Sutton Council is keen to stress that its new Bookshare scheme is no substitute for its ‘wonderful library service’.
Both the council and Adrian Short, the developer of the service, say that it is, on the whole, another push to get more people reading, not something to undermine the local authority-run library but to run alongside it.
Sutton Bookshare is the scheme whereby people living or working in the borough can offer their books for loan via a networking site, and in turn choose from books belonging to others. They meet up in person to swap books.
It’s catching the eye of the media, with Radio 4’s PM, the Guardian, and now the Press Association covering it.
When I wrote about it being developed last November, in CILIP Gazette (11 Nov, p.2), I noted that Sutton is a test bed area for the ‘Big Society’. This is always going to ring alarm bells for some people. The Guardian reported that library campaigners are worried that no matter what the council says, it will undermine the library service. I wonder myself whether the £30,000 grant that funded it couldn’t have gone on resources for the library, although I believe this figure is for a wider project called Sutton Open Library.
The aim is to allow ‘difficult to get hold of’ books, titles not likely to be available at the local library, to be shared out among the community. Another aim is to help build and reinforce personal relationships, as people have to meet up to loan out or borrow the books. So you get to meet people, presumably, with shared interests.
When I signed up (yet I live in Glasgow – does it think I commute to Sutton to work?) I was attracted by a lot of books on design theory and urbanism. Clicking on a few, I found Adrian Short himself owned all these. So, it worked, as it would have been a good chance to meet up with him and discuss something I’m interested in.
I would like to see how this social side of the project develops, and how closely this can become aligned with the aims of the library service. I find it rather hard to grasp at the moment. As for other practical connections, there are direct links from books on the Bookshare site to that book’s page on the library service’s catalogue (if available). It also links to Amazon, in case you want to buy it.
But will it really get people ‘hooked on books’? Won’t the scheme attract people already into books enough to feel that they have interesting ones to offer for loan?
I’m sure the last thing the developers wanted was to create exclusivity, but the idea feels more like a club than an inclusive library.
I suppose the most immediate benefit I thought of for public libraries is that they are the most obvious venue in which to meet up with a stranger to swap books.