For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
December 8, 2004 - Independent Bookstores
When my wife and I travel, we rate the towns we pass through. There are all kinds of criteria. How walkable is it? -- a complex calculation that considers the width of streets, the width of sidewalks and their distance from the thoroughfare, the quality and frequency of parks, the height of trees, the mix of commercial and residential properties, and much more.
How good is the public library? We can just stroll through the building once and have a good sense of how much care is given to the collection, and how customer-oriented the staff is.
Also of great significance: are there any locally owned bookstores?
Everybody knows that some of the big names in bookselling -- Barnes and Noble, even Borders -- are opening stores all over the place. On the one hand, that's a good thing. Despite the reports of declining readership, bookstores are a good community "catch."
But there's another kind of bookstore, the independents. And some evidence would suggest that they're having a tough time of it. Many have closed, shut out by the big store competition. Recent closures close to home include both the Chinook Bookshop, and McKinzey-White, of Colorado Springs.
Nonetheless, the independents still have a place. While the big chains account for between 20-30% of the total booksale market (which is tracked both in terms of "units" and dollars), the independents rack up another 14-17%. That's not too shabby -- it's a big market.
Some independent bookstores have shown modest share growth for the past three years, after years of decline. One example is Portland, Oregon's Powell's Books Inc. Powell's strategy seems to be "supersize it!" (They occupy a full city block.) Others focus on niche markets.
One such niche is Christian bookselling. The Christian Bookseller's Association, a Colorado Springs-based organization of 2,400 Christian book and product retailers, says its members are mostly upbeat about the future, but results are mixed. In 2004, 50.1% of CBA members reported a sales decrease, 37.8% posted an increase, and 6.1% experienced flat sales.
What about Internet sales? I was surprised to find that it accounts for about 8-12% of sales, not as much as the book clubs (16-20%), but more than the sales from discount, food, and drug stores.
Douglas County has much to be grateful for. We have at least three independents. Castle Rock has Hooked on Books, right next to Crowfoot Coffee. Castle Pines North (on the far west corner of the King Sooper's mall) has the delightful new Chapters, with its own coffee shop.
And then there's one of the most famous bookstores in the world, Tattered Cover, which opened a store in Highlands Ranch, just a couple of blocks west of our library. (And it's got coffee, too!)
The owner, Joyce Meskis, is a savvy bookstore owner. Her previous gamble was the LoDo store, long before LoDo was hip.
But I suspect that Highlands Ranch won't be nearly as much of a roll of the dice. I know from our library statistics that the demographics of readership in Douglas County are just about as good as it gets. We are a community that values books, values libraries, and clearly, values bookstores.
What's the library's official stand on bookstores? Simple. Bookstores are a library's best friend.
The bookstore advantage: you get to keep the books.
The library advantage: you don't have to keep the books.
Your advantage: more books!