Though libraries could act like the federal government and start spending like drunken sailors on their first shore leave in six months, most of them are trying to figure out ways to save money. They’re cutting branches, hours, staff, services, and budgets. Some, like the Williamsburg Regional Library, are cutting off free riders.
My local library even stopped serving free tea and biscuits during the weekly book club meeting. The tea is still free, but we now have to bring our own biscuits. Times, as they say, are hard.
When it comes to money, librarians have a tendency to think reactively. Obviously they don’t know much about making money, because if they did they’d be out making it instead of being librarians. But in addition to cutting, libraries need to start thinking of ways to bring in more revenue.
One way is charging people to check out materials. As should be clear from a couple of posts ago, I’m not in favor of this option, even for popular tripe like DVDs and fluffy bestsellers. It’s just charging people twice. Libraries already force people to pay for them, even if the people don’t use them. To then ask the users to pony up more money just seems mercenary. If my library started charging me, I’d lead a campaign to end their tax revenue. If they can’t afford to buy and circulate materials, then don’t.
But there are other ways. I pointed out that Williamsburg could actually make money instead of produce dubious savings by cutting off the rural users. Charging people who haven’t already paid taxes seems like a great idea. Libraries could compete to draw users away from other libraries.
Sure, they could say, you have access to the Dungheap County Library, but for a mere $2/week you could have access to the glories of the Shinola Public Library! Eventually the Dungheap County Library would shrink to nothing while complaining about the predatory lending practices of Shinola Public.
Another option is advertising. The Wall Street Journal has a story on advertising in ebooks being a possible new source of revenue. If that’s the wave of the future, I’ll stick to print books, thank you very much.
Some of the advertising seems pretty stupid, though. For example, “Fandango is giving Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, with three pages of Fandango promotions, to people who buy tickets on the site to the Jack Black movie Gulliver’s Travels, which opens on Christmas.” Maybe people who would go see Jack Black in Gulliver’s Travels the movie don’t realize that Gulliver’s Travels the book is free in six different formats from Project Gutenberg. They’re probably not big readers, anyway.
Several places around the country are considering ads on school buses.
If ads are going onto school buses and into ebooks, why not into libraries. Most libraries have community bulletin boards where people can post public messages. Most of those messages are pointless and boring, so why not turn that space into advertising billboards. That’s the way to run a library like a business!
Or advertising bookmarks placed into every book checked out. What better way for a business to get its name known in the community than to have it plastered on free bookmarks that will inevitably get scattered all over town.
The same could go for tote bags. Companies could pay to have their logos on those pathetic tote bags that grocery stores sell for a dollar and Ebsco gives free to librarians at ALA every year. People reuse those things all the time. Great advertising!
Selling naming rights is always fun, too, and it can be scaled for every consumer. Got a half million? Name the library! Got ten bucks? Name the handicapped stall in the women’s restroom!
Restrooms are also prime advertising space. Ads could go on the backs of stall doors or over urinals. “Save money at the library and spend it at Walmart!” All this would do a lot to make sure that the library is run like a business, i.e., in a vulgar fashion. What fun!
Since the holiday season is upon us, and I won’t be back until next week, I’ll wish for peace on earth and toward librarian of good will. Until next time, Merry Christmas! And to my Jewish and Muslim and pagan and other readers, Merry Work Holiday That Has Absolutely Nothing to Do with Christianity!