Hearne: New Lawrence Library Bucks Trend, Battles for Relevancy

read-booksThe Internet giveth, the Internet taketh away…

For every amazing, wondrous benefit the Internet has afforded there’s a downside. Or so it seems.

We get news at lightning fast speed, but newspapers and magazine’s have gone from cash cows to the walking dead. We communicate instantly, but the Post Office and Hallmark Cards are slipping into irrelevancy. We access books and information with a single keystroke on a computer, but libraries are becoming more like museums in terms of foot traffic.

Speaking of which, are libraries becoming obsolete?

Not only is that debate raging on the worldwide web – Google the question – it’s being played out in neighborhoods, cities and small towns across the country.

Forbes contributor Tim Worstall wants us to close public libraries and buy everyone an Amazon Kindle with an unlimited subscription,” begins a story last August in The Week. “‘Why wouldn’t we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?’ he asks. Worstall points to substantial savings on public funds, arguing that people would have access to a much larger collection of books through a Kindle Unlimited subscription than they could get through any public library and that the government would spend far less on a bulk subscription for all residents than it ever would on funding libraries.”

Buying millions of Kindles seems extreme, but these are the kind of arguments being made by an increasingly large body of skeptics who think of public libraries as little more than a refuge for the poor, the elderly and the homeless.


New Lawrence Library

Five years ago Lawrence voters approved an $18 million new library.

It opened last summer and has reportedly been kicking butt ever since. That’s certainly the impression library officials want to give locals and the media anyway.

Since reopening, attendance at the new Lawrence library is up 64 percent from 2013, with 150,000 people visiting the books bastion between its late July opening and early November.

Not too shabby.

Then again, in September 2013 the Lawrence library was scraping by in far smaller, temp digs formerly occupied by Borders Books. And while 150,000 visitors in a town of 90,000 and change may sound impressive at first blush, KC Confidential gets upwards of a quarter of a million unique visitors each month.

20130629_USD001_0The fact remains that like newspapers and magazines, the postal service and greeting card companies, libraries are an endangered species.

And while the pro library crowd manages to maintain a positive spin on Wikipedia, independent reports of falling attendance show that, “The number of people visiting a library at least once a year has dropped by 25% since records began in 2005-06, as the number of libraries has declined by 9% between 2005 and 2012,” The Guardian reported in 2013.

“In the The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) latest Taking Part survey, which measures public engagement with sports and the arts, 63.8% of people said they had not used a library in the year to the end of June 2013, compared with 63.0% in 2011-12, and 51.8% in the 2005-06 survey. In the past year, 16.1% of adults used a library website, up from 8.9% in 2005-06.

“According to a DCMS spokesman, the decline in visits predates recent library closures, and reflects changes in the public’s behaviour.”

The Lawrence Journal World choked out an attaboy editorial for the new library today, commending it for branching out in new directions to attract more members of the public.

“Libraries used to be all about books, but that isn’t the case any more,” it begins. “A recent Journal-World story about circulation trends at the Lawrence library showed that, although some patrons still were checking out books, many of the most popular items at the library were music CDs, movie DVDs and audio books. The movie ‘Frozen,’ which topped the list, was checked out 311 times in 2014.”

Hold it right there.

The future of the new library is CDs, DVDs and Audiobooks? Please.

blockbusterThe only industries suffering worse from technology today than newspapers and greeting cards are CDs, DVDs and Audiobooks.

When’s the last time you checked out the CD section Sam’s Club? It’s almost nonexistent.

Meanwhile pay-per-view movies and digital streaming are choking the last breath out of DVD sales. Does anybody today under 18 even remember a company called Blockbuster?

Ten years ago Blockbuster had 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees. When the last Blockbuster store closed in Hawaii in 2013, the last film rented out was the 2013 comedy This Is the End.

It’s a changing world, and the people most likely to check out CDs, DVDs and audiobooks these days are oldsters and poor folks. Not exactly a rock solid foundation for the future.

Ever attend a library function? With the odd exception, it’s like Senior Citizen Central.

Libraries are exploring new frontiers but there’s only so much you can do given that your underlying core product is fast becoming irrelevant to an extent.

For example the Lawrence library is glomming onto an online class in Health & Wellness that K-State is offering. The class is open to anyone, but the library is offering an option for up to 20 people to be part of a group that meets every Wednesday afternoon for seven weeks to complete the course and listen to speakers from Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Twenty people in a town of 90,000-plus, that’s a pretty small play by almost any measure, and one likely to get snapped up more by seniors with time on their hands than cutting edge college kids.

RP3-UNION-FLAGDon’t get me wrong, the new Lawrence library is a beautiful thing.

It’s in a great location in downtown Lawrence and in a weird, futuristically funky way, going there and wrapping your hands around actual books, newspapers and magazines can provide the sort of retro thrills many 20-somethings and 30-somethings are finding in vinyl record albums.


But vinyl records are a niche product, just as CDs and DVDs are fast becoming niche products.

