The CEO of New York-based Rosen Publishing Co. could have given away the 10,000 books he donated to the Memphis Public Library and Information Center last week any number of ways.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. reads to children at the library. Rosen Publishing donated books for children in the summer reading program.
But Roger Rosen is making a point about libraries with the philanthropic program in which he and his education publishing house are donating 250,000 books to libraries in cities across the country over a two-year period.
“This is sort of the perfect nexus of my interests,” he said. “There are lots of ways that one could do this. But I think leveraging the power that the library already has in the community is the most efficient and best way to do so. You are working with the best professionals who are thinking about this 24/7.”
The books go to the library foundation’s summer reading program, which gives way to the coming school year at the end of this month. Rosen, whose company publishes hardcover books for school-age children along with e-books and databases, wanted the books distributed to be conventional hardcover books the children could own and keep or trade for other books.
“It was very important that it be a physical object and that they could experience that physical object as a magic object that is theirs that they could care for, respect, respect the property of others because they have their own book in this way,” he said. “This is what engenders a community of readers.”
Publishers Weekly, in a 2009 article, quoted Rosen as saying, “We don’t want to be technology leaders. We are content providers.”
He also said then that the company’s success in books that supplement school curriculums is “when we apply our basic print thinking to most digital scenarios.”
Rosen Publishing also provides the same content to schools and school systems through database technology.
The hardcover books donated last week to the Memphis Library’s summer reading club includes book sets like “Pivotal Presidents,” “Ferocious Fighting Animals,” “how to” books on card tricks and even a book on “texting, sexting and flaming” that warns children about the dangers and pitfalls of social media use.
The books include lively, colorful layouts and breakouts boxes of information.
“They are beautiful. They are curriculum-based. They are highly educational,” said Memphis Public Library and Information Center director Keenon McCloy. “Some of their books explain what could be really difficult topics in really easy to synthesize ways. They are all curriculum focused and they do have an emphasis on education and not just entertainment. They are just a perfect fit for the people that we serve. They make a lot of issues that may be complex really accessible to everyone.”
McCloy said the library system will also probably buy some of the e-books and other electronic products offered by Rosen in the “immediate future.”
The library recently got more funding for the current fiscal year in the city budget for its collections in particular and more funding to start expanding hours and staff that have been cut in recent fiscal years.
In five years, the budget for the library system of 18 locations has been cut 21 percent and its hours have been reduced 20 percent in the same period.
A strategic use study by Smart City Consulting and Linx Consulting in May tracked the way citizens use the libraries in the Memphis system and found that while collections are the most used parts of some branch libraries, computer access and databases are the most used features in other branches.
Rosen is among those who are concerned that public libraries have suffered in some cities from funding cuts fueled by the idea that libraries are just about hard copies of books that are more easily ordered online.
“What that doesn’t take into account is that not every citizen is empowered with online access or has a computer at home or broadband or even dial-up,” Rosen said. “What the library provides is that great leveling of the playing field in life,” Rosen said. “There’s a real danger to increase the societal divide between the haves and have nots – between those who are empowered through technology and those who are not.”
Rosen described libraries as “truly one of the bastions of our democracy.”
“This is the greatest portal of empowerment that potentially a community has,” he said. “Certainly it is the most open in many ways to citizens. You couldn’t have a more open door policy. I’m concerned as a library advocate about a true misperception of the library’s job in our current society where you have constituents who are taxpayers … who don’t understand its true function in the 21st century.”