Advertising in Libraries? Considering the Consequences

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February 19, 2013; Source: San Diego Union-Tribune

Public libraries have been hit hard by the national economic recession and the resulting cuts to local and federal funding. To survive, some libraries have begun seeking financial support from non-traditional sources. While libraries have long used fundraising methods like book sales, sponsorships, and naming rights to supplement their budgets, some have begun tinkering with the idea of selling advertising opportunities.

A recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune details how an area public library started a program that allows businesses to purchase a membership; this entitles them to advertise on the window of a library building. The Friends of the Sun City Library developed the advertising/sponsorship idea and consider it a “win-win for the library and local businesses.” The library serves more than 8,000 people monthly, so the “win-win” would be that the library receives money and businesses receive invaluable community exposure.

This approach is in play elsewhere. In Toronto, Ontario, the public library sells advertising on its due-date slips. The library had never before sold advertising aside from its annual fundraising book but funding issues forced them to make this move. After receiving approval from its board, the library has now moved ahead with the plan and is seeking to hire a consultant to sell the due-date slip advertising. According to this article in Toronto’s National Post, the library also seeks to hire advertising and media consultants to review all library channels and vehicles for possible advertising purposes, “including the exterior of branches, the delivery truck fleet, posters, brochures, websites, and LCD screens in branches, and report back on the financial viability of such a program.”

In a similar vein, a library in New York has reportedly adopted ad-supported toilet paper. The toilet paper ads have reportedly come to the bathrooms of the Port Chester-Rye Brook, N.Y. Public Library. Since venues that use the toilet paper receive it for free, it is a potentially attractive way for cash-strapped libraries to reduce spending and maybe make a little money. According to the Rye Brook Westmore News, the business model relies on advertisers to pay $99 for 20,000 advertisements that appear on approximately 160 rolls.

Some libraries are resisting the advertising urge, however. This article in Georgia’s Athens Banner-Herald describes how the Gwinnett County Library Board recently voted against placing advertising on bookmarks. The plan was discussed in light of the library’s declining budget, however board members decided that the idea would not offer a good return on investment.

Continuing budget issues may push more libraries toward exploring these ideas, though the concept is a bit controversial in library-land. Some in the library world fear that inadvertent censorship may arise out of the practice, and there are also those who would like to see libraries remain advertising-free public spaces. In these tough economic times, though, the idea appears to be gaining some traction. –Kathleen Hughes

  • Alan Wylie

    Public Libraries are seen by many to be one of the only relatively impartial, uncommercialised public spaces left, i understand that funding is being slashed but this move, along with the more worrying trend of privatising libraries, will fundametally change not only the perception but the reality. Also where will it end, will we have libraries advertising fast food chains but at the same time stocking books on healthy living, it’s a runaway train and the quicker we apply the brakes the better.

    Alan Wylie!