On Reading: A Footnote

Publisher’s Weekly recently reported that bookstore sales dropped thirteen percent last November, the latest month surveyed. At the same time, not a week goes by when we don’t hear about another bookstore closing often a very fine one that you’d never expect to close or want to learn they had to.

How are we to reconcile these two facts with the apparent rise of literary reading discussed in yesterday’s posting?

The widely reported “surge” in library circulation, one that has been observed at libraries throughout this country, is one very plausible explanation. According to the Seattle Times, the Seattle area’s two library systems each loaned more that a million more items in 2008 than in the previous year.

The article cites the director of the King County Library System in Seattle who commented: “It’s an adage in the library world that the level of use or circulation at public libraries is inversely proportionate to the state of the economy. When the economy’s down, when things are tough, people come to libraries.”

Similarly, a headline in the Wall Street Journal yesterday read: “Folks Are Flocking to the Library.” The article then describes several libraries throughout the country that have experienced a sharp increase in library attendance and circulation

These leaves open the question of what individuals are doing at the library. Are they checking job listings on the computer or doing their e-mailing? Are they watching videos on You Tube or downloading their favorite music album? Or could it be that they are actually going to the library to read a book or to check one out?

Perhaps then the NEA report of an increase in literary reading is occurring in spite of all those bookstore closings and the declining sales at those that have managed to remain in business. People may be a going to the library to check out the books they would like to read or that they can no longer afford to purchase. As the president of the American Library Associated observed the other day “people are discovering that you don’t have to spend anything to read a book if you have a library card.”