Libraries need to evolve

Toronto’s public libraries may soon use advertising to combat budgetary shortcomings.

The National Post reported on Feb. 29 that after a six per cent budget cut in the past year, the library board is looking at new revenue options. This could include in-branch posters, ads on library public computers and ads on the library truck fleet. The first move will be selling ads on the back of due-date slips.

It’s unfortunate that libraries are in such dire financial straits, but if advertising ensures that they have a future, then it’s necessary. When the alternative is closing branches or cutting services and jobs.

In the face of these options, introducing ads is the lesser of two evils.

With the proliferation of online information and e-readers like the Kindle and the Kobo, libraries have had trouble staying relevant. In order to survive when a wealth of knowledge is available through the Internet, libraries need to adapt. Paper books are no longer going to be a library’s biggest draw. They need to position themselves at the forefront of literary technology.

Pursuing an avenue to make money is a proactive response by libraries rather than simply demanding a greater share of the city’s budget.

Any ads in libraries though, need to be integrated in a tasteful way. As it stands, libraries are a safe haven from commercial advertisement. Rather than a wholesale reversal of this, libraries should be cautious about what advertisers they use.

Advertising can be done in a creative way, and doesn’t need to be an offensive eyesore.

In August 2011, when there was a threat of library branch closures, support rallied around them. Unfortunately, boosting a service whenever it’s in the red isn’t a sustainable business model.

Support from literary celebrities like Margaret Atwood can’t be the sole avenue to bolster popularity. It’s a short-term solution. Financial solvency requires that libraries revive themselves as not just as book collections, but cultural and community centres.

Libraries need to adjust their mandate to meet their market.To avoid closing branches or reducing services, they need to accept advertising as a method of acquiring funds.

It’s also a chance to increase public support — something that’s desperately needed.

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