This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 5, 1994

October 5, 1994 - Tattered Cover bookstore

For the past several weeks, I've been working on a document for a Colorado Library Long Range Planning Committee. The idea is to pull together some of the trends affecting library development and use. Then, this committee will try to describe some approaches for getting out ahead of the trends, instead of lagging behind them.

I have discussed some of these trends in previous columns: the emergence of technologies that tend to obliterate local boundaries to information access, the increasing cultural intolerance that has lead to a rise in challenges to library materials, and the growing expectation of public libraries as a key player in elementary and secondary education.

But one of the trends I haven't discussed is the synergy of libraries and bookstores.

On the face of it, it would seem that we're clearly competitors. Why buy a book when you can check it out of the library?

But the fact is, the better the library, the more books people buy. Similarly, the better the bookstore, the more people use the library.

I've also mentioned in this column that the sharp rise of library use in Douglas County, and to a somewhat lesser extent the whole metropolitan area, is in vivid contrast to the rest of the country. How come?

Certainly demographics play a part. We have a high proportion of well-educated white collar workers, many of whom have small children. The combination of education and young parenthood often makes for a library-oriented community.

But another factor, not to be overlooked, is the presence, reputation, and effect of Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore. Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover, opened her first bookstore in the Parker area back in the 70s. It failed -- a victim of a commercial development that never took off.

But the Tattered Cover, her second venture, did not fail. It is regarded not only as the best bookstore in the Denver area, but the best bookstore in the country. My friends who travel overseas tell me it's among the best in the world.

Why has Tattered Cover been so successful? It doesn't hurt that it has an inventory of some 100,000 titles on shelf -- larger than that of many libraries. Too, its knowledgeable staff (among them many former librarians) is a plus.

But beyond that, the Tattered Cover is an unusually civilized and welcoming place. You can stroll in with your lunch, read all afternoon, and walk out without buying anything. In some respects, it's like a library.

But it's hard to sit in a place surrounded by all that interesting stuff without wanting to take some of it home with you. So by it's low key approach, Tattered Cover manages to earn a lot of fierce buyer loyalty.

But if part of its success has to do with the ways in which it is like a library, the more successful libraries have tried to adopt some of the features of this prominent retail operation: more attention to display, more specific staff training in customer service, environments that are less stodgy, more comfortable than the libraries of old.

So, much as you often find a 7-Eleven or Circle K near a large grocery store, you also find the Cherry Creek branch of the Denver Public Library just a few blocks from Tattered Cover. They generate business for each other.

They also share more than customers: they share a love for books. And the partnership is good for all of us.

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