Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Remixing My Book Consumption Habits

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Library Robot

While many book industry pundits have tended to focus their attention on the future of the book, bookstores and even book review sections, and justifiably so, I’ve been zoning in on the debates surrounding the future of the book consumer. And the librarian. Y’see, I used to be one of those gnarly dudes that would routinely peruse Toronto-area bookstores, from mom and pops' (A Different Booklist, Book City) and used (BMV Express, Seekers) to big box (The Bookstore, The Bookstore), looking to score some hot literary finds. While this may sound like sacrilege — coming from an author of five books written over the last decade — I simply don’t buy books with the same frequency that I used to. I’ve worked in the music and wider entertainment business for about the same amount of time that I’ve been writing, and the same can certainly be said about my music purchases. I have a combined hard-copy collection of a few thousand CDs, books and LPs, but have I been in any rush to add to these totals over the last few years? Nope.

The reasons for my steadily decreasing interest in buying physical books are simple. Some of it involves me not wanting to take up any more physical space in my house. Let’s just say that author Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and the Harry Potterization of one of my bookshelves has permanently altered the way I view storage now. Other reasons involve simple economics. Sometimes I’ll honestly bypass my usual jaunt down to the mom and pop's bookstore to drop $25 for a book in favour of getting some nice smoked-salmon fillets with gourmet cheese and a small serving of antipasto. It’s called being married with kids in a city where the over-educated underclass (and authors whose surnames aren’t Atwood) can’t seem to get the kinds of financial breaks one might expect. For book sellers to get my $20 plus HST, it’s going to take a lot more. Also, the mere thought of me buying a bunch of books that might ultimately collect dust on my bookshelf and remain unread is so '90s. It’s 2013, and there are a bunch of other multi-media distractions in the worlds of film, video and music vying for much more of my attention these days. For some authors, myself included, writing books is one thing, while buying ‘em sometimes might be another thing.

There’s a bookstore in my ‘hood called Accents that is so small and brilliantly curated that I would love to buy 80 percent of their booklist, but for some strange reason I’ll find myself hanging out for extended hours at the Maria A. Shchuka library branch right across the street from this bookstore, borrowing some of these same scintillating titles that I would have perhaps bought some eight years ago. And that’s another thing that’s changed in relation to my book-having habits. I find myself taking out a lot more books from the public library, rather than buying them. One of the things attributed to the increased use of Toronto Public Library services has been this recession which won’t seem to fully disappear. Have you seen the bank mortgage lending rates recently? Many people now privately think, “why buy when you can borrow”? And certainly living in a city with arguably the largest neighbourhood-based library system in the world doesn’t hurt when you’re cash strapped.

And you’ll notice that I mentioned my concern over the future of the librarians working within the libraries too. Growing up in Toronto, libraries used to be these book repositories filled with staffers who I would engage in shoptalk with, while checking out my books, about the most banal to brilliant of subject matter. But have you noticed that at today’s TPL branches there are these self-service kiosks everywhere where you scan the items you’ve taken out, much like using an ATM machine in a bank, with little to no need to communicate with any of the salaried warm bodies in the building? I don’t mind communicating with machines every now and then, but I like conversing with library staff, and I think I privately fear the TPL going the way of the North Carolina State University library system, where they’ve taken this concept of a human staff-less library to a whole other level. The library there has installed a robotic book delivery system, where these things called bookBots retrieve the books for you from a virtual catalogue. I loved watching The Jetsons futuristic-themed cartoon as a child, but am I ready to have robotic cranes retrieving books for me at my local neighbourhood library branch? Probably not.

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His latest book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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