Saturday, July 12, 2008

Direct Delivery of Services

Jenny Han of The Longstockings looks at Bookswim and asks a very good question: why pay for something the library gives us for free?

In true blogger fashion,* I ignored the question Jenny was asking and didn't even look further into Bookswim. Jenny does, with a few test searches to show that your local library collection is probably better than Bookswim.

To me, the heart of Jenny's great post is this:

I know people are all about the renting these days (prom dresses, movies, designer bags, groceries) but why fix something that isn't broken? The library works just fine and it's free. Are we so lazy that we need the books delivered to our doorstep?

In the comments, I responded how my love for things like Netflix is founded in convenience rather than laziness. Given a finite amount of time and a seemingly infinite number of things to do, having the option of checking one thing off the list while still getting great service is wonderful.** So what about you? Do you love/hate/never tried services like Bookswim and Netflix? Why? Go join in the conversation over at The Longstockings.

Personally, to back up to the library part -- I think for some of us, convenience does indeed trump free. Add to that, sometimes the service is better -- I've twice had lost DVDs with Netflix*** and they never gave me a trouble, as compared to the attitude some libraries give over lost / claimed returned items. Plus, no late fees! I can have the item as long or as short as I need! I can wait for the weekend to watch my movies, rather than in the 3 days libraries give me.

I think libraries are at a crossroads: are we more about community? Carlie has a great post about the books v community center issue; and personally, I fear that the more we say "hey we are a community center" the more responses we will get that are "cool then let's close the libraries and spend the money on community centers with small book collections."

Jenny's post reminds me of two things: the community does think of us first and foremost as being about the materials, even if some libraries and librarians don't. And if we give that identity up, someone else - like Bookswim - will step in. When that happens, those who cannot afford Bookswim, or who still like the place of the library,**** will lose something valuable.

So what can libraries do? Based on my own selfish desire for convenience, the idea of mailing books is a great idea. Some libraries have been doing it for decades. What about remote bookdrops?

Final word: while I enjoy "mail to me" service, with gas prices going up, economically it may be a good idea to start offering book services that go beyond the "drive to me" option.

Cross posted at Pop Goes the Library.

*Blogger fashion -- using someone else's post to go off on my own tangents, rather than the questions they raise. C'mon, I do it, you do it -- admit it!

**I'm talking about Netflix; I haven't tried the other services like Bookswim.

*** Lost in the mail. Both items eventually turned up.

****I still love browsing books on shelves! But Netflix shows a electronic database can be browsable.


Anonymous said...

And every day I see more and more people leave the library because they want to go to the library, not the community center.

And the librarian community scoffs at them for being old fuddy-duddies, but they were the people who checked things out and used our resources.

The "community center" crowd just surfs MySpace, swears at you when you tell them they need headphones to listen to music, and chucks French Fries at each other.

And now I feel like a fuddy-duddy. And I'm not even 30.

Sam said...

Between TeaCozy and FuddyDuddy, you've got me ready to swear off libraries althogether.

Except for the free part. And the wonderful librarians we've got. And the kids picture books. And the book you didn't mean to browse for, but check out on a whim and end up having your brain-expanded.

Anonymous said...

I left a very lengthy post about this over on Longstockings. But basically, I would love it if libraries became more like Netflix. And I'm a librarian. They don't have to ship things to my door, but why can't we log in, browse the materials like Netflix, create a list of what we want next, have flexible checkout times, and know that when we return books we currently have the next 2 or 3 on our list will be ready to be picked up in a couple of days (or even shipped for a fee?)? People are starting to expect that level of convenience in their lives, and that's what makes these services so appealing.

I think there will always be folks who like to hang out in the library. But what about the growing number who want things streamlined and easy? What can we do for them?