Increasing income: Charging



Libraries are highly unusual on the High Street for not charging for their principle stock in trade. Many could be willing to pay small amounts to take out items or even an annual subscription, with discounts for those on lower incomes. It need not be “all or nothing”: Bexley Village Communty Library will be keeping a free basic service from Spring 2012 but introduce a £24 charge for free computer use, more loans and removal of late fees


Charging is currently illegal under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act (although this excludes many effectively non-council libraries such as many of those run by volunteers), as it is in many other countries such as Canada and Australia.  In New Zealand, which does not currently have legislation, there is a campaign for making charging books in public libraries illegal with major political parties giving backing.

The UNESCO public library manifestosays “The Public Library shall in principle be free of charge. The public library is the responsibility of local and national authorities. It must be supported by specific legislation and financed by national and local governments. It has to be an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, literacy and education.”. Warwickshire – Charging for computers resulted in plummeting usage and a failure to reach even a quarter of the target income.

The Atlantic magazine has published an article against charging for libraries.  Reasons for not charging (largely taken from the Atlantic article and here) are:

  • Destroys the principle of equal access to public libraries.  Those who need it most (young, poor, students, elderly, as well as less obvious groups) would be the ones most barred from it.
  • Increases the cost of researching for information
  • It would slant stock towards popular short-term titles
  • Allows free access to the increasingly essential resource that is the internet
  • Libraries would remain in the most prosperous areas and be greatly reduced in poorer areas meaning (a) a postcode lottery and (b) reduction in access to precisely those people who         need libraries most.
  • The main cost in a library are fixed – building, stock, staff – so reducing usage reduces optimisation of those (council-funded) assets.
  • Libraries give an excellent long-term return on investment in terms of increased skills / life opportunities and therefore short-term charging can reduce this.
  • #1 written by Jonathan Rooks
    about 10 years ago

    At Bexley Community Library we have over 800 members signed up, the great majority on a free basis. Our paid membership scheme gives members the opportunity to become Friends for £12 – which covers the household – and gives greater borrowing rights and no late fees. From conversations with Friends, it is not so much the additional benefits that attracts them to pay towards the Library, but the opportunity to support us in our activities. It is tough covering the costs of maintaining a Library and membership/friend schemes can be a useful way of fundraising.

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