April 29, 2009

The Bookstore of the Future

A very fine article by Claude Lalumière in the latest issue of Quill & Quire (Nothing online yet for the issue, but their editor just passed away recently, so I imagine they'll be a little behind for a while).

You might be thinking that the future of bookstores is a little off the beaten track for me, but there are a couple of reasons why I'm pointing this article out.

First of all, the way the author envisages the intersection between technology and physical space in the bookstore of the future is very relevant for academic libraries. Second of all, Claude's been a good friend for something like 20 years (!) and when he mentioned that he was about to publish an article on the future of bookstores when I saw him at Ad Astra a few weeks ago I just knew that it was something I wanted to highlight. (Plus Claude has a new short story collection coming out.)

I wish there was a full text version of the article I could point you to, but there isn't. So, I'll just have to give a few longish quotes:

Some customers browse on computer terminals, while others tap away at their laptops at cafe-styled tables. Some are sitting on couches, having animated conversations about the books in their hands. People thumb through demo copies of selected books, displayed on the few bookshelves and promotional tables to be seen. Staffers circulate, answering questions. Somewhere in the back, a machine hums -- it's printing books on the spot, which will then be brought out to the counter and handed to paying customers.

This is the bookshop of the future.


To be competitive, the bookstore of the future will need to offer access to any title within minutes, in order to provide faster and more reliable service than online retailers, instantly satisfying book buyers' fickle interests. At the same time, it must keep offering the kind of personal, social experience that no online venue can match. To achieve this, our vision of how a bookshop operates must step out of the 20th century. But bookshops cannot march into the future by themselves: publishers, too, need to invest in new infrastructure.


The bookshop can and should be more exciting than ever. If reinvented with sufficient passion, imagination, and co-operation, it will become the preferred venue for readers to navigate our information-rich world, and for authors and publishers to reach their audiences.

Almost word for word, many of these same points apply just as much to academic libraries -- in our desire to remake ourselves as social and informational hubs for our communities, places where learning can take place in a variety of contexts and settings.

Will we concentrate on delivering monographs via print-on-demand technology rather than online to reading devices? Probably not, but we're not trying to sell artifacts at a profit.

I think the point claude is mostly trying to make is that to survive, bookshops need to somehow find a way to resonate with the life of their communities and to leverage than into a revenue stream. Similarly, libraries need to resonate with the life of their communities and to leverage than into continued growth and support within their institutions.

(Unfortunately, Q&Q doesn't seem to be online anywhere so if you want to read the whole article you'll have to either find it at your library or local bookshop. Oh, the irony.)

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