Posted by Lori Ayre on April 9, 2010

I had the thought recently that libraries are like pantries. Sure, they are full of things we get at Costco (just like everyone else) but once they are in our pantry, they feel different somehow. Once they are in my pantry, they are mine. Even though that can of tuna sitting on my shelf was one of hundreds of identical tuna cans at the grocery store, it feels special to me now that it is on my pantry shelf (I've also got a Little Prince vibe going here but I'm going to try to stick to this pantry metaphor if I can).

Library books work the same way. Whether the library gets them from a Baker & Taylor or from a library across town or a library across the state, once that book is on my library's shelf, it feels different from all the other books just like it. When that book I've requested arrives, it is mine. Even though it is just one of hundreds of identical copies of that book, it feels special to me now that it is on my library shelf.

Just like that can of tuna on my pantry shelf, that library book is mine until I consume it.

Somehow making this connection to library as pantry helped explain something to me that I knew intuitively was important, but I couldn't quite put words to. It comes up around the issues of holds, ILL and physical delivery of library material. Is it really worth all our efforts? We know we can never compete with Amazon in terms of how fast the item can get delivered to the customer. And we cannot offer the breadth of items Amazon can. But, even if we can't compete in those areas, it is important to keep working on getting the right items on our pantry shelves because it really means something to have them there.

Behind the scenes, we may still be getting our food and books from the big box stores but once we place them in our pantries for our people, they are transformed. Those books become our shared bounty. They are there to delight and nourish us.

We can count on that magic to give us the edge over Amazon. All of our efforts to move library material from place to place is worthwhile because when your person comes in and finds just what they wanted right there on their special library shelf, they feel taken care of. They feel special.

And I guarantee you, no one ever feels that way when they buy a book online.