Books vs. Banks


One of  our family’s go-to places when we’re looking for something to do is to head out to the local Barnes & Noble. We are fortunate to have three B&Ns within 15 minutes of us, and are frequent visitors to each one. In fact, that is where my wife and son are right now, leaving me to write this post.

We used to have a B&N store just five minutes from our house, but that was closed a few years ago. And just a few months before that was closed, a Borders bookstore that was just two minutes away from us was closed. Now there are no Borders bookstores left, and I am worried the same fate could happen to B&N.

And what a loss that would be. I view bookstores as not only a great place to check out the latest bestsellers and browse through a wide variety of magazines, but a place to meet a friend for a cup of coffee, a place to hear authors speak about their latest work, or a place for a children’s weekly story time – in other words, a great community gathering place.

It’s the same way I feel about libraries, to me the heart and soul of a community. We are blessed with a great local library, Radnor Memorial Library. Where else can you borrow a book, a movie, or a CD for free; surf the web, get tax forms, or expert research help, also all for free? However, community libraries are always subject to the vagaries of public funding, and I have seen local libraries cut their hours of operation, cut their staff, and cut their services. My fear is that what’s been happening to bookstores could happen to libraries.

When I walk through a library, it seems as if every square foot of space is accounted for. While the vast majority of floor space is committed to books, magazines and newspapers, there’s also several computer workstations available, meeting rooms, the reference desk, the circulation desk, displays, etc. In other words, little to no wasted space.

The same goes for B&N. Again, most of its floor space is for books and other reading material, but they also sell other goods, such as games, educational toys, Nooks, and there’s often a space for a cafe. Again, very little wasted space.

None of the above seems to be the case with the banking industry. It seems as if I see a new bank opening around us every few months, and I just don’t get it. (The same can be said for drug stores, but that’s a whole different story.)

I think the five members of our family might go to a bank a combined five times per year, and I know that it’s never busy when I go. One of our visits is usually an annual trip to have our coins counted, and on those visits we are usually the only customers.

Plus, every bank just seems to have so much wasted space. Why is there all that dead space when you first walk in that requires a 30 foot walk to the teller? A bookstore or a library would find a good use for that space.

It also seems as if banks have a pretty significant interior design budget, based on the granite counters that the tellers sit behind, and the walnut desks and leather chairs for its more senior personnel. In the meantime, libraries have to chase people that owe them 60 cents in overdue fines, and deal with 30 year-old furniture.

You may want to blame the bookstore and library problems on Amazon, or on technologies such as e-readers. But there have been great advances in technology in the banking industry as well. Online banking, ATM machines, automatic bill payments, direct deposits, and now mobile deposits using your smartphone. The list goes on and on. As I see it, there’s hardly any reason left to go to a bank, and for the few times that I may need to go, all I need is one bank employee, a desk, and two chairs.

My hope is that this situation reverses itself, sooner rather than later. We need more bookstores and better funded libraries, and fewer banks. Perhaps we can modify the expression, “Books, not bombs” to “Books, not banks”.

A good place to start may be to move those coin counting machines to the local library, which should help with its overdue fines. I’m sure they’ll find a spot for it.


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