Increasing income: Retail


Amazon lockers West Sussex have lockers so that Amazon purchasers can pick up their items from the library.  Increases income and visits. See also this Lis-Pub-Libs review of public libraries and Amazon lockers and the alternatives (February 2016).  A further report (April 2017) suggest an income of around £1000 per site and an increase in visitors, depending on location and opening hours. A rival company, InPost, also do lockers in building such as libraries.

Audio-Visual income (DVDs, Games, CDs). This has been a moneyspinner in the past for some library authorities.  However, profits are declining as demand moves online.  Some authorities are moving away from charging per item to a more innovative approach to compensate.  For example, Hampshire have introduced a film club (£45 per year for 2 DVDs at any one time) and a music club (£15 for 2 CDs at a time).  Buying DVDs and gamesis an expenditure that can be cut if the service is not making a profit from renting them.  Northamptonshire spent £200,000 on purchasing DVDS over two years while cutting the budget by £290,000 Con: Contracts with book suppliers are often tightly negotiated for the maximum discount – this discount (and thus money made) would be cut if libraries opened up in competition. Another reason against is the amount of space a decent bookstock with require. City of Westminster have recently closed their Guildhall Library Bookshop due to declining sales. Some libraries, notably the British Library, link to Amazon from their catalogues. However, this move has attracted some flak

Bookselling: new – Pro: This would seem to be an obvious fit for libraries.  Most authorities already sell their discarded stock. South Ayrshire libraries has a successful Book Shop established in 1996 and making a profit.  It allows book purchasing for customers where there is not a private bookshop for many miles around. If space is a premium, there is nothing stopping libraries becoming a “super-affiliate” of an online bookselling chain and buy books on demand for the public while taking a commission.  Many people come into libraries, ask for a book, are told it will take two weeks and then walk away, saying “I’ll just buy it” – branches are regularly turning down customers this way, thus reducing quality of service and losing potential income.

Bookselling: withdrawn.  Several companies will take away withdrawn stock and pay for the privilege.  See, Better World Books and Revival. One council, East Sussex, has gone further and has set up a dedicated shop, “Bookends” in Eastbourne, to sell withdrawn library stock.

Cafes See this document for an overview of cafes in four library authorities. Pro – Seen by many as a “natural fit” for libraries in a similar way as it is for bookshops.  Cafes can bring in extra income for larger libraries, vending machines for middling ones.  Drinks can also benefit the customer experience and thus improve library usage.  There are many examples of libraries with cafes – Solihull, York, Winchester, Cambridge Central, Newcastle Central, Luton Central, Hillingdon (where one has a £7k income from Starbucks) – to name but a few. Con – damage to books via spillage etc (currently no evidence though of this).  Some question commercialisation of libraries by having chains such as Starbucks involved. Others say investment in cafes is the wrong move at times of cuts and any new cafe in a council building would mean less money for other private cafes in the town.  Also, there have been problems procuring companies to run cafes in libraries.

Charging staff.  Some authorities allow staff not to pay overdue charges, reservation fees, etc. Others do not offer any concessions.  A brief survey on LIS-PUB-LIBS (24/2/12) showed a roughly equal split between authorities doing this.  Pro: library staff should have no “perks” and be equal with library users. In times of massive cuts, every little bit helps.  In addition, staff are unlikely to protest as they are all in fear of losing their jobs: this is the best time ever to cut down on pay, terms and conditions and perks. Con:  another kick in  the teeth for an unprecedentedly demoralised and threatened work force.  The small amounts gained by charging staff may be cancelled out by the ill feeling generated. It also may, of course, have an equally small negative impact on issues.

