My first job was in a library, in a kind of neat stone building, gray and stately, the way downtown buildings used to be built. It overlooked the shore of Lake Michigan, and provided a great lunch hour, in the downtown of a small city. Nothing could fill the head of a young aspiring writer like being around books for the day, punctuated by being outside for an hour in the sun with the sound of waves to incubate ideas.
As I write this I checked out that library's online site. I noticed that they are only open on Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm., and only open until 8 pm Monday through Thursday. Greatly reduced hours, and as people work longer, it makes it more difficult to get there in time. I am not a hopeless romantic, and I know fewer people go there, so this is not unexpected. Still, as I reflect, I remember the library, when I worked there as a page, as a place of community. Many people were regulars and had favorite tables or booths. It was very busy. It was a great place to browse for books, and to do research. In a sign of the times, however, it's opening web-page now offers advice on how to use Facebook.
Browsing for books is a favorite past-time of mine, and I browsed more than libraries. I have loved bookstores my whole life. The physical feel of a book, the browsing of a few pages, the feel and smell of the place selling...more than books, it was a place. A destination, and a means to build your own collection. A hope that one day your children would browse the same classics that made your imagination soar. Sometimes getting a gift card to a bookstore was more fun than getting a book itself, for it allowed for a discovery, time to go and search and find something unexpected. To be around people with similar interests.
I know some will have quibbles with the reductions of chain bookstores, since Barnes and Noble, like other large chains, has been responsible for undercutting the independent bookstore. I do agree that it was not a good thing that many independent stores didn't make it due to the chains. Still, with many Barnes and Nobles closing, so many communities now will be without a book store. Combine that with no library. Yes, we get some creative solutions, such as "birdhouse libraries". It doesn't, however, see to be a replacement.
Ultimately, I wonder what is the impact on publishing, and on books? If there is an impact there, is it an impact on authors, too? It will impact how we perceive "the business" and "the craft". On the larger community, the one we live in, the impact is probably greater. So I wonder: What is the impact on us when the only community around books that we will have is online? The article on Barnes and Noble makes a link between physical books driving ebook sales. So I am unsure that the answer of the online community is the only answer we need.