Buy or lease – for books?

I’ve borrowed countless books from libraries over the years. And more recently, many of them have been borrowed through the interlibrary loan system, so that in effect I’m borrowing books that my library has borrowed from another library. But until yesterday, I never heard of libraries lending out books that they had leased rather than purchased.

Our local library has begun a program designed to make more new books available to local residents. Rather than buying the books, they will lease them from a book distributor. When they are no longer new and in such high demand, the books will go back to the distributor and newer releases will appear on the library’s shelves.

From what I’ve seen during the five years we’ve lived here, the library does a good job providing quality services, even with the economy as tight as it is. I haven’t seen articles or angry letters to the editor about the library exceeding its budget or demanding more money, so I am inclined to assume that they have very good management, or generous private donors, or both. So I will also assume that their decision to start this leasing program is a good one.

Still, I am curious about it. According to the article, it costs an average of $16 to buy a new book, while this leasing program will cost about $5500 per year for 300 new books. That works out to a bit more than $18 per book. The program isn’t intended to save money (though the article leaves it to the reader to figure out that it will cost about 15% more), it’s about getting the most popular new books onto the shelves and out to eager readers.

The library director explains that a big advantage of the leasing program is that books can’t be reserved, they won’t be loaned out to other libraries, and they can only be checked out for two weeks at a time. I can understand how that makes these books available more often and only to local readers. What I don’t understand is why that can’t be done with books owned by the library.

When we rent movies from Family Video, the length of time I can keep them, as well as how much I pay, depends on whether they are new releases or not. I have no idea whether the video store gets its new releases on a lease (I have wondered what they do with so many copies when the movie is no longer popular), but I’m sure the means by which they keep track of how long each can be rented (as well as how much it costs) is through the computer, using the bar codes that easily identify each movie.

The library uses bar codes on its books also, and their computerized system is what enables them to keep track of all their books, and allows patrons to figure out where the books are that they want, and to put a hold on books that aren’t yet available. I have trouble seeing why the system couldn’t be modified to designate certain books as not available for holds,  not available for interlibary loans, and only to be checked out for two weeks.

There are other reasons, of course, that the leasing program may be advantageous to the library. The librarians don’t have to keep track of what the newest releases are, because the book distributor does that. Plus there’s the matter of what to do with the books that are no longer so new, especially if multiple copies were purchased. Every year, the library has a sale of books that have been culled from the shelves, but I’m sure they get very little money from the sale. And in the meantime they have to find a place to store all those books. Now they just send them back and get books in higher demand.

It will be interesting to see what books from this program are on the shelves, next time I visit the library. Will most of them already be checked out, I wonder? Will there be any by my favorite authors? (I know from browsing the books for sale at WalMart – a reasonably good way to identify what’s currently most popular – that I only rarely see books I am interested in among the new releases.)

If I get my hands on the newest book by Dean Koontz (not sure what that would be right now), I will probably decide I like the program.


One Response to Buy or lease – for books?

  1. Paul Wynn says:

    Well depends… do you plan on using the book for awhile or just renting it at half price and then have no obligation to keep it in the dust. Sounds like a good deal to me!

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