Are people still visiting libraries?

Claims have been made that no one visits libraries in Skopje anymore. Is this the truth or just the blatant and provocative attempt of an older generation to discredit newcomers in the library scene? Is the new generation actually not visiting libraries anymore? And more importantly: where do they get their books from if not from the libraries? 

For investigative purposes I gathered a group of friends – which could be defined as more than 1 and less than 5 – to have a cross section representative for Skopje’s half a million inhabitants. Of which people under 30 probably make up about 30% of the population – so, basically we’re going to use between 1-5 samples of roughly 150000 people aged 0-30 – as I said, representative. This group of participants, all raised in Skopje, all studying in Skopje more or less, have amongst named things one major thing in common: they don’t get their private books at libraries. Surprise! Though all of them claim that they visit libraries regularly.

What may or may not sound a little strange has a simple reason: they are students. They find the library to be a „place, that they can concentrate at”, which is “because of the quiet atmosphere – it’s a really good studying atmosphere.”. In fact, this is a known concept. The demographics of libraries have changed thoroughly over the past decades. What used to be a place for borrowing books has slowly but surely become a place people like to spend their time at. Studying sessions, events, workshops and more have gained a lot of popularity over the past decades. An US-Study sums it up: „(…) U.S. communities are using these spaces for local programs more and more. With nearly six million programs for children, young adults, and people of all ages taking place inside libraries, one in every 10 people visiting a library are now doing so to attend a local program.“. This perfectly describes the changes that have been happening all over the world, libraries fulfill a more social function than they used to. Instead of the quiet place, that old folks know from their own youth, libraries have become vivid, become more and more colourful, diverse – in libraries people engage, share and discuss with each other. One could even say that libraries reflect society’s changes. But how could they not being home to 100s of years of ever changing academic and social achievements?

Nick Fewings af | Unsplash

So, where does the youth get their private books from if not from the library and why? On the one hand, a lot of people like to display their books at home, to make it part of the inventory. One of the interviewees describes it as: “the main reason why I don’t go to libraries is the idea of having a sense of belonging of the book, so I usually buy the books in a store or when there comes a book fair. I can have them in my room and I can put them on a shelf to see them.”. Many people collect books like the Harry Potter series for sentimental reasons or just in the same way that some people are collecting crystals or stamps.

On the other hand, I was told it’s also about experiencing a book. It’s the smell, how your own book feels and that you can write, draw or highlight in it. You use it differently, so it feels different. Even though my friend agrees that, she prefers to buy her books in stores, libraries are practical if you want to borrow school books, books in different languages like English or very specific books you might not touch again: “I was renting books only for school purposes so for example the books that were required from school and we were required to read – I did not want to have them on my shelf. I hated those books.”. This also adds a certain worth to the act of buying books – when you like books you buy them to keep and display them, when you don’t like them, you borrow and return them. Generally, the group buys their books in stores like Akademska, Kultura or Tri. Some even buy in gas stations or during their travels when something catches interest – which adds another factor to the table. Buying books is at times more available than actively deciding to go to the libraries, spending time there, then renting out the book and returning it – it can be more practical.

Libraries have, even though young people still seem to visit them, a general decline all over the world, an example is the UK, where more than a quarter of about 800 public libraries have closed in the past ten years. This, even putting into consideration that libraries are being used in a different way nowadays, is still chastening. Libraries are genuinely a great way of fostering literacy to children, providing adults inexpensively with lectures or bringing communities together. To put it in the simplest way: they provide great sources of knowledge accessible to anyone and everyone in the public. And more than that, they are a very eco-friendly way of reading hundreds and thousands of books. Even though young people still visit libraries a lot, numbers tell different. Libraries are declining and we are responsible to prevent that. So next time instead of buying a new book maybe consider just renting it out in American Corner or your nearest public library. Let the old people be right and support one of the most integral parts of every learning process. Borrow yourself a book, guys.

Marie Kiel

Sources:

Are Public Libraries in Decline – Publishers Weekly

Libraries are more popular than ever even as people borrow fewer books – Study Finds

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