Library users as consumers


Mike Winter writes \"Since Troy Johnson, the moderator at the Librarians\' Book clubhas just posted the most recent titles slated for discussion, and one of them is \"Why We Buy,\" by Paco Underhill, a self-styled \"retail anthropologist,\" this seems like a good time to ask for comments on a topic I have been thinking about lately. In comparing libraries as they are today to what they were in the U.S. in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it seems to me that library building and design, and arrangement of the collection and services, etc., points to a definite shift in the overall nature and function of libraries. In brief, what I see is that libraries were once much more like religious or governmental agencies, but that now they are much more like retail outlets, both real and virtual.

Part of this is that the library, which was once much more solidly connected with reading as part of reflection, discussion, and argumentation, has lost these functions as the publishing sector has lost some of them as well. Also, as publishing has become much more commercialized and profit-oriented, the library has followed suit and become much more like a place marking off a large, potentially very lucrative set of consumer markets. From the citizen, that is, the reader is now more like a customer; and library, from being a public agency with all sorts of idealistic ideas about the public good, is now more like a Nordstrom or a Safeway than a church or a government agency. I\'d be interested in hearing what others think about this general idea. \"