Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Five models for libraries outside libraries

In light of a plan to create a “portable,” “branch-a-day library” in Portland, Maine–LibraryThing’s home–I’ve been thinking about the various possible sorts of “libraries outside of libraries.”

I am of two minds about such projects. I like to see interesting experiments, but dislike replacing valuable services. It doesn’t help that one of the two branches Portland is closing is in my neighborhood. As a branch, it wasn’t the best, but it would take quite a “portable library” to make up for it even so.

Nevertheless, I came up with a list of five types libraries outside of libraries (exluding what might be done with ebooks). Are there any I’m missing?

1. The Bookmobile.

2. The Short-Lived Library. Set up a branch library that lives for a defined period of time, like Boston’s Storefront Library. It’s like an “event store,” but a library. The Storefront Library was a big community success.

3. “Branch-for-a-day.” Find a bunch of spaces–empty storefronts, community center rooms or whatever–and roll full book carts into them on a schedule–Monday this neighborhood, Tuesday that neighborhood, etc. Has this ever been tried?

4. The Cafe Shelf. Set up mini-branches consisting of shelves–general or themed–in public commercial spaces, like coffee shops. The books would be owned but probably non-collection items. Care would be taken to tie all the books back to the main collection, with paper inserts or whatever.

5. The Vending-Machine Library. Like Conta Costa’s Library-a-Go-Go, a cross between Redbox and your library. It’s like a library, but with no pesky salaries and a terrible selection.


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  1. Brett says:

    If a Vending-Machine Library were to be set up right next to the Redbox machine at my grocery store, I’d probably stop going to the grocery store.

    Casually flipping through a list of recent DVDs that all sound terrible doesn’t bother me; walking away from a machine full of books that doesn’t have a single one that interests me would be heartbreaking. Of course I’d have to look again every time I walked past, just in case… so for my own sanity I’d have to ask my wife to do all the grocery shopping.

    Actually, now that I mention it, maybe someone should arrange this… I’m in Northern NJ and would be happy to have the pilot machine in my local Stop & Shop. 😉

  2. Rob Szarka says:

    How about..

    6. Distributed Library of Friends. Your friends have books; you want to read them. Social networking sites like LibraryThing and BookCrossing manage the process of matching readers to books and keeping track of who still has your book and forgot to return it.

  3. Bryan says:

    How about the Bunko Library? This paper from a relatively recent IFLA conference explains the concept:

    BUNKO: A private children’s library in Japan. A Short Introduction to Bunko|http://bit.ly/aEudzX

  4. elenchus says:

    I think there’s a significant opportunity between the two chairs of the above five models and the eBook models you tabled.

    The Quick Links on the LT works page offers a great means for finding books in stores. What about linking to my municipal library system? Better yet, let me put it on hold on my library account. And why limit me to just one library? I’m a member of my alma mater’s academic library, and who knows how many association or specialized libraries.

    Better yet: when browsing online stores (say: Amazon.com, or Powells), a toolbar linking to those same libraries would be great. For those twenty books placed contingently in my cart, I could check how many could be borrowed, and purchase only those unavailable for loan.

    I’ll go one further. Using a mobile device, why limit the above review of my library collections to surfing? When in the store, faced with a choice of purchasing just one of three books, I could quickly check which are available and put them on hold. My local bookseller and my local libraries benefit.

    I don’t doubt it would be tricky to work out this three-way (multiple) linkage system. And while it probably wouldn’t have to work through an LT account, why not have each work by placing a work in a special collection. I wonder how much overlap in the LT for Libraries clients and LT accounts there are, and if the above scenarios wouldn’t motivate greater overlap.

    Anyway, I’d be very interested in all of those, and probably others that share the Library – Store – LT user linkage.

  5. Suralon says:

    There are various societies and clubs have centered on their local headquarters and/or national ones very extensive libraries who upon the request of their members will send, by mail, whatever book they request for a certain period. Of course this eliminates the pleasures of just browsing. This could be conceivably resolved by a librarything like listing system with the sort of information above and beyond just the bare title and author to attract a person enough to make a person to want to read it.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Tim, maybe this isn’t really what you’re going for, but what about personal lending libraries, or a library circle, between friends, family, whatever? Bob borrows a book from me, I borrow a book from Jean, Jean borrows a book from Bob, etc., etc. Small scale, maybe, but it serves the function of a library nonetheless.

  7. Frederick Harrison says:

    In Toronto there’s a pub called “The PUBlic Library”. The decor is bookshelves filled with books, most of them uninteresting. It has a jukebox filled with classic jazz singles (a major feat in itself, if you’ve ever tried to find jazz on 45s) The patrons are more interested in drinking than reading.

    There are also groups of people who meet in pubs to discuss books and other topics. (This has become a new way of conducting bible studies among youth in some churches.)

    Combine the two: A pub where bibliophiles can meet to discuss books with a carefully chosen lending library as decor. (The jazz is optional.)Reviews by the patrons would be available so you will know how a particular book was received by a particular patron. So if Herb disses a sci-fi novel and you know he’s a fan of novels set in the wild west you’ll understand the bias behind the review.

