We’ve been in our new city abode for about six months now. It’s an apartment, versus a house, which suits us just fine. An empty nest seems less empty in a smaller space, and in a different place.
We didn’t move far — across the Golden Gate Bridge, from Marin County to the city of San Francisco — but in so many ways it seems like a world away. Whereas San Francisco’s city streets are walkable and its neighborhoods have distinct personalities, Marin — a county which has more natural park land in it than any other adjacent to a large city, is home to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which encompasses the Marin Headlands, as well as Muir Woods (the fictional home of the apes, in the latest version of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) –– is made up a cluster of tiny towns, which, like gems on a necklace, hang on the delicate shoulders of Mount Tamalpais, the county’s focal point.
In fact, Mill Valley’s library sits squarely in the ancient Cascade Valley redwood grove. It has a working stone fireplace, a deck, and large lead-paned windows, making it a cozy place to sit and enjoy a great book.
For us, it is priority stop with out-of-town visitors, because there is nothing like it!
(I think I took Stephanie Bond there, once, when I played tour guide…I hope so, anyway!)
Afterward, we meander on the rustic road that roams behind the library, to a trail the ends in Cascade Falls, and then we circle back down the “summit” side of Mount Tamalpais.
Over the past couple of decades, I spent years of hours in Mill Valley Library. Besides its forest views, within the Marin County Library system, it has, bar none, the best collection of books on movies, cinema and the performing arts.
One of the great joys of the county (and definitely something I already miss) is how each of the county’s libraries had its own distinct personality. Among the ones I used for my own research were the Sausalito Library, which is housed in the City Hall building that was once the old Edwardian-era Center School; Tiburon’s new library, which has lots of sunny anterooms (and yes, one with a fireplace. This part of the county doesn’t need air conditioning, since temperatures stay a moderate 65-80 degrees, on average); Larkspur’s cramped but cozy library, on it’s main street, Magnolia; the circular Marin County Civic Center Library, housed in the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece that became the set of the space-age movie Gattica (with Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke), and is the pride and joy of the county seat; San Rafael Library, which has a great comfortable space for readers (and writers); and the Corte Madera library, which is an incomparable reference resource.
Already, Martin and I are finding out that the San Francisco library branches also have their own unique looks, collections, and clientele. Luckily, our new place is only two blocks up and one block down from the closest branch: Golden Gate Library, a Carnegie-era gem, surrounded by classic Pacific Heights Victorians.
In fact, I’ve written it into the first book of my Totlandia series.
As distribution for print books shrinks, I am concerned about the fate of our local libraries. All my life I used them as personal sanctuaries, and as research facilities; I’ve seen movies in libraries, and I’verented them there, too. At libraries, I’ve heard insightful guest speakers, and I’ve spoken to wonderful fans. Frankly, I can’t see a world within libraries, but I realize that these very important gathering spots will have to adapt to a world without physical books.
Right now many of the major publishers and libraries are locked in a debate on the cost of fees for the distribution of electronic books. It boils down to this; how many times can a book be borrowed, under a flat fee; and what is a fair fee?
This isn’t the best analogy, but it reminds me of the frog and the scorpion fable: the scorpion wants to get to the other side of the lake. He asks to hitch a ride on a frog, who is afraid that doing so will mean instant death. “Why would I sting you,” asks the scorpion, “since I’d die, too?”
Halfway across the lake, the scorpion does what is in his nature: he stings the frog — and yes, they both drown.
Publishers aren’t scorpions (I’m sure some authors I know have less friendly albeit more appropriate names for them), and they recognize that libraries are a big customer base for them. Well, so are indie bookstores.But now Google, the biggest partner to the indie book market, is closing its referral/reseller program with our beloved stores.
Publishers need distribution for their books, and they need to build fan bases for their authors. Can they do without either libraries, or the indie bookstores?
As economic factors and technology bite into the bottom line of both these markets, it is important that those of us who love libraries and bookstores brainstorm, and champion, ways in which they can stay relevant to our lives.
If you’re reading this, I take it you love novels, authors, libraries, and bookstores.
So tell me: if you could wave a magic wand and be Master/Mistress of the Universe, how would you solve the distribution dilemma that eBooks have created for our much needed, much loved libraries and bookstores?
*Photos: courtesy of the Marin County Library System