Mailbag: Are libraries next after Borders?

The good news is that you nicely captured the poignancy of the closing of a bookstore (Letters From The Editor: On the border of a cultural shift," John Canalis column, July 29). The bad news is that the topic was even available to write about.

We're told that Borders "earned" its bankruptcy by not keeping up with the new, new! Yet they were innovators in the modern bookstore concept just a few decades ago. The world has gone mad.

And the way things are trending, you can get ready to write a companion piece about some public libraries in a few more years. The prospect of a decade-long stagnant economy doesn't bode well for libraries with their long-term and hard-to-quantify benefits.

Newport Beach's libraries aren't likely to ever disappear, as they enjoy robust public support, but Costa Mesa's face considerable challenges.

There are at least three parts to Costa Mesa's additional challenges. One is common to public libraries all over; libraries sit at the bottom of the fiscal totem pole along with other "soft" societal needs like parks and recreation.

Another part of Costa Mesa's challenge, to be quite blunt, is underwhelming civic support, due to a barely recognized antipathy to non-white and non-wealthy residents. This demographic, while a significant segment of public library users, is not politically potent.

A third challenge is a Catch-22: People don't patronize Costa Mesa libraries in great numbers because they're small and can't carry many materials, but, as part of the countywide public library system, they don't get resources to grow and improve because patronage is low!

Public libraries in some form will probably exist far into the future. Human needs haven't changed much in the century since Andrew Carnegie donated some 2,500 libraries. Computers can supplant some of a traditional library's offerings, but they simply can't do everything that libraries and librarians do.

Tom Egan

Costa Mesa

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