Are Brick and Mortar City Libraries Still Necessary?

This certainly isn’t a political blog, but with all of the recent fervor over local, state and federal budget shortfalls, it got me thinking about areas in governmental budgets where technology could curb spending…

One item that comes to mind quickly is the local library.

With the advent of ebooks and the multitude of devices that you can read them on, I ask what exactly should be the function of a city library?

We all know that the greatest portion of any governmental budget is personnel (wages and benefits). Building maintenance is also often a significant chunk.

So why don’t more governments look to cut their library costs using more technology?

Here is a few thoughts- Convert to ebooks, replace racks and racks of books with computer kiosks and sell off the elegant, historical buildings that are costing an arm and a leg to maintain and either downsize to a more efficient space or just place the kiosks strategically across the city in existing governmental buildings.

For book-borrowers that do have computers, smartphones, tablets and/or ereaders, update existing library websites to include member-only downloadable ebooks that would have a renewable time limit. The website could also include encyclopedias, scanned microfiche, etc that could be easily queried and accessed.

Outsource the IT and development that will be required in this new model, saving the government from having to pay benefits.

Not only could you cut significant long-term costs this way, but a government willing to go this route could actually make money this way. Here is how:

  1. Advertising– This new model offers a number of prime advertising opportunities. The kiosks could be branded and have a splash screen advertisement; Also, with the new ‘storefronts’ being created for ebook downloads, advertisers would salivate at the traffic these sites would generate; Finally, the ebook themselves could have in-book ads- a necessary tradeoff for the reader, which could possibly pay for the purchase of the book and then some.
  2. Real estate– Granted its a onetime windfall, but selling the gigantic buildings that we currently call libraries to hotel or commercial developers, would certainly generate significant income for the government and might offset some of the start-up/conversion costs that this new model would bring.
  3. One Gigantic Book, Fixture and Assets Sale

Innovative, yes; Radical, probably; Controversial, most likely, but an idea worth investigating further.

This is by no means a slam at Librarians, just a thought about how things could be done more efficiently. In these times of financial difficulties, governments on all levels must do a better job of looking to technology for cost-savings and efficiencies.

I am sure you will have thoughts on this idea, so I welcome your comments below.