Why can’t libraries charge for books?
June 25, 2014 | 4:25 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Two articles in today’s Morning Links dovetailed nicely for me. The first was on a plan that Overdrive Books has to charge for movies on a pay-per-use basis. The second was on the struggle libraries are having to balance eBook acquisition with customer demand.
It struck me, as it often does when reading about the libraries, how limiting it must be to try and problem-solve when you are constrained by an outdated model. Libraries cannot meet demand because they are limited by a model which says only one person can sign out each book at a time, and they are limited by their mandate to provide said books for free.
But who says these two limitations have to be a given? If Overdrive can charge for use for movies now, why can’t they charge for books?
I’m not saying libraries need to become pseudo-bookstores here. I know some libraries do have an affiliate link where patrons can purchase a book. But why can’t we combine the old approach with this new one a little? The book is free to borrow—and can always be free—if you’re willing to wait in line for it. Be 47 out of 49 on the hold list if you want to. Your turn will come.
But if you badly want to read the book, why not enable an option to pay a small fee get the book at once, not as a purchase but as a rental? The fee can be split between the library and Overdrive. Everyone wins—you get instant access to the book, and you make the queue shorter for those who do want to wait for it.