Bookshops and libraries may seem, to some, unlikely allies. One is in the business of selling books while the other lends them out for free. But we know they can and do work together successfully, but by local arrangement rather than national policy. That is set to change.
The Booksellers’ Association and the Society of Chief Librarians have struck up a partnership which both acknowledges what they have in common, and seeks opportunities for working together - to the benefit of both.
The willingness to explore common ground may have been stimulated by adversity. Recent years have been tough for booksellers and libraries. The economic downturn and the download have been difficult for both. But there is more to it than that. A significant proportion of our customers overlap. Large numbers of book borrowers are also book buyers. Targeting these customers together makes a lot of sense. By sharing our resources - and contacts - we can have more impact.
At local level, co-operation can work really well and, in many places, has done for years. Put simply, libraries have large public spaces and bookshops have access to authors and their publishers. Joining forces means they can host bigger and better events that attract more customers.
A fantastic recent example was the partnership between Newham Bookshop and Waltham Forest Libraries to put on this year’s London World Book Day Biggest Book Show on Earth event at Walthamstow Assembly Hall with over 800 children, 100 adults and authors including Jacqueline Wilson, Francesca Simon, Holly Smale, Michael Rosen, Philip Reeve and Steve Butler
This sense of partnership has been reflected in the increasingly productive coming-together of the two associations; the SCL and BA. In 2014 representatives from the BA and SCL attended each other’s executive meetings and the SCL made a presentation to the BA’s annual conference. In February 2015 a working group was set up to explore joint initiatives and develop ‘reading communities’ together. The group’s members are Tim Godfray and Alan Staton from BA, Janene Cox and Ayub Khan from SCL, and booksellers Jane Streeter and Nic Bottomley.
Since the group formed, the willingness to work together on a national scale has moved forward, with the SCL and BA co-operating on projects such as World Book Day, Shakespeare Week, and looking at how bookshops could support the Books on Prescription scheme - which provides an approved list of self-help titles for teenagers and adults with mental health issues.
It’s early days but there’s a lot more potential. Topics on the table include links from library websites to booksellers - for people who want to buy not borrow (the Find Your Local Bookshop button has been trialled in Warwickshire), sharing library events calendars well ahead - to promote bookshop participation, BA take-up of the SCL’s Universal Reading Offer and involvement in National Library Day, and the thorny issue of e-lending in general.
Perhaps not all of the ideas will come to fruition but others will emerge. At this stage, it’s not so much the to-do list that matters as the willingness to work together. Long may it continue.
Ayub Khan is on the SCL executive and is face to face services manager at Warwickshire County Council.