Bad times for the economy, but good for the libraries. In the last week I have seen at least three articles that discuss the increase in library use. It was even the front-page article in our local newspaper. And the New York Times wrote today that for the first time in many years fiction reading has increased.
And that is great, it really is. But the problem is this survey only ask if one has read a single novel, book of short fiction or poetry, or play in the last year. And then only slightly over 50% of people answered yes. Well, this means that there is a lot to be done in the libraries. And I don’t mean that we should be getting more people to read fiction. We should be asking what can we do for the other half of people, the people who aren’t really interested in fiction. And no, that’s not a bad thing.
Our future president, according to the Times today, has spent his recent time reading the speeches of Roosevelt. He has also been reading the inauguration of all the president’s as well as the speeches of Lincoln. On the campaign trail, among other books, he read Unequal Democracy. Notice a pattern? Not very much fiction. I’m sure Obama has read a lot of fiction in his day, but that’s not the point. He’s reading these books because they have information he needs, information he wants to use. It is no different than someone picking up a quilting book or a woodworking guide.
So we should not just consider the increase in fiction reading, but how we can make the library a place where all information seeking habits are considered with equal weight. We shouldn’t emphasize (subtly or explicitly) the primacy of fiction over nonfiction. Instead we should look at what patrons need and how we can address those needs.