How do libraries decide what to buy

Media - Does anyone still go to a library today?

Does anyone even go to a library today?

We buy books, we stream films, borrowing is out. The libraries must be doing badly. Really?

Cobwebs hang between the shelves, allowing only dim light to fall on the spines of the book. A thick layer of dust covers the Dan Browns, Tucholskys and Agatha Christies. New books are neatly sorted and then left untouched. It is the gloomy vision of the future of libraries, guarded by an old, gray domestic dragon, ruined by the tyranny of e-books, streaming services and the lazy Swiss. A history that goes back thousands of years has become superfluous. Avoided, spurned and finally perished without a fight.

Up thanks to e-books

Or not? Statistics still seem to support this scenario. For some years now, the number of active library users has stagnated. The Aarau City Library has recorded a decline of a good 20 percent over the past ten years. The Baden City Library is only marginally better at 17 percent. Will the dinosaur “library” be exterminated by the “Internet” meteor? “Not at all,” says Lilo Moser, director of the Aarau City Library, “our library is in a very good position.” She admits that fewer books are being borrowed - the decrease is around two percent last year - “we do that but make up for it with the e-book loans ». E-books, i.e. digital books that can be borrowed free of charge with an iPad or e-book reader for a certain period of time, are by no means a “library killer”. Loans have been increasing steadily since it was introduced in 2013. But how does the city library explain the decline in visitors? “The subscription costs have increased, but a larger number of books can be borrowed using a membership card. As a result, many families decide to buy just one subscription, ”says the keeper of the Aarau books.

This is also shown by the loan numbers. For the past ten years they have fixed themselves. In 2014, the Aarau City Library loaned 290,000 items, two percent more than in the previous year.

Aarau is the Swiss capital of libraries. Two large organizations, the «Library Information Switzerland» and the «Swiss Association of General Public Libraries» have their headquarters in the Aare city. But what about the Limmat in Baden? The numbers are astonishing: the people of Baden have borrowed almost twice as many media in the past eight years. A steep, almost unique curve in the Swiss library landscape. Pia-Maria Rutishauser is responsible for this high-altitude flight. When she took over the management of the library eight years ago, the library's service mandate was redefined: the study library is to become a high-performance city library. To do this, she mucked out the stock. Uninteresting, hardly borrowed books had to give way to new ones, always with a focus on current issues. Money was invested in the renovation and new services. «We have improved a lot of things relating to customer service. We have also greatly adjusted our opening times. " The gates to the world of books are open for a full 63 hours a week.

Longer opening times do not make a library a magnet for the masses, but this is still a decisive success factor. In a large-scale study, the German Library Association examined how people can be brought back into the library. Extended opening times and an attractive range of events were often mentioned. It is not surprising that the two libraries in Aarau and Baden are strong there. "We haven't been a gas station for books for a long time," says Rutishauser. "We are an event provider and rely on impact-oriented offers that make you want to read." The Aarau library director also says that lending is just one of the library's offers. “The time when most people couldn't afford books and therefore went to the library are over. The libraries today have a broader mission: to promote reading outside of school. Because without reading, without language, you won't get very far in today's society. "

Babies on the bookshelves

This promotion of reading begins with the very young. Babies who are already nine months old are confronted with words and sentences on monthly occasions in "verse games". The offer is actively used. Both libraries are not only aimed at children, however. In Aarau as in Baden there are offers for senior citizens. «We are actively doing something against loneliness in old age. The library rooms should be used to solve social problems, ”says Moser. She describes the libraries as the “third place” next to home and workplace. "Where else can you go to read or meet without paying?"

The libraries' doom scenario seems to be pure fiction, the libraries that have been declared dead are more alive than they used to be. After the two comparatively large libraries in Aarau and Baden, we asked around in the country. The school and community library, located in the almost 5000-strong village of Seon, cannot keep up with the larger ones when it comes to opening times, but it is still open six days a week - sometimes only for a few hours. But library director Ursula Hauller only has a short time to talk, too many people hungry for reading are waiting for advice. It could not record a decline either. “If you stay up-to-date, go online, then the people will come too”. You are more concerned about the lack of space. But this problem should also be solved in the new school building.

The almost 90 libraries in Aargau are still important for village and city life. The canton is also aware of this and is working on a new strategy to provide libraries with even better support. It should be ready by the end of this year and prepare the libraries for the future. This future is uncertain, but one thing is certain: people read there too.