Book Hatchery: What I learned about books on my visit to a salmon hatchery September 22, 2013 – Posted in: Bookselling / Collecting, bookshops, public libraries

sockeye salmon

I recently had the pleasure to accompany my daughter and her 3rd/4th grade class on a three night camping trip to the Mt. Baker wilderness in Washington State. The goal of the trip was to teach the kids about watersheds, ecosystems, and our role and place within them and for the kids to get to know each other a little better at the outset of the school year.

For me, it was 4 days of being completely unplugged and off the grid.

One of the activities was a trip to the Baker Lake Salmon Hatchery, a state-of-the-art facility run by Puget Sound Energy. Here we got to witness the incredible process that was created to ensure the survival of our cherished salmon.

Why a hatchery in the first place?  As cities and towns rose from the landscape the demand for electricity rose as well.  Huge dams were built to harness the abundance of water to create low-cost electricity for the masses. No mind was paid to any potential consequences to anything living in the river from this new approach and before too long a glaring red flag went up.

The salmon, which roamed the river for generations, were dying off !


Since the 1920s, annual adult sockeye returns to Baker River averaged about 3,500. In the early 1980s, returns plummeted, falling to just 99 fish in 1985.

Last summer an all-time high of 48,014 sockeye returned to the river (35,366 was the forecast). That, along with returns of 37,264 in 2011 and 22,767 in 2010, rank as the highest returns to the Baker system.

It was the threat of extinction that created/forced a response. The value of salmon and its true importance to our way of life  and our culture became the focus and the hatcheries were introduced to ensure their survival.

And it was the very companies that threatened the salmon with the building of the dams that were now responsible for taking action to ensure not only their survival but their ability to flourish.

For the salmon it was electricity,  for the bookseller it was the emergence of the internet (which,  ironically enough, is dependent on electricity) and the introduction of a new way to sell books – the online marketplace.

For the bookseller the main culprit was,  an exclusive online bookseller that promised an unparalleled inventory at unparalleled prices.

The rush to digital and e-commerce was and remains as powerful as the rush of the rivers needing to be harnessed.

Bookshops began disappearing at an alarming rate and again no mind was paid as to what consequences that would have on the health of our communities and our culture as a whole.

We clearly have hit bottom, as this screenshot attests online bookselling has become as polluted as the most dangerous of rivers. Here is a listing on, an Amazon owned company, for the Complete BBQ Cookbook.

The listing is from Wonder Books – the asking price is $133,584.30!

There are 8 other copies available starting at $9.76

abe price crazy

How is the general reader or beginning book collector begin to make sense out of these types of listings? Clearly that copy was priced by a computer software program and not a bookseller and has no basis in reality yet it is presented as a legitimate choice.

Technology removes human contact .

Though I don’t foresee Amazon building book hatcheries to provide communities with a healthy selection of well-cared for books I do sense the tide might be turning and that a hatchery type approach just might be….

There is one big difference; however, between a fish hatchery and my perceived  book hatchery.  Most technological advances at the fish hatcheries focus on eliminating as much human contact with the fish as possible, and while online bookselling has followed the same path a book hatchery is all about encouraging physical contact. Creating a place where tactile interaction is encouraged and where the intellectual needs of the community are met in book form.

Why not turn our libraries into book hatcheries? Places where books can be lent, bought, talked about, and made. Places where we can nurture our residents and then release them into the wild.

Contact encourages discovery – the book is too important to the foundation of our civilization for us to lose contact.

And while I have salmon on the brain – here is a list of salmon related books and ephemera  curated for

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