Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

A makeover for the public library

Video rental at public libraries has always been a clever way to attract families and children who may have otherwise skipped the trip to the stacks altogether. But what other incentives could libraries offer to their patrons in order to increase traffic? According to the March 2012 issue of Whole Living magazine, “libraries aren’t just for books anymore.”

Whole Living cites three unique lending library ideas that could be an inspiration to public libraries everywhere: the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, the Fort Collins Bike Library, and the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library.

Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library Logo


In Pittsburgh, the Toy Lending Library has been around since 1974, and is a volunteer-run cooperative in which members can borrow toys to take home for their children. An online directory of available toys makes browsing quick and easy. In addition to toy loaning, the library rents out a private play space for parties.

Fort Collins Bike Library Logo


In Fort Collins, Colorado, a free bike rental service called the Fort Collins Bike Library offers bikes and tours to residents of the university town “for as short as one hour or for as long seven days.” Like the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, the Fort Collins Bike Library lists their available inventory of bikes online. The Bike Library has been in service since 2008, and touts almost 12,000 bike rentals since its inception with over 9,000 registered members.

Richmond Seed Library Seed Drawers


The Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library is a collaborative project between the Richmond, California Public Library and Richmond Rivets, a “transition initiative” that works to encourage local growing and community projects to create more sustainable resources. Started in 2010 and located in the Richmond Public Library, library patrons can “borrow” seeds from the various seed drawers (grouped by growing level of difficulty) with “the expectation…that some of the plants that you grow are allowed to go to seed and that a portion of those seeds are returned to the library to help create a resilient community and allow the library to be self-sustaining.” Essentially, you borrow seeds from the library, and after you harvest the resulting crop you “return” a portion of the seeds your crop generates to the seed library.

All three of these avant-garde library ideas could be instituted by any public book lending library in order to increase membership and circulation—in fact, the Richmond Public Library has done exactly that with the Seed Library program. A new attraction could reinvigorate book loaning by bringing in people who may not have otherwise visited the library. Take home a toy or two for the kiddies and pick up that novel you were meaning to read; or, sign out a bike and the new biography you were thinking of buying and ride over to your favorite sunny spot for an afternoon read.

With shrinking budgets and dwindling membership, perhaps what pubic libraries, those age-old temples of enlightenment, really need in order to survive is a departure from the traditional.


This entry was posted on February 27, 2012 by in Culture and tagged , .

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