Monday, 11 July 2011

The automated librarian and the manual bookseller


Local Book Sale

I have just changed all the local books in the shop window and put all the sun damaged, condensation damaged ones, various local books that may or may not have something wrong with them, various proof and production copies, into a sale.

Ramsgate Library Closed This Week

This is what it says on the KCC website “Ramsgate Library will be closed 11th till 19th July for self-service installation. Our apologies for any inconvenience caused.” It seems to be one of those council announcements that you can only find if you already know the information.  

If there is a task in the life of a shop assistant that I would wish was automated it is window dressing, having read the press release with interest I am considering some sort of self service installation in my bookshop. Something that perhaps adds new terror to the phrase; “are you being served?”

This business with our local government use of the internet is so incredibly potty that words often fail, Google takes one to www.kent.gov.uk/ramsgatelibrary if you do a search for Ramsgate Library, this page doesn’t actually tell you that the library is closed, to find this out you need http://www.kent.gov.uk/KCC.Libraries.Web.Sites.Public/LibraryDetails.aspx?aid=0&lid=87 I only managed to find this page because I already knew the library was closed. Of course the really useful thing the library could do to save staff time is to make their local history archives available online. The collections of old photographs, local paper archives, rate books and so on. I suspect that there is however a direct relationship between library funding and the number of people visiting the library, council solution, go to the library to visit a machine. In Margate they have upped library visitor numbers by making people go to the library for council services, they even have prizes for this making of a library not really a place you would visit for a quiet read.

It says on the library website: Book a PC in our brand new IT suite! If you need help our Computer Buddy will get you started on the basics. The Computer Buddy is at Ramsgate Library on Mondays 9am to 12noon, Wednesdays 2pm to 4pm, Thursdays 10am to 1pm, Fridays 10am to 1pm and fortnightly on Saturdays 9am to 11am.

Is this computer buddy some sort of automated librarian? Will this computer buddy be replaced by a machine? Will all the books be replaced by some sort of machine? With the introduction of the Kindle reader is there any future in libraries, do we still need them? Over the last few years I have watched nearly all of the bookshops close, for the most part what is left are shops that sell books, either that no one wants or hardly anyone can afford.

The problem mostly relates to a thing called the “Net Book Agreement” this was a price fixing agreement that fixed the minimum price of books in the UK, strangly this didn’t have the effect that one would expect of making books here more expensive, quite the opposite.

The idea of this was that the big and powerful retail chains, supermarkets and so on left the book world alone and small bookshops doing unprofitable or loss making business like, having specialist stock, promoting new authors and so on could subsidise this with the profits on bestsellers.

This also led to a flowing of literature in the UK between about 1940 and 1990, all over now I’m afraid, theoretically it is much easier to get published now, in reality to get something good published and on sale at a reasonable price where people can find it, well that’s another matter.

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