I describe myself as a consistent public library patron. As a child, I would frequently accompany my dad on his weekly library visits. Then, when my own kids were younger, I took them fairly often to collect armfuls of picture books or to take in a Storytime. It was a pleasant morning especially when the library was part of the same community centre where preschool swimming lessons took place! My kids are a little older now and their Internet research a little more sophisticated, and I find my own library connection is also primarily via the Internet. I browse the library web site searching for my neighbourhood Book Club’s selections or other recommended reads, request the next available copy, and go pick it up when I am informed it has arrived at my local branch.
On a recent visit to our little local library to collect one of my “Holds”, I noticed a new carpet had recently been installed. This is the about the only change I’ve noticed to this branch since moving here 11 years ago so this reno was rather thrilling. With the ever-growing popularity of mega bookstores and eReaders I began to wonder about what it costs to keep libraries operating these days.
The Ottawa Public Library boasts 32.5 million uses per year, 10 million borrowed items, 5 million in-person visits, 12 million e-visits, an operating budget for 2010 of $ 35.4m, a capital budget of $ 4.3M (part of which presumably paid for our new carpet!) and an astounding (at least to me!) 28.1 library uses per capita! I estimate my own to be 12-15 uses per year so there is definitely still a market for borrowing versus buying.
So I had a thought: Why have public libraries not made the consumer connection with books and coffee that Chapters-Indigo did alongside Starbucks? I don’t particularly care for Starbucks coffee but they, nevertheless, it’s the experience, so they always snag some of my coin when I browse for books. It would be an awesome partnership: books and baristas side by side at your local library! It would bring us all back to the public library with a vengeance. Maybe the only reason I go to Chapters-Indigo is because I know it will be accompanied with a delectable latte or cappuccino! A few things require careful planning in this business model not least of which would be the recruitment of chipper staff who are able to resist the continual urge to “shush” anyone who speaks out loud, and of course, a greater infusion of capital to replace the circa 1960’s reading furniture. A new steady stream of revenue less reliant on personal tax revenue could improve both library services as well as the library experience… maybe even increase those per capita visits! Who’s with me??