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Toronto Public Library explores money-making options

Following a city mandate to cut $17 million from its operating budget, the Toronto Public Library is looking at ways to bring in more revenue.

On Monday, the library’s board will meet to consider a budget committee report outlining money-making ideas, many of which have already drawn fire for risking to commercialize the library.

The report recommends looking into partnerships with retailers to sell books via the TPL website. It also suggests the library consider selling e-books, possibly through U.S. distributor OverDrive.

Another suggestion is to increase fines for overdue books to approximately double the current rates, which could be paired with “a different fine schedule for low-income users.” Other ideas range from used book sales to charging for parking. From the Toronto Star:

[The report] also recommends creating a new fine for people who put holds on books and don’t pick them up … [and] expanding advertising channels and opportunities including an advertising bookmark and getting sponsorship of WiFi services.

  • Michael Black

    I like the idea of fines for the late pickups of books on hold. I once waited most of a year for a book, and it was awful the number of times the book was back and just sat there for the next person to get it. Or people bringing it back late, or even renewing it. Hot books used to have a 2 week time limit, and no renewals, until the demand dropped off. I didn’t put my name on the list, it seemed like a more random approach would be best (and thus maybe hold lists should be limited to X number of people). When I finally got the book, I read it in a day and had it back two days after I took it out.

    From that experience, I realized a middle ground would be good. I don’t like hardcover books, so I’m not willing to spend the money on them. But, I might be willing to spend ten dollars to get the book sooner. Libraries ought to use the “card catalog” more, so people can say “I’ll put in ten dollars for this” and then when a few others appear with their money, the library gets another copy, the donors getting first grab. For that matter, someone may have a copy already, might as well put it on the shelf rather than sell at the book sale. When the initial rush is over, the spare copy or copies can be sold off at the book sale. The library gets additional copies when they are needed, without paying for the acquisitions (though I gather there is cost involved in putting books on the shelf). For that matter, if someone wants a specific book added to the library, it may take some time, but if the members can get together and pay for the book, they might as well get it now.

    For that matter, I’d love to see libraries use their “card catalog” as a source of information. if someone’s interested in a new topic, they used to get a book about it, often from the library. If I’m taking out a book about amateur radio for the beginner, chances are good I might like to know about local resources, the courses about getting a license, the clubs for the hobby, the stores that sell supplies. Even that a hamfest is coming up next week, where the beginner might find all kinds of interesting things. Things known to the insiders, but yet invisible to the beginner. So they look up a book about amateur radio, and the “card catalog” would point to those local resources, the resources added by the library users. It’s an attempt to return the library to a more central position in the community. I’d much rather see that than what one local library did, which was add the ability to add reviews to the catalog. Reviews are easy to find, likely a more varied collection at Amazon or elsewhere, but connected information of a local nature is not.

    Sadly, libraries haven’t seen themselves as creators of information, just provide the books that has the information. The local libraries can’t even do a good job of promoting their book sales, let alone be central by keeping a list of all the local used book sales.


  • Michael Matheson

    Um, some of your points don’t seem to speak to the way the TPL currently works. I’ll speak to those in a moment, but I’ll try and take the bulk of my responses to your post point by point:

    Speaking to holds, I too, provisionally, agree with the notion of charging fines for non pick up of held items (which, it is worth mentioning is a notion that comes from the Mississauga Public Library system where it is already in practice). However, the TPL is currently looking to do more with educating its patrons about proper use of the hold system than utilizing punitive measures to motivate better behaviour. And that’s straight from Jane Pyper when I asked her at the Nov. 15th Budget 2012 Town Hall at the Lillian Smith branch.

    Patrons bringing books back late is an inevitability as people have lives that revolve around their families, social and business commitments, and other intervening factors that interrupt the regular return of library books. It happens, and that they already pay a fine for. And, actually, you can’t renew an item if it’s on hold for another patron. I wonder, were you, perhaps, discussing people renewing items outside of the hold queue instead?

    Also, newer items and much requested items often fall under the “Best Bets” label, which can only be borrowed for a week and are non-holdable, so there is still an attempt to regulate newer/more in demand titles. But, I can’t see any situation where suggesting that hold queues be limited to X people is anything other than a terrible idea.

    I too have waited the better part of a year for a book. But it’s better that than having to constantly check back and try to snag a “slot” in a limited hold queue which has the potential to devolve into an approximation of internet bidding wherein multiple individuals (in this case, scores, if not hundreds) sit constantly refreshing their browsers online over a single item all are seeking. That option invites only madness.

