Monday, June 17, 2013

Are You in a Bookstore or Library?

A library reading room
One would think college students are bright enough to know the difference between the college bookstore and the college library. Is there a gap in their education? I asked a high school teacher and dean of another college. They said that students don’t always pay attention to their surroundings. Libraries and bookstores have books. This is about all that we have in common. We do have a sign with 12 inch letters indicating this is a library; the bookstores have large signs. Bookstores have merchandising signs and cash registers. The library stacks do not look like store shelving. We have tables for studying, computer carrels, desktop computers, copiers, printers and even comfy chairs. None of these pieces of furniture or physical arrangements are in common with a bookstore. Stores don’t look like libraries.

Unfortunately this is funnier when read loud than when you read it. Imagine sitting at the reference or circulation desk and hearing, “Can I get the book for my class? How do I buy it?” The reverse is also true. The bookstore manager reports and some students think the bookstore is a library. We even get phone calls from people asking if we carry their textbooks. When we answer the phone we say “library” and still callers ask, “Is this the bookstore?” We have on reserve many textbooks, but the students are surprised that this collection is limited to two hour loans for in the library use only. Students also ask about “renting” books or charges for circulation. Sometimes I wish we could charge, but that would make this another kind of place.

In recent years libraries have learned about merchandising from bookstores. More than 10 years ago the library had bookstore type shelves to display books. Libraries and bookstores have installed snack bars or eating areas. Libraries have big signs that imitate retail merchandising, but libraries are not bookstores.

In the interest of helping students better understand how to tell the differences between a bookstore and library below is a handy-dandy guide to the similarities and differences. (Note this is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. If you fail to see the humor, please let me know and I’ll tell you how to find the humor books.)

1. Purpose -- Libraries have the mission to select, collect, store, facilitate retrieval, and circulate materials in all published formats. They also teach research skills and offer places to read, study, and meet. Bookstores are businesses and their purpose is to make money for the owners or shareholders. No matter how well they serve their customers or how much the owners love books, selling and earning profit is their purpose and goal.

2. Names – Libraries usually have the word “library” in their names. The library may be named after a donor or famous person such as the John Washington Library or after a city or location such as Norwood Public Library or Eastside Branch of the Parkside Library. Schools may call their libraries media centers, learning resource centers, or information commons. They all have the above purpose. Bookstores usually have the word “bookstore” in their name, but may use shortened forms such as “Strands” or “B & N.”

Bookstore signs
Bookstore shelves

3. Furnishing – Libraries have several kinds of seating and table arrangements to serve their readers. We have large tables, small tables, computer tables, and desks. We have computer stations, printing stations, viewing stations for video and listening stations for audio. We have meeting rooms, book stacks, staff work stations, storage areas and work areas. We have hardback, softback, adjustable and comfy chairs. Bookstores have display shelves for books and other merchandise. They have checkout areas and staff work areas. Their shelves have retail quantities of new and gently used books.

4. Signage – Signs in libraries are informational, directional and promotional. The signs tell patrons how to use machines and where to find things and places. Bookstores also have informational, directional and promotional signs. A sign in the library may tell the patrons about printing or locating books in the stacks; a bookstore sign will tell customers where to find merchandise. The library signs want to inform and direct; the bookstore signs want you to buy more.
Library stacks

5. Architecture – Libraries have long rows of books called stacks. They have current and out of print books. They also have storage areas for non-print materials. Libraries are open and inviting places where readers can stay all day. Stores are
Library stacks 2
designed to sell new merchandise. (Okay, there are used bookstores, too.) They have aisles with merchandise and want you to stay in the store long enough to complete your purchase.

6. Personal -- When walking into a library you will meet circulation staff and reference librarians. Librarians are highly educated professionals who will help you in your information quest. Bookstores have salespeople who will guide you to merchandise and help you complete your purchase. (This is simplistic; there are managers but for the average reader or customer the managers and support staff are not seen.)

7. Organization – The library catalog is what distinguishes a bunch of books from an organized collection. The catalog will tell you the call number which is an address for where to find a book. Each book or other library materials are tracked as unique items. Bookstores will have inventory lists, but individual items are not tracked. One copy of a book is exactly the same as another. If inventory is sold, it is replaced. Merchandise items are commodities and tracked by the number sold. [fn 1]


1. A Wall Street Journal article, "New York Public Library, Others Check Out Online Book Sales" (June 14, 2013) talks about libraries that are selling books online. Libraries are selling electronic books that already in the catalog to people who don't want to wait to borrow a copy from free. They also sells books via Amazon and used book sales. This does not diminish the mission and look-and-feel of a library. Companies such as Amazon (through its Kindle product) and Overdrive are lending books for a fee or through membership programs. Many individual publishers have lending and renting programs for both trade and textbook collections.

1 comment:

Deb Hall said...

Sigh, it is sad when a small child comes up to you and asks , may I rent this book Miss?