Manchester Central Library foyer: there's fivers in there

Manchester Central Library foyer: there’s fivers in there

Donations of money.  Philanthropists have been given money to libraries ever since they started, with Carnegie simply being the most famous.  Approaching a wealthy millionaire or two has seriously been advocated by David Cameron.  On a smaller scale, open appeals for donations at the library counter have been seen, mainly in the USA, although Lincolnshire are installing a donations box in all its libraries after a pilot scheme at Stamford raised £850 and gained a local newspaper front page.  Luton Libraries (part of Luton Culture Trust) have had donation boxes in their libraries since 2008 and pass around a box at story times and rhyme times too. Cambridgeshire have an official policy on cash donations.   Northamptonshire council’s libraries have no less than ten different donation packages for members of the public to support their service, ranging from £3 for providing a one-hour jobhunting session to no less than £450 for providing a term of weekly homework club sessions. Northamptonshire have also placed four donation boxes in their branches in 2011 which have generated £150 “without any publicity”.  Their review document says:

“We know it is illegal under the Act to directly charge for book borrowing and is likely to continue to be so. However, there is significant opportunity to encourage donations, charge for added value services and attract more significant income from organisational donors.”

Fines recovery.  All library authorities have, theoretically, thousands of pounds owing to them from users due to late fees, lost items or even stolen books.  The scale of these losses  vary:

It’s interesting to note that the USA has similar problems with Austin Texas having recorded $1.1 million in unreturned property and a further $864k in unpaid fines. Please note that the wide variety of charges probably indicates differing practices – some councils wipe (effectively waiving) records of lost items after x number of years, others use y number of years, others don’t delete fines, ever.  For a long list of links to articles on this subject, including much debate in the profession, see the comments of Libraryweb at the end of this post.

Pro – (a) Getting all this money back (see “chase up tax avoiders” above) would make a significant impact.  This is taken very seriously in the USA. An American library service uses a collection service that generates $9k per month.  Kent have decided to employ an American debt recovery firm to try to recover £100k. Essex has done the same  [although there are still technical difficulties in implementing this, as of June 2013 – Ed.] as has Redbridge.  

Also, (b) it encourages others to return items on times and thus improve available stock.  It even (c) encourages people to come back to use the library as the fees charges are rarely as high as people fear (although, often, those with non-returned books worry so much about late items they keep them for years, or bin them, rather than owning up to the feared scary librarian who, in reality, would be just happy to see the item back). Finally, (d) breaking the law by stealing books is an offence and offenders should be punished. 

Con – (i) It could cost a fortune to fully recover fines/items because (ii) amounts owed to libraries tend to be quite small and very numerous.  The cost of recovering items can be similar or exceeding that of the value of items returned.  Taking legal action against a member of the public for return of items is (iii) rife with danger as it could be seen as a waste of resources being the cost of legal action would almost certainly be more than the value of the items concerned (see this article about Bromley sending a letter asking for some books back from an eight-year old – this article was then taken up by the Telegraph the next day).  Being (iv) too stringent on chasing late items would also deter genuine users from the library service.  Generally, (v) British library services see owed fines as a standard part of the service, impossible to eradicate, that they will likely largely recover over the fullness of time.  Finally, (vi) one could fall foul of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act if one uses fines as a way to make money for the service rather simply as an incentive for returning material on time.  See the point “Charging for books” above. Also (vi) fines go against the welcoming image that libraries should be adopting.

Alternatively, a fines amnesty may be an effective (if counter-intuitive) way of saving money by getting items back that would otherwise stay lost forever. However, removing charges completely is widely assumed to be impractical, as backed up by a recent failed Canadian experiment.

 “We want to increase the number of people engaging with our service by removing all barriers and fines can be a barrier. Obviously we wouldn’t give people books for free – we would invoice them at a certain point for the cost of the book if it was not returned. ‘But it would stop people being concerned if a book was a few days late.’ Portsmouth were considering the issue in 2009

“Assistant mayor Councillor Sarah Russell, who is responsible for libraries in the city, said: “A lot of time people are worried if a book has been damaged, or if they find it under a teenager’s bed when they move out of home – they decide to keep it rather than face the fines. “That’s why we hold amnesties every now and then, because it helps us as well as the library users. “It means we don’t have to spend money replacing missing items and we don’t have to spend energy chasing people up.”Leicestershire.

