Thursday, June 2, 2011

Member, or MemberPlus?

Libraries everywhere are in (or under threat of) a budget crisis. State budget crises have rolled downhill and the local governments are being forced to trim the fat. Easy targets of such belt tightening are public libraries. For better or worse, libraries are viewed as subsidized entertainment for those unable, or unwilling, to shill out the cash for their book and audio/visual pleasures. After all, we’ve got schools to educate and spread literacy…

The top library spending per capita according to THIS (a bit dated) is in San Francisco at $68.68. The most frugal is Kern County Library at $14.43 per citizen. For the sake of argument, let us assume that these numbers are still close to accurate AND that cost of living isn’t an issue and San Francisco Library patrons get a little less than 5 times the value out of their library that those living in Bakersfield get. I will, for illustration, concede these points. The other listed libraries spread across to cover the gap pretty well. However, we must consider that the cost per LIBRARY USER is HIGHER than cost per citizen given the numbers HERE. Plus, look at the small 15% minority of users actually drive library circulation with heavy use. They sure are getting their money’s worth.

--- Just for math fun, the annual per capita cost of the library is $68.68, but if only 70% of the total population of SanFran is a library card holder (563,665, est.). The per-USER cost is actually over $98/year. ---

So, if you’re still reading beyond that riveting opening, I’m getting to my point now. What if we found a way to tap into the finances of that 15% of library card holders that are “SUPER USERS”? Using the San Francisco example with the hypothetical 70% library card holders, and the cited 15% of “super users”, that would be an estimated “super user” population of 84,550 people. These are already library members, but what if we offered them a different level of service? What if we offered to make them MemberPLUS members?

If we offered these people a special membership at an extra cost of $5/month, that would raise another $5 million dollars annually from those people that REALLY like the library. What, however, would be the perks? What would make them want to pay extra for something they are already using? What if MemberPlus members were allowed extended checkout times? What DVD checkout limit was doubled with your MemberPlus membership? What if there was streaming content available only to MemberPlus cardholders? MemberPlus patrons could be notified in advance of new books and bestsellers- allowing them first dibs on requests. MemberPlus patrons could get library e-mail addresses and cloud storage space. MemberPlus patrons could get discounts at local area businesses that support the library.

What’s the downside? These are the people that already drive our circ and usage. Our use would go up, the program would pay for itself AND fund library improvements, special programs, fill budget gaps, employ more staff, etc. Even at half the number of people, we’re talking a good chunk of change. We aren’t creating an elite class of patron, because they’re already an elite class of user. EVERY business caters to it’s top customers.

I’m interested to see if anyone moves to this- or already does it.