Public library, redux

16 June 2020
16 Jun 2020

I think in order for bookstores and public libraries to survive, they have to change and reframe their service to their communities. Many of the functions of a library – book rental, discovery, copying, studying – have been replaced by online equivalents. So what becomes of them? I think they’re too valuable, both practically and symbolically, to just do away with.

Instead, I think we should evolve bookstores and public libraries to become galleries and communal spaces that function as designed public spaces for the community, sort of like culture-rich indoor parks. This may even allow them to operate with positive cash flow.

I think South Korea’s cafes, bookstores, and libraries have evolved tremendously well to serve these functions for communities. And other countries and cities have followed suit – libraries in China, Norway, and large metropolitan culture centers like London and Boston have updated and adopted libraries to become less about books, and more about the pursuit of culture and intellectual betterment and community in a way that smaller municipal libraries and aging bookstores have not managed to. I think that’s a problem.

Specifically, I think it’s a profit fit to be tackled by a startup. I think it’s a hard problem. To do it right, you’d have to blend the physical, designed space with digital experiences and communities, understand real estate markets as well as community building and the liberal arts, and have local community experts on the ground to evolve these spaces with the communities. It’s not a traditional startup problem space, but I think it’s worth tackling, because bookstores and libraries are too important to lose to the digital upheaval of the publishing industry.

I’ve bookmarked the idea, and I might come back to it later.


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