Pricing For Public Libraries

Why don’t public libraries practice segmentation and pricing for services?

City and county owned public libraries provide a great service to a section of the population – the underprivileged without means to access the very resources they need to get ahead. There is no denying that. Knowledge and Internet resources should continue to be made available free of cost  to those who need those resources and have no means to access these. This is not a case against this service provided by public libraries. But who is getting the most value from a free public library?

What is the type of demographics you see  there? (anecdotal)

What is the make and model of the cars parked in the library parking lot?

How many patrons use their home computer to reserve and renew books and access the electronic library resources?

Do libraries really need to make available  hard cover books as soon as they are published? Have you seen the waiting list for these new books?

Public libraries are funded by tax payer money. So one could argue – so what the resources are designed for and used by sections of the population who are relatively wealthy? These people are after all paying for the library through taxes.

That said, I  think public libraries need to change the way they provide service. They cannot offer the same level of service for the same price – free – to all the patrons. There are opportunities here for not only generating new revenue by charging a price for certain services but also to provide differentiated services to the  taxpayers. For example:

  1. Do patrons have to be served FIFO on waiting list for books? What if someone is willing to pay a fee for early access?
  2. Does everyone access electronic resources and all those Business Source premier journals? Why not make that a value added service for a price?
  3. Should everyone be allowed to checkout almost unlimited number of books? Why not charge a fee after a limit?

These are just a few examples. If we were to study the library patrons we will find more segments, what is important to them and what price (over and above the tax) these people are willing to pay for different value added services. Generating revenue from these services may even reduce the need for taxpayer support. That will be a fair and effective use of resources and taxpayer money.

Introducing pricing for libraries is about fairness – delivering value that matches price.

Who is with me on this?