Libraries v. Bookstores

The library I intern at had a Twilight party last week. We invited a major chain bookstore to sell Stephenie Meyer’s books at the event. I chatted with the bookseller about Breaking Dawn and the midnight release party they hosted for the book. During our conversation, she said something along the lines of: “We want to make the bookstore a place for the community to gather.” This immediately gave me pause. Isn’t that what the library does, too?

Now, I’m not against bookstores, even the national chains. My friends and I spent a lot of time in my local Barnes & Noble during high school because it was open until 11pm, had a Starbucks attached to it and had plenty of seating areas for socializing. I’ve also attended a couple midnight release parties for Harry Potter, which were a new concept back then, but seem to be commonplace now.

Clearly bookstores are doing something right. These midnight release parties attract hundreds, if not thousands, of customers. Our Twilight party? Ten teenagers showed up. How do we get big crowds at library events, not just book release parties? Is it even fair to compare libraries and bookstores?

Some issues:

1. Customer base: We may just be dealing with different crowds here. Perhaps it’s a class issue — people with disposable incomes use bookstores because they can afford to and don’t want to wait to get their hands on the newest bestseller. Bookstores also tend to be in high traffic shopping centers, while libraries are usually not. If libraries want bigger numbers at events, they need to reach out beyond their usual users. This isn’t a competition — why not advertise in local bookstores and shopping centers?

2. Staffing: Retail employees take jobs knowing that they will have crazy schedules. Bookstores are often open until 10 pm or later, so staying open for a midnight party is not a huge stretch. Library employees? Not so much. Libraries don’t need to extend their hours to host big events, though, especially since many public libraries are open until 8 or 9 pm. Sure this probably means no midnight book parties, but why not early evening Wizard Rock concerts or pre- or post-release parties? Unfortunately, there may be some staff resistance to big events, especially ones targeted at teens

3. Marketing: As mentioned above, libraries could take a more aggressive stance on marketing their events, especially when they might appeal to a big fan base like Harry Potter or Twilight. I took a look at PotterParties.com, a site that listed events for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In California, only three libraries listed events, while at least 100 bookstores did. Research where the fans congregate online and advertise there as well as places in the community that people spend time.

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