    Other suggestions:
    A laundry facility with a lending library (or vice versa).

    Incidentally, many churches have their own lending libraries but have local churches ever partnered to create a central library? The trick would be coding each book in such a way that a book that is embraced openly by one denomination but regarded with caution by another and flat out rejected by another would have that information on the cover.

  8. Tylman79 says:

    An interesting initiative is that of the Library System of Santiago, Chile, who set up mini-library branches at some of the subway stations throughout the city. The idea was that you could borrow a book, read it while you are travelling in the subway, and hand it back when you are done. A simple and, apparently, successful idea.

  9. Kathleen828 says:

    A rural library near me has sets of clusterboxes (like cluster mailboxes.) Patrons make requests to the library via the OPAC, phone, etc.

    The library pulls the item and notifies the patron into which cluster box ( No. 1, No. 14, etc.)the item will be placed.

    The library’s delivery van then delivers the items to the appropriate box. The patron drives to the box and picks up the item. When the patron is finished, s/he puts the item back into the box for pickup.

    This saves in two ways – gas, as only one vehicle (the van) drives the entire distance to and from the library, and time – the patron does not have to make the entire drive

    I know that there is a way in which the patron is notified of a combination or some such which allows on s/he or his/her designee to open the box in which his/her item is, but I cannot remember it at the moment.

    I learned of this in library school and thought it was a great idea!

  10. SqueakyChu says:

    In conjunction with BookCrossing, some members maintain Official BookCrossing Zones. These function as book exchanges rather than libraries, but the good feature about them is that books that are taken can be journalled and tracked as they are read by more than one person. Any willing business is able to set one of these up. They cost nothing. They are stocked and maintained by active Bookcrossing members. Particularly good places for these are coffee shops and cafes.

    This is actually most like item #4 of your original list, Tim, but the ability to do this already exists. To get started, all a business owner needs to do is to notify a local Bookcrossing member that such an “OBCZ” is desired.

  11. Tim says:

    Thanks Squeaky—that is another model. I don’t think libraries would go for it for the simple reason that it puts collection development in the hands of patrons rather more directly than they’d feel comfortable with. (Imagine the legal issues is someone started taking books and started systematically swapping them out for religious material, for example.) Nevertheless, it does suggest some vitality for ideas of this nature.

  12. Maureen says:

    Shake loose of stereotypes about how books are “boring” by obtaining grant money or tech company sponsorship for a 3D Second-Life-type library meets Jorge Luis Borges experience. As McLuhan said, the medium is the message.

    Content could sample the gamut of ebooks in nonfiction as well as fiction…use a private viewing option for non-G rated materials. This would boost the availability of e-books, since these materials are found in such diverse sources online. Main target audience could be those many in our population with little to no internet access. Loaner e-book readers would also be needed, however.

  13. MarthaJeanne says:

    Here in Vienna a number of English-language organizations maintain bookshelves of books that can be exchanged for other books. They vary in the extent to which they are kept in any sort of order. ‘Collection development’ is unorganized, although the one I am involved in does weed when the shelves get too full. It works here because of people who donate fairly good books when they leave, and those who travel often to US and UK, but don’t want to keep read books around the house.

  14. Heggen says:

    Redbox for books? I am right up there with Brett. I don’t like the idea. Where is the personal touch with actual librarians? Where are the suggestions? I just don’t like it. Who is in charge of late books? I guess this is from a librarians standpoint.

  15. Sarah says:

    Redbox for books would work for some people and not others. The way I see all of these options is that they each appeal to a different type of library user, at different times. Just like self-checkout works for many (who don’t want the personal touch), and doesn’t work at all for others. From my librarian’s standpoint, I like this idea of offering choices, because I know that my library itself is already not everyone’s choice. I’d like to provide these alternative ways to connect with people and offer a service they would use.

  16. Smoke-z says:

    I think perhaps the Netflix model might work, with a bit of tweaking to account for the shipping weight of books. (Monthly limit on how many you can order?)

    I haven’t used the site except to be proven wrong about how they wouldn’t have a certain western from the 70’s. But the concept is simple enough. You order your title and send it back when you are done.

    Something like that already occurs between different libraries around the country.

  17. Leslie says:

    Our hospital has a form of library, while you are waiting for someone or visiting some one they have a rack of books both in the hallway to ICU and in the emergency room. You can borrow the book and bring it back or just bring back a different one, or both. It works pretty well and the shelf is constantly full, They are usually pretty good books.

  18. Larksong says:

    There are way too many books (and reading tastes) for the Redbox model to work on anything but, say, NYT bestsellers.

    A better model would be the Netflix model: go online, choose a book from the collection and order it. In fact, this is already available on a small scale through some public libraries’ online catalogs, except that instead of the library sending you the book, you place the book on hold, and pick it up when you are notified that it’s available.

    Our public library has 6 branches serving three counties and an incorporated city. I can get any book, audiobook, VHS, or DVD the system owns, simply by placing it on hold online and requesting to pick it up at my preferred branch.