    And I’m glad you were able to read the book you wanted in a single day and return it so quickly. That’s fantastic. But a) not everyone reads as quickly as you do, and b) not everyone can take this much of a chunk of their time out of their lives at a moment’s notice – again, citing family and work commitments here.

    Spending money to acquire a slot in a hold queue, or otherwise procure yourself a book, is entirely at odds with the way the TPL’s system is designed. It would also slant the queue and available titles toward those who can afford to do this. And before you, or anyone else, argues that “it’s only ten dollars”, it’s not a small for people who are just scraping by on welfare – many of whom use the TPL system for job searching as well as a source of free entertainment /education for their children – and receive only $224.00/month for basic needs (which covers food, clothing and all other basic amenities, unless you are somehow playing with the shelter allocation – $368.00/month – into the other column, which in Toronto is exceptionally unlikely due to housing costs).

    Let’s put forward the extreme case to clarify your suggestion. Say it’s not fiction, but a business/job search text someone on welfare needs. They would normally be in queue before you (let’s say they requested the book first), but you pay in your proposed $10.00 to get the book before them. So, the person on welfare, who doesn’t have the extra  money to buy information/resources toward getting a job, loses out to you because you do? I know you didn’t intend your suggestion this way, but no argument holds up under scrutiny unless the propose method works under all circumstances, even the most extreme/unlikely.

    I’m not %100 sure which catalogue you’re referring to in this post, but I think you’re referring to both the actual, physical card catalogue (which is maintained by the TPL as far as I know) and the online catalogue at different times. These are not the same thing, though both are cross-referenced. It’s just done differently. And if you’re going to get a book off the shelf for yourself, it’s always been the case that you won’t get a full cross-reference from the book. Talking to a librarian has always been the optimal way to engage cross-referencing and full indexing of the system. And those librarians who don’t have the answers to your questions can use either the card catalogue or the online catalogue to help you get your questions answered/your materials found.

    Actually, there is a system in place for less-used books and book turnover. After a period of sustained inactivity (I can’t remember the exact duration right now, could be six months, could be 12 months, could be something else entirely) books not taken out within that given timeframe are removed from the shelves (“withdrawn”) and are sent to Book Ends for processing and sale, or processed for in branch sale.

    I’ve worked with Book Ends North (located one floor below the North York Central library – Book Ends South is run out of the Toronto Reference Library at Yonge and Bloor) and that volunteer organization raises an awful lot of money for the TPL Foundation.

    Speaking to the TPL Foundation, and donation of books: you can’t simply give books to the library to be put onto the shelves. Donated books either go directly to Book Ends or to Library Branch sales, so in terms of stocking the shelves of your local library for borrowing purposes, the TPL works with their own vendors. There are simply too many issues involved in working with personal vendors/individuals (though some of the Reference/Special Collections are allowed latitude in this respect because they cater to non-mainstream items).

    And your statement “[t]he library gets additional copies when they are needed, without paying for the acquisitions” isn’t true. The library does get copies when needed, but they do still have to pay for them.

    I also take umbrage with your assertion that “libraries haven’t seen themselves as creators of information, just provide the books that has the information. The local libraries can’t even do a good job of promoting their book sales, let alone be central by keeping a list of all the local used book sales.”

    Of course the TPL sees itself as a mainstay of information, and as a resource for same. This is what librarians are trained to do (and let’s not forget that it takes a Masters Degree in Information Sciences to become a librarian), not simply shelve books and run a “checkout counter” for books. And the library doesn’t keep a list of local used book sales because this is Toronto. There’s *always* a used book sale happening somewhere, often many in profusion. Everything from used book store outlets like BMV to the University of Toronto Book Store and the used book fairs UofT runs happens here on an ongoing basis, with incidental/time-sensitive sales cropping up at any given time. The TPL can’t track them all, but they do their best to promote the ones they can. Expecting them to do more is not only asking  a great deal (especially since no sustainable business model suggests promoting one’s competition without recompense or exchange of promotion), but is also a waste of valuable resources that could better be utilized elsewhere.

    And isn’t that what we’re discussing with the Library’s number crunching/Budget meetings? Budget assessment based on usage/tasks/staffing is what got us where we are now: discussing numbers and services. You’ve got some good ideas, but the TPL can only bend so far without breaking, and/or violating the mandates under which it was originally set up (accessible to all, free to all, in all measures without bias or discrimination).

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