exists, is a logical candidate. Or perhaps a new branch of one of the big chains might handle the job. Or maybe there should be a new franchise operation directed by one of the major library jobbers.

How about staff? Volunteers from the growing community of senior citizens--among them, retired local business leaders--might be glad to serve. On-the-job volunteer trainees from the local schools could also be used to maximize community involvement and minimize expenses.

And for towns too small to support a bookstore, it would be relatively simple to combine one with a library bookmobile and schedule a circuit of regular, week-long stops.

Putting the plan into practice doesn't require nationwide official approval or a cumbersome new organizational structure. If you're a local librarian, a bookstore owner or manager, or even just an interested citizen, you can probably get a combined library-bookshop going in your area without a great deal of difficulty.

What's here is simply the barest sketch of the idea. I'd be delighted to get questions from anyone who's seriously interested in trying it out. And I hope those who do attempt to bring the plan to fruition will keep me posted on progress and problems.

I think we may be in on the beginning of something rather revolutionary.

William Kaufmann

Box L

One First Street

Los Altos, Calif. 94022

Source: Reprinted from Harper's Weekly (June 20, 1975).

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