Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Purpose of Libraries

So a few days ago, someone (name will remain anonymous) and I got into an "argument" about the purpose of libraries. This individual indicated that s/he believed public libraries should not be stocked with fiction titles because that means our tax dollars are paying for someone else's entertainment.

"Why not just start providing movies at the library?"

Admittedly, I was a little shocked and perhaps somewhat hurt because in some way I felt this individual could be attacking what I'm trying to accomplish (writing and publishing fiction). But I tried to ignore that aspect because I know it was not intentional and instead argued the purpose of the library.

  • I started out by saying that many authors actually sell more books because they get greater exposure by being in a public library. A reader who otherwise would not pick him/her up will read a novel by someone new because it is recommended based upon what the reader already enjoys.
  • Another point I made was that university libraries are essentially nonfiction establishments, and frankly, about the only time anyone goes in there is when they have to do research for a paper. 
  • There's a lot of nonfiction that reads like entertainment, and some fiction that reads like fact. 

This individual's argument was that basically public libraries should provide the dry, factual, how-to type nonfiction and that was all (since our tax dollars are funding them).

S/He did concede one point to me. Granted, I do not know adult fiction very well, but my experience is that libraries mostly stock YA and children's fiction, with some adult fiction, but a lot of adult memoirs/nonfiction or the extremely popular series. Around my neighborhood, you also tend to see a lot of LDS fiction. So my point was that is a young adult (who is still working on his/her literacy skills) going to pick up a good story, or a recitation of facts for pleasure reading? Now granted, sometimes these fall together, but probably 95% of the time, young adults and children are going to go to the fiction section.

So this individual agreed that promoting literacy was an acceptable reason to stock public libraries with fiction titles. It wasn't much of a concession, but at least it was something.

So here's my question to you: what purpose do you see public libraries as serving and why?