The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


August 8, 2011

Libraries hope book buyers opt to borrow

HUMMELS WHARF — Libraries may see an increase in foot traffic once Waldenbooks closes at the Susquehanna Valley Mall next month, leaving Snyder County without a national bookstore for the first time since 1978.

Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, filed for bankruptcy in February and announced in July that it would close its remaining 400 stores, which include Waldenbooks outlets.

“I am hoping (that libraries will see an uptick),” said Jennifer Johnston, head librarian of Snyder County Libraries, “considering the fact that there is only one other (national) bookstore (in the Valley, Barnes & Noble, in Union County).

“Some people won’t travel to Lewisburg.”

Only the more devoted browsers may drive the 25-mile round-trip between the Waldenbooks site in Hummels Wharf and Barnes & Noble on Market Street in Lewisburg, said Rebecca Wilson, associate director of the Blough Weis Library at Susquehanna University.

“I think real bibliophiles will still go,” Wilson said, referencing a friend. “I have no doubt she will be making her way to Lewisburg. A lot of my friends are readers and like to own the books they read. They enjoy the browsing factor. But they may not go to Lewisburg as frequently as they visited the mall.

“It’s breaking my heart (that Waldenbooks is closing),” Wilson said. “Librarians are known for wanting to own their books. I browsed more than I bought because I did not have one inch of bookshelf space left at home. When my daughter would visit from the West Coast, Waldenbooks was one of places we would always go.”

Come fall, an alternative will be Snyder County Libraries, which may see an increase in its number of 9,998 cardholders.

Shirley Carroll, head librarian of the Middleburg Library for 11 years, said some of her patrons are upset over the closing of Waldenbooks, which provided a source for them to peruse books they wanted her library to purchase.

“People like to browse,” Carroll said. “(Patrons) would go to Waldenbooks to see what is new on the market, and see how much the books cost. Some of them put off buying them there and wondered if the library would be purchasing those books.”

More often than not, Snyder County Libraries will, Johnston said.

“Pretty much always,” she said. “Unless we can’t get it, or if it is something we feel won’t have much of a draw beyond that one person. In three years I have purchased books for the library, we very rarely turn down (purchasing) a book. Especially when it comes to the fiction. It is one way of growing our collection.”

The Selinsgrove Community Library’s collection will grow to 85,000 volumes after it returns to its North High Street site in early June. The library, in the midst of a $3.6 million renovation and expansion project that will increase its square footage from just under 3,000 feet to 14,000, is temporarily stationed at the former Jackson-Penn Elementary School.

“We hope people find their way to the library because they don’t have a bookstore any longer,” Johnston said. “We trying to be more relevant to the community in that regard and we try to provide a wider variety to the public. We are more noticeable of our collection and make sure that we are covering all the bases, different genres, and as good of a collection for browsing as possible.”

Don Ernst, owner of D.J. Ernst Books in Selinsgrove for 36 years, said he is unsure whether his shop, which has an inventory of 10,000 antique, rare and previously owned books, would see an uptick in business as a result of less competition.

“I am a snobbish bookseller,” he said. “I do have some trash, the beach reads. My customers for the most part are exceptional, extraordinary people. They have discovered the world that you can access by reading good books, Plato, Aristotle, Kierkegaard, Welty, Faulkner.

“Even some of my (formally) uneducated customers have great minds, and naturally gravitate toward great literature. And I provide a place for people like that to get those books, for a buck or 50 cents or two bucks.

“I don’t know what types of books (Waldenbooks) sold the most. It did have a diversity of clientele. I try to avoid the superficial stuff. I sell reasonably priced copies of the greatest literature I can get my hands on.”

Up to 400 people annually purchase the $10 community borrower cards to use at the Blough Weis Library at Susquehanna University, Wilson said.

“That allows them to check out a certain number of items each time,” she said. “Also they can come in and use our resources and access our databases from the computers in the library.”

However, she said, much of the library’s material is in direct support of the university’s curriculum.

Officials from Waldenbooks in Hummels Wharf, and from the Susquehanna Valley Mall declined comment, as did managers from Barnes & Noble in Lewisburg. Calls to Barnes & Noble’s corporate headquarters in New Jersey, and Books-A-Million, of Birmingham, Ala., which has purchased some former Borders stores, were unreturned.

With the bankruptcy and liquidation of Borders, Books-A-Million will become the second largest brick-and-mortar book retailer in the country.

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