A few weeks ago I posted about problems within the UK library system and how US libraries seemed to be coping well, despite similar budget problems.
One of the US initiatives I was particularly intrigued by was the “books by mail” service in which books are posted directly to your door. I initially thought that this was a luxury service only to be afforded by wealthy libraries, but after doing a bit of research I firmly believe that all libraries could achieve this service and it could be the key to boosting UK library usage.
How does it work?
- The library user requests a book via the online library catalogue.
- The library posts the book directly to the home address of the user.
- When they have finished reading the book they can either return it through the post at their own expense or take it back to the library.
Why is it beneficial to the public?
Library opening hours are being reduced all the time and so it is increasingly hard for the public to get to the library, especially if they have a full time job during normal office hours. Anything that makes life easier for busy people is good. It would be especially useful to those with mobility problems, but I think that everyone would love this service.
Why is it beneficial to libraries?
It would encourage more people to use the library.
The positive press would be fantastic. It would show that libraries are willing move with the times, listen to the needs of their customers and provide a fast, convenient service that is suitable for everyone.
It would mean that more people would love their library, creating a larger network of people willing to support it.
It allows libraries to direct-mail their customers, letting people know about future events or initiatives. Happy customers are more likely to respond to these mailings and so library events can grow.
Isn’t this service really expensive?
With Royal Mail Packet post it costs £1.38 to send parcels with an average weight of under 500g. From my book-selling experience I would estimate that it would cost less than £1.50 an item – much less if people requested several books at the same time. I’m sure that a large number of people would be willing to pay a small fee for the convenience of having a book delivered to their door, but I’d like to see this service provided free to all.
This could be achieved by enabling advertisers to pay for fliers within the packages.
Another option would be to reduce the library opening times. If all books can be mailed straight to your door then there is less need for the library to be open all day. I’m sure most people would accept a small reduction in library opening hours to help to pay for this improved service.
Burlington County Library introduced a “books by mail” service in June 2008. It has been so successful that the scheme has since been rolled out to several other neighbouring library systems.
How many packages do you send each day?
Since the project begain in 2008 the average is 38 packages per day, but over the last eight months this has increased to 48.
The largest per day total, in February 2010 was 60.
How much did you spend on supplies and postage last year?
$4081 on supplies (nylon bags, padded envelopes and labels)
$42,387.23 on postage
That is $2.56 per package, or $1.09 per item.
How much time is devoted each day to the process?
An average of four staff hours per day is spent checking out and packaging.
I found these numbers very encouraging. It makes the system sound feasible and I’m going to see if my local library is receptive to starting up this scheme.
Do you think a “books by mail” service would work in the UK?
Would you be willing to pay for the convenience?
Would it encourage you to use the library more frequently?
A special thank you to Peter Bromberg from Princeton Public Library’s mail service for persuading me that the Books by Mail service is a wonderful thing!