Thursday, November 17, 2011

Novel idea: A library that sells books?

Perhaps you’ve gone to the Toronto Public Library website to get some information about a book you want to borrow. But are you really sure you want to read the book for free? Maybe you’d rather buy it?

The idea of hooking library patrons up with a retailer is one of a number of money-making proposals in a library budget committee report to be considered by the board at its Nov. 21 meeting.

The report suggests that chief librarian Jane Pyper look into the feasibility of a retail function on the library website, including partnerships with book retailers.

In addition, the report suggests Pyper examine the possibility of selling e-books on the TPL website, maybe partnering with OverDrive, a digital distributor based in Cleveland, Ohio.

But the suggestion the library delve into retail falls flat with former board member Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, who left the board in September.

“We have a great website — I don’t think we need to confuse people by pushing them to some retailer’s website,’’ he said.

Another proposal in the report, to steeply increase fines for overdue items, also drew his fire.

“Charging excessive fines to make up for budget shortfalls is a user fee — it’s no longer an incentive to bring a book back on time,’’ said Chaleff-Freudenthaler. “Increasing fines is making it more expensive to be a library user.’’

According to the TPL website, adults pay 30 cents a day for overdue books, teens 15 cents and children 10 cents. The budget committee recommends increasing adult fines to 60 cents, 75 cents and $1 per day (depending on materials borrowed), children’s fines to 25 cents, 35 cents and 50 cents, and Best Bet book and DVD fines to $1.10, $1.25 and $1.50 per day.

The report suggests looking into the feasibility of a different fine schedule for low-income users. It also recommends creating a new fine for people who put holds on books and don’t pick them up, making people pay for parking at branches, selling used books, expanding advertising channels and opportunities including an advertising bookmark and getting sponsorship of Wi-Fi services.

The report says that some of the suggestions, whether leading to increased revenues or lower costs, are not expected to have a significant impact in 2012, but could do so in the following years.

At its Oct. 17 meeting, the library board approved efficiencies and additional revenues that will net about $9.7 million — representing a 5.7 per cent decrease from the 2011 budget. Mayor Rob Ford has demanded a 10 per cent budget cut from every city department. The library must cut $17 million.

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