Tuesday, February 10, 2009

LJ's article about Dallas Public's charges for bestsellers

$5 for Some Bestsellers and Movies? Dallas Public Library Says Yes
Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 2/5/2009

New books, DVDs help beat waiting list $5 fee is self-sustaining
Program aimed at clientele that would buy books

While some libraries offer high-demand bestsellers for a $1 fee, and a few have nudged fees up to $2 and even
$3 (for DVDs), the Dallas Public Library (DPL), with its new StreetSmart Express program, has vaulted libraries into real rental territory, charging customers $5 for access to select books, DVDs, and audiobooks.

Corinne Hill, DPL’s assistant director of resource management, tells LJ that the new program, known for hot pink book trucks (below) that sit by the circulation desks at DPL branches, was inspired by two factors. One was the ever-more-common occurrence of holds increasing for popular materials. The other was the recognition that some library users tend to borrow backlist materials but will go to the bookstore for new titles—and often donate the once-read titles to the library. “We have this segment that’s going to pay, if they don’t wait,” she said.Program highlightsThe $5 fee was set to keep the pricing as simple as possible, she said; while people may be able to rent videos outside libraries for $5, they don't get to keep in-person rentals for a week. As of now, there are 40 books and 28 DVDs in the program, as well as occasional audiobooks. Late fees are consistent with the regular collection, as are borrowing periods. No renewals or holds are permitted. (Here’s a fact sheet.)

Copies float throughout the system, though Hill said DPL’s acquisitions team is keeping watch to see if certain titles move better in specific branches.

She said the circulation rates vary, and that when the hold list for free materials drops, titles move off StreetSmart Express and into the regular collection. In the three months since its launch in October, StreetSmart raised $10,405 from 2,081 circulations. The program is self-sustaining. And when titles are weeded later, the library's used bookstore can sell them.The top titles in DVD are The Incredible Hulk, Wall-E, and Kung-Fu Panda, while the top book titles are David Wrobelewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Candace Bushnell's One Fifth Avenue, and William P. Young's The Shack.How it worksHill acknowledged that the program has raised some eyebrows, especially when it first launched. Indeed, a Dallas Morning News article, generously headlined Dallas libraries let you pay to check out hot titles, found some library patrons who said they couldn’t afford the fee. But Hill said that most people understand the explanation that DPL is “trying to serve a section of the clientele we weren’t serving.”(LJ's Bubble Room blogger Alison Circle has a critical take.)

Hill, a 2004 LJ Mover & Shaker, said there’s been one tweak already. Given that music CDs didn’t circulate—“there’s a whole subculture that feels they shouldn’t be paying for music”—DPL pulled music, but added audiobooks.

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