business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Even the longest of traditions sometimes fall to the exigencies of competitive realities.

Even, apparently, library fines.

The New York Times had a story the other day listing the number of public library systems - in places like Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Diego - that have either eliminated all late fees on borrowed materials, or adopted amnesty programs that largely have the same effect.

Some of the libraries are saying that they have come to the realization that to be able to lend out books and other materials, they have to get them back - and a lot of people may not be bringing things back because they don't want to pay fines that have grown to unhealthy proportions.

The Times writes that "the American Library Association urged its members a year ago to re-examine their policies on fines, which it said discouraged violators from accessing other services. Libraries are home to movie nights, free children’s activities, career training and literacy programs, and they offer computer access to patrons."

While the Times points out that "even as free information has proliferated online, libraries have remained essential fixtures of America’s small towns and city neighborhoods," it seems to me that libraries and librarians have to realize that they must compete for people's time and attention.  

Every competitor in every venue, it seems to me, needs to look at systems and procedures and figure out where the consumer friction is - and then act to eliminate it.  In so many ways, library fines are the very definition of friction.  It simply makes sense to eliminate them, even if they've been part of how libraries did business forever.

In fact, that may be the best reason to eliminate them.

But that's just one step in what has to be an ongoing process in which libraries must engage.  If I were a librarian, I'd be thinking about establishing small postal stations, and maybe even FedEx/UPS drop-off points in the building.  (Maybe even Amazon lockers?)

The key is to get people in the door at a time when there is very little that a library can offer that a person can't access from home.

Which is the Eye-Opening situation that so many retailers face.