Friday, June 6, 2014

How Public Libraries Are Solving America's Reading Problem - Forbes

How Public Libraries Are Solving America's Reading Problem

Forbes: 3.11.2014 by David Vinjamuri

We have a reading problem in the United States.  It’s not that people aren’t reading: in fact the Pew Research Center reports that 76% of adults have read a book in the past year.  Even kids are reading – and some studies suggest that millennials are more likely to read literature than previous generations.  The problem is choice.  Readers are drowning in books.

Too Many Books, Not Enough Time
11,022 books were published in 1950.  That number may sound quaint today, but it’s still a large number.  Read one book a week for sixty years, and you’ll still leave two-thirds of those titles untouched.  Consider then, the jaw-dropping 978,701 titles Bowker told me were published or self-published in 2012.   There’s some double counting in that number (print and eBook copies of the same title have separate ISBNs) but it is terrifying, nonetheless.

The influence of bookstores has changed appreciably since Borders bankruptcy: just 20% of frequent readers say they found their last book from a bookstore in 2012, down dramatically from 32% in 2010 according to Peter Hildick-Smith at the Codex Group. (Contrary to popular belief, bookstores are not disappearing en masse.  Publisher’s Weekly reports 12,703 bookstores in 2013 versus census data counting 12,751 bookstores and news dealers in 2002. )

Online retailers like Amazon have not filled this gap.  Just 7% of readers found their last book at an online retailer: a number that has barely budged in the last three years.

Meanwhile, At The Library
Libraries managed tightening budgets successfully through the last decade. Americans made 5.3 visits per person to public libraries in 2010 according to the Institute of Museum and Library ServicesThis continued a ten-year trend that saw library visits increase by over twenty percent.  Libraries also lent 2.46 billion materials in the same year: more than 8 lends for every American.  Finally, libraries increased in relevance as centers for book discovery.  Last year, 2.9% of frequent readers said they’d discovered their last book at a library, a big jump from 1.8% in 2010 (data also from the Codex Group).

According to the Pew Research Center, libraries remain the most trusted institution in the United States, ahead of the military, small businesses, the police or religious institutions.  A staggering 91% of Americans say that libraries are important to their community.

Merchandising Books in Colorado
In Adams County, Colorado the Rangeview Library District had the good fortune (in 2006) to have their community support a levy that provided a significant funding boost to their library system.  Instead of just getting new carpet and furniture and adding a branch or two, however, library director Pam Sandlian Smith embarked on a dramatic program that rethought the fundamental role of the library.

Part of what the renamed Anythink libraries did was to implement visual merchandising standards right out of retailing 101.  They also abandoned the Dewey Decimal System, which allowed them to group books together in more consumer friendly ways (pregnancy, childbirth and baby names all are in different ranges of the Dewey universe, for example).  Some of the basic techniques that Anythink has included in their visual merchandising guide included standard retail practices like fronting up, facing out and filling up.

Lessons from The Librarium
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, library director Gary Shaffer faced a dilemma over the upcoming closing of the Central Library for two years.  As a library system, the Tulsa City-County library serves both urban Tulsa (which is in the midst of a revival) as well as the suburbs.  The Central Library was an important urban resource and two years was too long for the city to do without a library.

The solution, as it turned out, was in the produce aisle.  An abandoned grocery store, specifically, which was quickly renovated and turned into a space called the Librarium.  READ MORE !

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