“You don’t want to penalize people for reading. Sometimes you’re really into a novel and it takes you a little longer to get through it. As it happens, you return a book two or three days late. It’s not a big deal. We can get over that,” Maghnieh said. “It’s a way of really rewarding our patrons for using the library.” Windsor Public Library, USA.  It is a growing trend in the USA not to charge fines at all.  Please also this article on Massachusetts Libraries.

Increasing charges – Libraries can charge for late return of items (for users of any age) or for loan of non-book items.  These charges can be increased to whatever level the market will bear.  Redcar and Cleveland have increased late fees for children to 25p per book per day.  Pro – people accept the need to pay charges, library charges are often less (e.g. with DVDs) than purely commercial retailers.  Con – increased charges equates to less use, often it is the least affluent in society who use libraries and charges can put them off. Orkney Libraries do not charge for late books: Some recent international moves are against charging entirely, as the economic climate is meaning people are scared of fines.

“You are fining a lot of people who can’t afford it. If there’s the potential to be fined then people won’t use that service. I go to a lot of schools where the kids have next to no money. The first thing they ask me is whether the book will be in the local library. Libraries are hugely important and literacy among children is a really big issue.” (Robert Bullock)

“What we do is charge borrowers for any unreturned items – we send an invoice for cost of each item plus a non-fundable admin fee (currently £6.00). We do give borrowers every chance to return items (3 overdue notifications) and before any invoice is sent, a personal call is made (if possible) or letter sent to avoid this happening. Basically invoices are only sent as a last resort.” (Orkney Libraries member of staff quoted on LIS-PUB-LIBS 9/2/12)

Income generation – Some councils (for example, Northamptonshire) have a specific person in charge of income generation for libraries.  Advantages – income, increased usage.  Disadvantages – dilution of public library service (although better than none at all), use of staff time, adverse public reaction. Some examples of income generation includes:

Library-related items for sale at Manchester Central Library shop, December 2015.

Library-related items for sale at Manchester Central Library shop, December 2015.

LegaciesBeing remembered in a library user’s will could mean thousands of pounds for a library service, although presumably it is also likely to come with strings attached such as being for a particular library or project such as paying for books.  While fairly common in the USA, programmes to encourage legacies for UK libraries are rare, presumably as they are council services and have hitherto been fully funded in that regard.  However, those libraries run by Trusts/charities are no longer in this pigeonhole.  In additional, even councils are looking at non traditional sources of funding and one would expect legacy schemes to increase.

Loyalty cards.  These come in two types.  The first is where the user is charged (such as in North Tyneside) per year for cheaper services (events, internet usage, films) throughout that year.  The other system is a free card where one gets, perhaps, one free film loan for every nine paid for.  There is no income for this second type other than the hope that usage will increase.

North Tyneside leads the way

Persuade parish and borough councils to fund libraries.  The tactic is to tell the local or borough council that their branch library will be closed / have its hours slashed unless a contribution is made.  Telford & Wrekin have gained a £3,000 contribution from Great Dawley Parish Council to keep its library open for the same number of hours.   Congresbury parish council paid £3500 for staffing at their Local North Somerset Library. Pro – it sometimes works, gaining extra funding for the service.  Con – akin to the mafia asking local businesses for “protection money” this may lead to poor relations with other councils.

Renting out part of the library – Similar to co-location, this allows the library to stay open but at the cost of reduced space.  An example is Worcestershire.

Selling assets – Ealing libraries had the painting “Birth of Eve” in one of their libraries which they sold for £570,000 which is being used to improve the service.

Wallcharts – Sold in many libraries e.g. by Chart Media who have a special libraries page. Can be a steady, non-intensive stream of income but be careful about losses/thefts (check to see if the library is charged for them or if the company takes the loss: Chart Media takes the loss itself).

See also: Income Generation for Public Libraries: learning and case studies from a national pilot project in England – Locality.

and: Income generation for public libraries – Libraries Taskforce. Lessons learnt from various “masterclasses”: information on commissioning (but be honest about what resources you have), being commissioned (e.g. St Helens), entrepreneurship, working with volunteers to generate income (e.g. for Fablabs), bookshop, financing alternative library provision, how to ask for money / grants. (June 2017).

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