Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Books, Borders, Libraries, and Choice


Been thinking a lot about bookstores since Borders made their announcement. The demise of the rest of the Borders stores, as I discussed last week on my own blog, takes away another set of choices from readers. And that’s problematic on many levels, especially when you write for the children’s market – a group of readers who by and large do not yet own e-readers and still like and need to browse the bookstore shelves to find books. Any bookstore closure takes away some of that opportunity.

I live in a suburb north of Houston, population about 100,000. We’re bordered by various small towns, some larger than others. There have always been a small handful of used bookstores – paperback exchange types mostly – that have come and gone over the years. We have a two story Barnes and Noble in the mall and a free standing Borders (now packing up the shelves) in another shopping area/faux town center called Market Street. (it’s like Disney World in our suburb. We have no actual old downtown, so we actually built one with facades that look like old brick buildings. I alternate between thinking it’s nice and being disgusted that people actually seem to fall for it) We have two public libraries, one of which is in biking/long walking distance from my house.

However… for the numerous subdivisions across the freeway, no public library exists. I actually offered extra credit last year for my seniors (the high school at which I’ve taught for the past number of years is also across the freeway) if they got and showed me a public library card. The vast majority did not have one until this motivated them to get one. At first this shocked me. Actually it still does. But freeways, as my husband the retail guy often reminds me, are like mountains. If you have to go that far to get to something, often you just don’t.

Point being this: Now we have just a Barnes and Noble, two Walmart Superstores, a Sam’s Club and Target. 20 miles north in Conroe, there’s a Hasting’s. Houston's wonderful indies (Blue Willow, Murder By the Book, Brazos Bookstore) are a 30 - 50 mile drive. So for most young adult readers in my area, that’s it in terms of exposure to books. If they don’t wander into their school library during the school year, and clearly they’re not wandering across the freeway to the public library, they now have even less opportunity to be exposed to books. And fewer booksellers to chat with them and hand sell them something they might not have come to on their own. I love the on-line kidlit community. It has been very generous to me, very supportive. But to some extent it’s what we call here in Texas “preaching to the choir.” We need brick and mortar bookstores where a teen can come in and touch and feel and look and browse, and a savvy bookseller like Cathy at Blue Willow can say, “Hey. I see you’re reading x. Why don’t you give x a try?”

Would love to hear your thoughts on this!!

4 comments:

  1. I'm always sorry to hear of any bookstore closing. I'm as guilty as the next person for opting to order online, but I've lately started choosing bricks and mortar stores over online ordering when possible. The tricky part is that I'm discovering so many great authors to try, and being in Ireland, I often have to get titles specifically ordered because they're just not on the shelves.

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  2. I would love to see Blue Willow branch out to the north side. That hour drive is killer, but always worth it. Just hard to do often :)

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  3. I love browsing in bookstores, and am lucky to live in a town with a thriving indie. I support it often. Still, sometimes the convenience of online ordering tempts me, and I end up behaving badly.

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