10 Comments
May 31·edited May 31Liked by Jeremy Markovich

Someone already told you about Lupies, for which only you are to blame for not knowing about as a former Charlottean yourself :-).

But, I can tell you a bit about Libraries generally without speaking to Guilford County Public specifically (I know someone that might be able to speak about them specifically off the record if you're interested). Anyway, you maybe ARE seeing fewer books in the library. There's a few things happening here.

First, library budgets have been pretty static since the pandemic, but like everything else books have gotten more expensive due to inflation. That means the Libraries have fewer real dollars to buy books with - especially public libraries that have a model based on a lot of collection turnover due to the "popular" nature of the materials.

Second, reading habits are shifting to eBooks and audiobooks. This was a trend pre-COVID, but it accelerated substantially during the pandemic when people didn't know if they could touch things and get COVID (remember that?) and when libraries were straight closed. The problem is that these formats are way more expensive than a print book. If I want an eBook of a popular fiction title for my collection, it's $80 compared to $20 for the paperback copy. But the demand for these formats is growing while budgets are flat and inflation is driving prices up across the board. What do you do? Well, you probably buy fewer print books to start with and that means fewer books on the shelves. But we see, over and over, that people are OK with that for the most part - or at least they complain about it less than they would complain if they couldn't get their audiobooks (side note: I LOVE audiobooks. It's probably my primary way to reading these days because between an 18-month-old and work, most of my personal time is spent asleep or writing comments on the internet).

Third, people want space. They come to libraries to do the same things that can do at Starbucks or whatever replaced WeWork, but without being harassed to buy something. They want study space, meeting space, quiet space, space for their kids, space for their laptop, and computer labs which also take up space. More space devoted to those things means less space for shelves of books. That's OK. Public libraries are public commons. They're conveners and incubators of new ideas. But those computers cost money. The chairs and tables and desks and meeting rooms and study rooms and loanable laptops all take up...space on a limited footprint. So you see fewer books in general because people are looking to public libraries for other services in addition to the books. It's a balance, of course, because without the books libraries are nothing. But people do want that space and we want to meet their needs.

Anyway, that's a waaaayyyy more in depth view of why you *might* be seeing fewer books on the shelves these days. Support your local library please!

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author

All very insightful. I love the Greensboro Public Library, and they helped me find (and allowed me to use) a long archival interview with George Simkins when I did a podcast about him. Also, my wife and kids and I are constantly checking out books, and I've used the Libby app a ton to check out audiobooks AND I went there to use their WiFi and get work done when I'd pretty much exhausted every other public option (again, LeBauer Park shut off all of their power outlets and I ran out of laptop battery). Didn't know about the cost of audiobooks vs. paperbacks though, and I'm sure there's a plan in place for reconfiguring the space in there too. But this is helpful (and I figured that item would smoke you out).

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May 31·edited May 31Liked by Jeremy Markovich

Oh man. I'm now re-reading my comment in the light of day and there's a ton of grammatical errors. I know there's no D in Guilford. Well, except for the one at the end. And I totally forgot that libraries over there are municipal concerns, not county ones. That seems to vary from county to county in NC. Interestingly, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library started off as a private literary society for Charlotte intellectuals. Once it got that sweet, sweet Carnegie Library money, it became the Charlotte Public Library - so still a municipal concern. There's a lot of interesting history about how it became a pseudo-County department, but teeeechnically CM Library is a private corporation that is simply funded by the County. Which I think makes it fairly unique within the state. Now, for all intents and purposes, we act like a county department because the county gives us 90+% of our yearly operating budget. My paycheck comes from PLCMC, INC. but I still get to (read: have to) pay into the state pension fund and all that. Kind of a weird wrinkle in the largest library system in the state.

I'll also expand just a bit on the ebook thing (as a shorthand for both ebooks and audibooks as well as any other streaming media) because it's actually probably the most existential problem facing libraries today. The short story is that ebooks presented publishers with a problem: they eliminated all friction in the process of getting access to a newly published book. Unlike print books which have all kinds of friction built into them: limited shelf space so libraries can only buy so many, patrons have to come get the book, they have to lug the book with them wherever they go to read it, they have to return the book, the library has to process the book and put it back on the shelf which costs staff time, etc. etc. All of this meant that publisher could rely on people just buying a book so that they could have more time with it or becuase it was on the shelf in the airport bookshop or whatever might be the case. Not so with ebooks which people could check out at home at 11PM the night before they run off to vacation or whatever. The friction was so much less that publishers got scared that they'd lose a big chunk of purchases from the public. Their solution was to gouge the price of these ebooks so that libraries couldn't just buy like, 100 ebook copies of something for the same price we'd buy the print book. Publishers, to this day, are pretty happy and smug about their very super clever solution to that problem.

HOWEVER, publishers also introduced a new wrinkle: the digital license. So, I'm now paying $80 for my ebook instead of $20 for my print book. OK. Well, they've also introduced a bunch of "business models" that basically break down into either pay-by-checkout or pay up front but you only have access to this ebook for 3 years and only 2 people can read it at the same time. Supposedly that's to make up for the lost business from print books that eventually have to be replaced due to wear and tear. Sure, we re-buy books all the time for that reason, but they were supposed to have solved that problem with the price gouging since libraries would supposedly keep buying print books. In reality, it's just a money grab all around and it's bankrupting library collections budgets.

Anyway, some libraries (like the Internet Archive, which is a real library), have trialed something called Controlled Digital Lending. Where, essentially, they're saying "Well, I have 10 print books on the shelf. If I make a digital copy and lend that as an ebook, then I'll take 1 copy off the shelf until that ebook is returned." The idea being that we're lending 1-for-1 with print copies. I won't get into the legal/copyright theories behind all of this, but suffice it to say that publishers don't agree with that tactic. They've sued (with some success) to cut that path off. It continues to wind its way through the court - I expect it will go to the Supreme Court at some point.

And you're right. Anytime I get to nerd out on Library stuff, you'll see me here, haha.

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May 30Liked by Jeremy Markovich

You absolutely need to chase down WTF is happening with the library. From 1969-1971, as a student at Oak Ridge (when it was the "Military Institute"), the two havens I had on the weekend with my $5 weekly stipend was the cafeteria at Friendly Center, whose name I've sadly forgotten but DCETG (don't care enough to Google), and the library, with its boundless supply of books as well as newspapers from around the country, including the godless NYT. Oh, and the smell of the place...it smelled of - wisdom.

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May 31Liked by Jeremy Markovich

So pound for pound the bears are ahead in Terrell County!?

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author

I had not thought of calculating this by weight, but just to make this REALLY easy, let's say the average human weighs 200 lbs, and the average bear weighs 400 pounds, you'd only need 1,600 bears to break even with humans, which is entirely possible?

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May 31Liked by Jeremy Markovich

This was helpful, John, but also sad. I want BOOKS and space. Carol Baldwin

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May 30Liked by Jeremy Markovich

https://www.lupiescafe.net/

Long standing Charlotte institution. Has Texas chili, but it’s really all about the Cincinnati chili.

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author

I've been to Lupie's! Their entire menu is great and diverse vs. Cincy's, which is really like a bespoke Skyline.

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May 30Liked by Jeremy Markovich

Those county courthouse tin soldiers have disappeared in many county seat towns, certainly in the Charlotte region. Addition by subtraction.

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