Libraries and bookshops unite against twin threat of austerity and changing reading habits

  • @chloehamilton

Libraries and bookstores are holding talks on ways they can work together as they battle to survive austerity and changing reading habits - amid fears from independent bookshops that they could be put under more pressure by libraries deciding to begin selling as well as lending in attempts to stay open.

The Booksellers Association and The Society of Chief Librarians have held a number of meetings to discuss how the two bodies might be able to collaborate in order to tackle the current difficulties facing their members.

But Tim Godfrey, CEO of The Booksellers Association, criticised the spectre of competition from libraries, saying they should not try to compete with high street stores.

“The BA Council strongly believes that libraries should not be funded by the taxpayer to sell books and compete against commercial booksellers,” Mr Godfrey told The Independent.

Mr Godfrey had previously revealed to the Bookseller trade magazine that the prospect of libraries selling books keeps him “awake at night”.

There are now less than 1,000 independent bookshops left in the UK - while up to 272 libraries are thought to have closed since 2010 according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, though the Government insist the number is in fact less than 100.

Morag Watkins, co-owner of Chorleywood Bookstore, an independent bookshop in Hertfordshire, agreed that any decision by libraries to begin offering books for sale could be dangerous for stores like hers.

“The whole point of a library is that their books are free for people who can't afford them,” she said. “If they start selling books it sort of negates their purpose.

“I would certainly feel we'd be in competition with the local library if they started selling books, it would have a massive impact on us. This is a very small town, it does well to support one bookshop, I don't think it would support two.”

However, president of The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), Janene Cox insisted that although she was aware that some libraries now have a bookshop, the numbers for now are still low. 

“There may be some but certainly it's not something that's widespread,” she said. “A number of libraries in the past began to sell new books but realised that that wasn't possible.”

Ms Cox also said she didn't consider bookshops and libraries to be in competition, adding that there were natural synergies between the two and it was in everyone's interests to work together.

Following their meetings, the two bodies plan to work together on country-wide literacy initiatives, such as World Book Day and The Reading Agency's Summer Reading Challenge, with booksellers encouraging people to visit libraries and librarians encouraging readers to buy books from independent and high street bookshops.

“The next stage is to continue the dialogue, have more focused meetings about events, and take this forward and gather momentum,” said Ms Cox.

“If we're all shouting together on one day about one event then we're all more likely to be heard. If we can engage booksellers as well it becomes even more powerful.”