We aren’t really mourning the loss of a bookstore, we are mourning the loss of a ‘place’.

Are books still relevant?

Isn’t it really about a place to go?

I wandered through the skeletal remains of my local Borders I saw book remnants on tables at heavily reduced prices, discounted non-book items apparently aimed at boosting flagging sales, empty shelves and fittings on sale.

Rather than mourn the loss of another bookstore, I thought about the possibilities.

What did people really like about this place? Browsing, picking up a beautiful reference book to look at the pictures, having a coffee while reading a magazine. If every person who entered a bookstore made a purchase, then maybe the bookstore could remain as a commercially viable, for now.

Are books still relevant? Yes and no.

The commercial reality is that to be viable a bookstore must sell books. My recent book purchases look like this:

  • Wandering by an airport bookshop, a title caught my eye, Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work home and school. I paid $27 for a soft-cover. Airports will do that to you.
  • Looking up Simon Sinek’s booking Start with why on Book Depository and finding out that I can buy the pre-order the soft-cover for about $10
  • Buying Charles Leadbeater’s We think for Kindle on iPad for $11

People are still reading. I am definitely still reading, but in addition to books, my professional learning network via Twitter sends me great articles and video clips on a daily (hourly) basis.

The way we access knowledge, information, inspiration, enjoyment, imagination and ideas is changing. The internet has made ideas available to everyone and in different forms. Isn’t watching a TED Talk, just like reading a magazine article?

Content is now more broadly available, accessible and interactive:

“The Master of Rampling Gate,” a novella by Anne Rice published in 1991 as a paperback.  The out-of-print title was given new life in March, when it was reissued in digital form by Vook, a start-up that sells titles for the iPad and iPhone. As a $4.99 application sold through Apple’s iTunes store, “The Master of Rampling Gate” comes with video interviews with Rice and others. Rice speaks about her inspiration for her works and about the Gothic genre in which she writes.

Within the text are links to Web pages that elaborate on events and places in the story — a description of the Mayfair neighborhood in London where the protagonists live or a history of the Black Death plague, which plays a key role in the fourth chapter.  “For me, this is a way to communicate with my readers, establish a connection with them and build a community around them,” Rice said in an interview.


Books are definitely still relevant, but a book no longer means a physical object with pages and emerging media are just as relevant, valid and credible as books.

The difference today is that anyone can be a writer, the major publishing companies executives aren’t the only ones who decide that anymore, the readers do, when they choose to read a blog (thanks!) or the sheer numbers of people who can make or break an online newspaper. This is one of the themes of We think.

We are definitely still learning, growing, being tested and challenged. We are enjoying reading, viewing and interacting with the page.

In this age the survivors will be the re-inventors.

Isn’t it really about a place to go?

This is the real question, in my opinion. People are still reading, and more so. The sadness over the demise of the bookstore is more about the ‘place’.

Why do we like the bookstore?

  • We can hide. Ewan McIntosh (notosh.com) talks about the need for ‘Secret Spaces’ in our lives. The bookstore with their armchairs tucked away provide a place where we can curl up with a book and escape.
  • Up to date magazines to have with my coffee. The big bookstores did something that the library previously never allowed: putting coffee and books together, a perfect combination, in my humble opinion
  • Pottering around the shelves, following an interest trail and salivating over an amazing reference book we could never afford to buy.

Last year I visited DOK: Library Concept Center in Delft, Netherlands. This library is transforming itself into a community space and seeking to transform the concept of ‘library’ – A place where people gather, learn, connect, are entertained and inspired. (See post: https://anneknock.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/scil-on-the-road-dok-library-concept-centre-delft-2/)

So as I walked out of Borders for the last time, I had one of those ‘What if’ moments.

What if the Lord Westfield, the laird of the community space we call the shopping mall, recognised that this place provided an important service to the common folk and reinvented a new-style library-community space right here on this spot.

Or, what if schools reinvented a new-style library-community space – one that wasn’t dependent on rows and rows of books as its raison d’être, but how much the community wanted to come and hang out?

3 thoughts on “We aren’t really mourning the loss of a bookstore, we are mourning the loss of a ‘place’.

  1. Thanks for the chance to chew over some interesting concepts. You might be interested to know that in preparing for Monday’s conference, we have emptied the Learning Resource Centre ( aka Library) for the keynote address – this would have been an impossible task were it full of books. I would be interested to hear from anyone attending how best we can use this communal space, particulalry in the light of student learning and engagement.


  2. I love the idea of a library becoming a meeting place or any other places around the school within reason. Some hidy holes, cushions, couches and some fabulous interior decorations made to give a sense of peace and vibrancy all at the same time. I see the environment, a la Reggio Emilio Teaching philosophy, as another teacher. Another teacher that motivates, inspires and provokes learning in students and teachers. If a school could feel, look and inspire somewhere between a museum, coffee shop and Freedom furniture shops, maybe Ikea, what a great feel and look it would be. I have visited many display houses over the last 2 years and the best houses primarily are the ones where much time and effort is spent on the decorations inside. Same for a house, school or cafe.


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