Those date due slips

I’m still thinking about the Toronto Public Library’s decision to put ads on their date due slips.

What does the ad agency get out of this arrangement? As I understand it, the TPL farms out the ads to a contractor who sells the ad space, takes a cut, and gives the leftovers to the TPL. How much do you think an ad on the back of a library date due slip sells for? Why would a business want an ad there? It seems to me that the people who really benefit from this are the ad agencies and the contractors. But if we’re not going to be giving out patron info (and we’re not, right? I mean, even if you’re not a member of the ALA or ascribe to the Code of Ethics, I think we can all agree on this) what is the ultimate benefit for the ad agency? The potential payout to the TPL is ridiculously small. Economics aren’t the only reason to decide against ads on date due slips, but it’s unlikely that the contractor or ad agency are thinking beyond the economics.

And that’s not all. If you read the PDF provided in the Torontoist article, you can see that the advertising plan is not just about date due slips. In fact, date due slips is only part 2 of the first step in a multi-step process that involves hiring a consultant to “focus on understanding the potential for revenue generation, the relative merits of different Library channels and vehicles for advertising, and the costs, resources, impacts and infrastructure requirements involved in the implementation and management of a successful advertising program.” These library channels include but are not limited to: In-branch posters and brochure displays; Online text and display ads on the Library’s website; Networked computer screens including the Library’s in-branch wireless network, public computers and LCD screens; and the Library’s truck fleet, excluding the Bookmobiles. I’d be willing to bet that any social media presence the TPL might have will also be fair game.

Let me say it again. The library will be hiring a consultant to identify potential for advertising in a library space, the revenue from which will be small once everyone has taken their cut. I’d like to see a cost-benefit analysis of this, or at the very least a spreadsheet of projected revenue versus projected outlay. Because this isn’t quite adding up.


6 thoughts on “Those date due slips

  1. linguomancer says:

    I do think there is more benefit for everyone involved if they advertisers are local businesses rather than huge corporations, but I see your points, too. My biggest concern would be how long it would be until the advertisers want to begin personalizing ads for patrons or engaging in data mining, which seems like an inevitable consequence of letting people advertise to patrons in the first place.

  2. Kristin says:

    Is this a question about scale? Here in Ann Arbor, we are used to having just a handful of branches. But Toronto is the busiest public library system in the world, with 99 branches. 99 branches generate a lot of date due slips.

    Meanwhile, isn’t it interested that nobody even asked whether date due slips are outmoded????

  3. Miss Masura says:

    i understand your concerns. please correct me if i’m not reading this right, but it seems as though your issues with advertisements at the library is an economic issue as opposed to an ethical one. however, at the same time, your displeasure with the issue makes me feel like there is more behind your economic arguments– would you mind clarifying just what it is about advertisements in a library that is so repulsive? a lot of our classmates shared this disdain but i’m not sure that we really talked it out and got to the root of it. i’m interested to hear your thoughts!

  4. Meggan says:

    My economics argument is in response to others in the class who cited economics as the reason for agreeing to advertising. The reason that I feel strongly that advertisements do not belong on library materials is the same reason that they do not belong on fire trucks or public parks. These are city services for the public good. I am not opposed to sponsorship, which conceivably is more local in its reach anyway, but advertising is not sponsorship. There is a subtle but crucial difference. I believe strongly that public libraries like the TPL serve public interests. I understand that the TPL is an entirely different beast from most public libraries, but I believe that the principle still stands. A public library is for a community. It only survives if it is based in the communities needs and interacts with other community organizations. If the TPL’s community needs advertising, I can’t pretend that I know enough about that community’s needs to judge them for it. The ethical problem I have is with implementing a plan like the TPL’s in public libraries in general or holding an outlying example like the TPL as a standard.

    I hope that helps clarify my feelings on this for you and anyone else that had questions! If you want to talk more about it, I’d be happy to do that.

  5. Tyson says:

    I think the economic argument you make is really strong here, even as I don’t have as many reservations as you about advertising in public spaces in general. (I think. I still have to think some more about this issue. You know, in my free time….) But I think the fact that so many people have reservations about this project from an ethical standpoint, combined with the economic issues you cite, would present a pretty compelling argument against the proposal, and if I was on the board I think it could sway my vote.

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