Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Amazon Books: Not a Community Library Experience

Amazon opened a physical bookstore in Seattle called Amazon Books. It's kind of weird.

As I scanned my Twitter feed, I was really irked when I saw the clickbaity Atlantic headline: Did Amazon Just Replace the Public Library?  Because the obvious answer is "um... no?" Bookstores are not intended to be public libraries and, while they can be excellent community partners, they are not designed to provide the same kinds of community learning and connection as a public library. I decided to go to the store to poke around and see what inspired such a strange assertion for that article. What I found was, frankly, not that exciting.

Here is Amazon Books. It's a storefront in University Village, a huge outdoor shopping center with stores like the Apple Store and Gap.

They had a good selection of new and popular titles with an interesting shelving model. There are no prices for any of the books because Amazon prices fluctuate. For an interesting take on the store's design and purpose, I will refer you to this Forbe's article

Much like Barnes and Nobel with their Nook stations, Amazon Books had stations set up to try out Kindle devices. I thought this was a pretty clever display to feature both physical books and Kindle Fire's video functions.

They also had Kindles every so often sitting on the shelf next to books. This reminded me of how libraries will often have signs promoting online resources out in the stacks. Any libraries that loan out eReaders may want to take note of this idea.

In the middle of the store there was a bench or two with televisions to try out Fire TV.

And lastly, like many bookstores, they had a counter to ask for information and counter to purchase your items. Pretty basic.

The store was extremely busy at 10:30am today. It was especially filled with children because school was out for Veteran's Day. The children's section was so packed I could barely even enter it. Tubs of toys were, unceremoniously, dumped out onto the floor and children played with them in the aisles. The children's area was small and crowded with shelves, making this activity inconvenient for anyone actually shopping for books.

I asked for help in the Young Adult section to find Winter by Marissa Meyer. A young woman with a hand held device searched for the title. While she was very effective at using the device, her knowledge of the store layout and the merchandise seemed spotty. At least at many local independent bookstores you get the expertise of booksellers.

After exploring the store I still have no idea why you would think that a small storefront like this would replace a public institution. Many independent bookstores in Seattle come much closer to acting like a library, like Third Place Books with their Third Place Commons and Ada's Technical Books with their free talks and programs on many interesting scientific topics. Amazon Books, however, is just a store. And this store, with its lack of personality and service, is literally like buying it yourself on the Amazon website. Well, except you have to put on pants and actually drive out to a store.

Public libraries are a destination and community staple because they provide free and open access to information and resources. Amazon Books is not even remotely doing this. More importantly, Amazon doesn't even remotely claim to do that. It's a bookstore. It sells books. That's it, really. Libraries, meanwhile, provide community learning spaces and resources. They are doing really important and cool things to help the community like connecting at-risk youth to helpful resources, feeding hungry children over the summer, and teaching English as a second language to immigrants. Oh, yeah. And they also have books. A lot of free books.

Let's stop devaluing the public library with these assertions that the library is being 'replaced' or will soon be 'extinct.' It's an important part of every community and needs our support. Thanks!


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