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Libraries are FREE

The latest Trendwatching Report is all about free. It’s titled “Free Love” in a tongue in cheek kind of way.
Here’s their definition:
“FREE LOVE: the ongoing rise of free, valuable stuff that’s available to consumers online and offline. From AirAsia tickets to Wikipedia, and from diapers to music.
FREE LOVE thrives on an all-out war for consumers’ ever-scarcer attention and the resulting new business models and marketing techniques, but also benefits from the ever-decreasing costs of producing physical goods, the post-scarcity dynamics of the online world (and the related avalanche of free content created by attention-hungry members of GENERATION C), the many C2C marketplaces enabling consumers to swap instead of spend, and an emerging recycling culture.
Expect FREE LOVE to become an integral if not essential part of doing business.”
Go and read the report and think about these questions:
1. Most libraries are free to the end user. In fact most libraries have mostly been free for centuries, at least in the western world. So what is it about free in the library sense that matters to our users?
2. If libraries are free and known to be free by our users, why are do we remain challenged by the cult of free on the Internet?
3. Do libraries place barriers to success for ourselves and end users? Are we doing things that don’t work for us anymore? What does your library do that might be an unjustifiable barrier?
For example:
a) Do we use fines as punishments? Can we find good examples of fines and punishments on free websites?
b) Do we require people to come to the elibrary, be interviewed and show ID to use us for our free services like database searching on the web? Are there examples of successful websites that do this or have trhey developed more seamless mechanisms?
c) Do we have line-ups? Is there a metaphor for physical line-ups on the free services? Are online holds just another form of line-up?
d) Is our ‘location’ too physical in the user’s head? Do any of the free virtual services have a ‘place’ that is physical that matters to the user?
4. Are there new ways to liberate our ‘free’ to compete with the other free?
If you don’t know the story about “Information Wants to be Free” read by old article here. How do we get the people side of libraries promoted and unfetter our relationships?
Just thinking out loud. But if free was so all important then libraries have a great advantage. Clearly, there’s more at play here and the Trendwatching Briefing is a nice think piece.

Posted on: February 25, 2008, 11:43 am Category: Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Great food for thought – I read the latest Wired cover story today, which is on a similar topic (, and puzzled about how libraries fit into the “free-conomics” equation.

  2. Hello Stephen,
    I could never figure out why libraries like to punish people for enjoying a book too long. I have long thought this practice is “old fashioned”. When I was the Librarian at a high school we never had fines. Yes, the student had to pay if the book was lost or damaged. The borrow does have some onus of responsibility. However I felt the fines just kept out users or potential users. I have been advocating in my board that we abolish library fines altogether. I have come across nothing but static and resistance. I found your thoughts on this issue very enlightening when I heard you speak about it albeit briefly, on Monday in Stratford. Is it possible for you to email me some of your thoughts or stats on library fines. I would very mush appreciate it.
    I never will understand why we, Library professionals, try so hard to keep people away?
    stephen.abram (at)