E-books proving costly for Richmond Public Library

Library asks for $200,000 boost to compensate for decline in late fees and cost of e-books

Rising salaries, electronic book costs and a steep decline in book fines are putting financial pressure on the Richmond Public Library.

On Monday, the city’s finance committee approved a $200,000 temporary boost to the library’s collections budget, but not before questioning its practices.

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The library has an annual budget of $9.37 million, $8.54 million of which is paid for by the City of Richmond.

Last year the library collected $67,000 less in book fines, representing a 25 per cent drop from 2013. Another added pressure is a $165,000 — or 2.5 per cent — salary and benefit hike for library workers this year.

All in all, the city is paying $289,000 (3.5 per cent) more this year than it did last year just to keep operating at the same level of service.

Chief librarian Greg Buss also said an electronic book can be, on average, five times more expensive than a hard copy.

Greg Buss
Richmond Public Library head librarian Greg Buss

Furthermore, Buss is faced with the challenge of transitioning to e-books while still maintaining a print collection.

In a report to the committee, he noted the library’s print collection had declined by 33 per cent since 2009.

“The shift to digital services has had a significant impact on library revenues. As an increasing proportion of the book budget is reallocated to digital services, the quality of the book collection is declining,” noted Buss, who wanted the extra $200,000 to supplement the increasing costs of maintaining both collections.

“The collections budget has remained constant for many years and is no longer at a level to support both print and digital collections,” wrote Buss.

The library allows people to take out as many as 25 books and 10 e-books at one time for three weeks, a policy Mayor Malcolm Brodie says needs re-examining.

“You have to use the resources you have more effectively,” said Brodie.

Buss said the library has reviewed that policy and noted that decreasing those limits would affect a small minority.

E-books are digital files that expire on a reading device (Kindle or iPad) after 21 days, so the library can’t collect late fees. Furthermore, the library cannot lend an e-book to more than one person at a time; upon expiration the e-book file is subsequently restored in the library’s central database (hosted by a third party).

Buss said publishers may charge more for e-books because they can’t generate revenue from books being lost and damaged and subsequently re-purchased.

While the finance committee discussed possible revenue streams, the Richmond News asked Buss if the library was on a slippery slope when it’s being expected to generate funds. Buss said libraries have traditionally been funded by cities and act like a community co-operative.

“The whole idea of late charges wasn’t to make money or revenue. It was to ensure the material is fairly distributed. But then you become dependent on it,” said Buss, who told councillors there are opportunities to make money via 3D printing.

Buss said the library is still well used.

@WestcoastWood

gwood@richmond-news.com

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