New York Libraries and Barnes and Noble

By Whisler, Deborah; Miller, Richard | Library Administrator's Digest, June 2003 | Go to article overview

New York Libraries and Barnes and Noble


Whisler, Deborah, Miller, Richard, Library Administrator's Digest


A recent New York Times article had this to say, in part:

"Whoever thought that bookstore giants would pose a threat to libraries? Yet that seems to be the case in at least one part of New York. At 81st and Amsterdam stands the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library, a shabby stone edifice where anyone, from a child to a homeless person, can borrow books - free. At 82d Street and Broadway, just around the corner, is a spiffy Barnes and Noble, covering nearly a whole city block, where buying a few books could set you back a good hunk of your weekly paycheck.

"Given the options - free library or capitalist bookstore - and the latte at Barnes and Noble notwithstanding, the superior choice seems obvious. But maybe not. Barnes and Noble seems to be thriving, while the library hobbles along. Besotted by consumerism, it seems that we don't feel that our objects of desire, even our objects of intellectual desire, are truly valuable unless we pay for them, and dearly.

"But blaming the customer alone would be unfair. When it comes to marketing, Barnes and Noble is way ahead of public libraries, which our city fathers and mothers have all but written off as services to the poor and downtrodden and researchers, rather than seeing them as temples of knowledge for all.

While Barnes and Noble is well-lighted and clean, the books invitingly displayed, most branch libraries are dim, cluttered and understocked. Just ask Don Bailey, a Texan who moved to the Upper West Side 11 years ago. Being a devoted reader, he immediately checked out his local library, the St. Agnes branch. It was, to put it mildly, a turnoff. 'There's something about New York libraries,' Mr. Bailey mused, 'You don't have a good ambiance.'"

This comparison of a branch library and Barnes and Noble is, unfortunately, all too accurate in many cases, but certainly not all. …

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