The $64 million question:

What are we going to do with all these brick and mortar buildings in a near future where everything from groceries to to sex toys to prescription drugs are moments away from our front doors with the single stroke of a keyboard?

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11 Responses to Hearne: New Lawrence Library Bucks Trend, Battles for Relevancy

  1. the dude says:

    Libraries will continue to have a use in today’s society and will change to meet the demands of the future. Just because ironic hipsters don’t like to use them does not mean they will go extinct anytime soon.

    • admin says:

      I doubt there are enough “iconic hipsters” around to keep any major industry like libraries around, dude.

      Unfortunately, those are not the only folks no longer spending much, if any time at libraries.

      Fewer children go, fewer young adults, fewer soldiers, sailors, candlestick makers…fewer “dudes”

  2. Rick Nichols says:

    I was actually in the new Lawrence library earlier today (Jan. 6) doing some research for a story I’m working on for a newspaper (not the Lawrence paper). The place was quite busy at 10 a.m., and many of the people I saw there were 20 somethings and 30 somethings, although I must admit they were at computers and not in the book racks for the most part. The microfilm machine wouldn’t print out something for me, so I located the nearest help desk and the young man stationed there was quick to come into the local history room and take care of the problem for me. It was a pleasant experience all in all, and the library is very easy on the eyes, although I could do with less glass and more bricks myself.

    • admin says:

      It’s looked pretty good to me on my visits too, Rick…,

      Although if the younger folks – and they congregate in the Dillon’s grocery stores too – are only there for computer usage, how many do they have? Can’t be that many (I’ll take a count).

      The majority of the space is take-up still by books and mags, DVDS, ETC Though so, if that’s mostly not being used but commands the majority of the turf, that’s not a good long term sign

  3. Kyle Rohde says:

    Hopefully, like the Kansas City public library, their spot enough to turn it into a cultural center for lectures, presentations, movies and more. I visit the KC Central library and Plaza libraries constantly and most of the time, not for a book.

    • admin says:

      WhaT sort of demo do you see at those library functions, Kyle?

      The ones I’ve been tho made me feel like the kid in the group and if I’m not mistaken you’re a 30-something, maybe 40-something dude.

  4. JB in KC says:

    Libraries a Homeless Shelters?

    Where they gonna plug in their new Kindle?
    And where can they find a warm place to sit while reading?
    Add a soup kitchen, showers, and bunks.
    Add book groups, support groups, counselors, and we’re building our civil society.

    And now we can give the panhandlers library gift cards (instead of cash) .

    Just thinking…

  5. hahhararley says:

    lots of people at joco library on 87th using computers when I ‘ve been
    there a fewvtimes in last 10 years.
    libraries are obsolete now…and with Kansas in the hole a billion dollars
    maybe closing them down and using the money that your and
    southy’s buddies has cost us with their “mad” financial experiment
    might not be abad idea.
    Libraries are going the way of blockbuster…and eventually movie
    theatres once the studios realize the billions in extra dollars by going
    straight to dvd or on demand or streaming!!!!!!!!
    heanre…the world is changing….get with it or get off! thanks.

  6. paulwilsonkc says:

    I know one JoCo library that’s bustling with kid events. Small plays, group readings and misc recreational activities. My grand daughter goes quite often, but on balance, I think you’re right, they are dying, like it or not.

    I’ll hold as firm to one belief as I do the fact that 90.9 The Bridge is going to make it – when it comes to reading, I want A BOOK. I have a Kindle app. I can download what ever I want. But I would guess I average 3 UPS/USPS visits a week exclusively for the delivery of books.

    I want the tactile experience.

    I don’t want to hold, smell and feel a thin, plastic reader. I want the feel of a book. And when I’m buying a classic or vintage book, I specifically look for the oldest version/edition I can find. I own hundreds of books and when it comes to the classics, many in first edition printing. There’s something about the smell and feel that adds to the reading pleasure.

    I get 99% of my news and communication via the laptop screen.
    When I sit down with a pipe or cigar to read, I want a different experience.

  7. hahhararley says:

    I like Wilson like the smell of an old book.
    And with a cigar there’s nothing better than reading “there she blows” on
    real paper…printed by a gutenburg press.
    I like the feel of old books. Nothiing like the grainy feel of that real leather
    cover that reminds me of the times when we had no computers…or kindles…
    just the candlelight of a single burning wick.
    There’s also nothing like the smell of old shoes. Shoes worn by lumberjacks
    or big foot. Why not the smell of old socks delivered by overnight fed ex so
    you get the full physical high of smelly socks right from the gym.
    yes….there’s nothing like the old scent of OLD SPICE…..now that
    really turns the women on!!!!!!!
    And a pipe of Turkish blend that swafts thru the room with the fresh
    aroma of dog sh*t!
    I miss it ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      I’m reminded of the phrase, “he who laughs last….” Trust me, I’m having the last laugh. Hard rain gonna fall.

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