The Debate Between Libraries and Bookstores

I have recently written an essay on the prompt, “Are libraries still necessary?”. Just from the question itself, I was a little bit offended. But, it proved to be a passionate topic that I could write my essay on. Now, a different and perhaps better question to ask would be, “Which is better: libraries or bookstores?”

First, let’s just establish what each one is. Without the fancy dictionary.com definition, I would say that a library is a place that allows for people to borrow from a collection of books, resources, films, etc., usually meant for a community. It can also be a quiet place for working and studying. Now very similar, bookstores are everything libraries are, however instead of borrowing their resources, they have to be bought.

Now into the finer details of each; imagining a bookstore like Barnes and Noble, I walk into this massive store. It has shelves and shelves of perfect, freshly printed books. They all have the classic “new book” smell and minimal to no damage. But, the store is lacking in character.

On the other hand, when someone says library, I imagine passed-down hardcovers wrapped in the iconic plastic to protect its dust jacket. I picture hundreds of books with multiple copies and different editions lined up on shelves that categorize them by genres. I see a kids/middle-aged section, a romance-filled young adult section, and the ever-so-imposing adult section. The books themselves show their years of dutiful use on their cracked spines, small bends, and tears from being tossed around in a backpack. So with each book that I pick up, I get to glimpse at what each reader’s journey with the book was like. Through its physical condition, I have been able to laugh, cringe, and wonder what exactly happened to this book before it got to me. Whether it be spaghetti sauce stains or hilarious side notes, a library book really gave me two adventures instead of one.

Though bookstores do a fantastic job at presenting their products for customers to buy, personally, nothing can beat the feeling that overwhelms my senses when I walk into a library. I grew up going to libraries at least once a week to study or pick up another round of books, so I may be biased. But, one thing I know for sure is that sometimes it’s better to have the used book: it reveals more than any new book could.

-Katherine L.