The future of (storefront) libraries

Here’s an interesting prediction about the future of libraries just posted by a blogger who works in electronic resource management in New Jersey. Eric Hellman thinks the advent of ebooks and high operations costs will lead to fewer libraries but more locations in places like shopping centers and storefronts:

While the shift to digital media will cause library organizations to become larger through mergers, it will also allow branches to be effective at smaller sizes. Without the need to store a critical mass of books, tiny, storefront branches will become more practical and cost efficient. Guys in vans carrying books will become more important. When people go to their local branch, they’ll be able to use the free Google Books terminal (libraries are to get one free for every building) or other computers, check out some books, then have a coffee and socialize for an hour or so until the van makes its hourly delivery. Or they’ll do their shopping rounds and come back to pick up the bag of books waiting for them. Establishing branches in shopping areas is not only a smart thing for libraries to do, it’s also very cost-efficient.

In my own town, it seems that almost every year there’s talk of closing the branch to save money. If you look at it, you can see why—the building is massive and has to be very expensive to operate. Eventually it will be shuttered and sold, but a storefront branch down the block could deliver the same services and cost much less to run. Does it make sense for the town high school to run its own library? Not really, but that could be another branch. We’ll have fewer libraries, but more locations.

Read Eric Hellman’s full post here.

Interested in more?  Check out some of the threads we’ve been following about libraries and small-scale, street-level cultural use of urban space.

3 Responses

  1. Sam

    Eric Hellman’s post has been making the rounds. Here’s a concurring opinion from the Palos Verdes Library District Director’s Blog which includes a mention of the PVLD’s own storefront model, the “Annex”:

    “Much of what Mr. Hellman predicts is consistent with the conversations we are having, and in some cases the actions we are taking, here at PVLD (Palos Verdes Library District). While we have not contemplated merging PVLD with another library (and I confess that this idea is one I instinctively dislike) we are part of a cooperative library system that last year merged with two other regional cooperatives to enable greater sharing of resources across the Los Angeles, Orange, and parts of Ventura counties. Our Annex is a variation on the store front library model and we have had at least preliminary conversations about whether the concept could be deployed elsewhere in our community such as in the Miraleste village shopping area to relieve pressure on the overcrowded Miraleste Library. David Campbell has pushed the idea of delivering materials by mail for a couple of years now, and while we have yet to come up with a feasible economic model we have not given up on the idea. And we certainly are investing substantial time, money and energy in beefing up our digital collections and improving how the community can access them.

    All of this makes me think that Mr. Hellman is on to something…”

  2. Have you thought of doing anything during next week’s ALA convention to show people what you’ve achieved? I’d love to stop by myself.

  3. Sam

    Thanks for your interest and also for your blog. We would love to see you and other ALA participants here at the Library.

    The Storefront Library will run regular hours through January 17, at which point our volunteer staff will begin wrapping up the project at 640 Washington St. We’ve let folks at ALA know that we’ll be open to the public during the convention, but no official ALA program is scheduled here. As always, we’ll have one staff person available for informal tours/questions from professional visitors. (Throughout the project, we’ve tried to strike a balance between allocating resources to professional tours/events and the demands of daily operation and patron-oriented programs.)

    During the project, it has been extremely useful (and a pleasure) to have informal visits and feedback from visiting librarians. We’re looking forward to meeting more of you during the ALA.