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Friday, September 23, 2022

RA for All Greatest Hits: Library Books Are Not Free, They Are Pre-Paid

Today's entry in the RA for All Greatest Hits series is one of my most popular posts, something I remind people of as often as I can, and something that I have gotten others to adopt-- the reminder that we should NEVER tell patrons that the items and services we offer are free. They are NEVER free. Every single person pre-pays for library service in the form of some type of taxation. And yes, renters pay too because those costs are worked into rent. 

Long time readers knew this one was coming soon.

For more of RA for All's Greatest Hits click here.


Call to Action: Stop Spreading the Fake News That Library Books Are Free

Today I have a quick Call to Action, one that is very easy for all of you to start doing right now. It is a small language change, but it can make a huge difference for our entire profession. Here it is:
You need to stop telling people that our services are free and instead say they are PRE-PAID.
First, "free" is NOT accurate. People do not pay to check out the books and movies as they borrow them, but everyone does pay for the library and its services through their tax dollars. Yes, even renters pay because their rent pays for the taxes for the owner of the building.

We are a profession which is all about accuracy, about combatting "fake news," and yet we perpetuate our own fake news by telling people our services are free.

Reminding people that for example, they can take more than 1 book because they are free is NOT TRUE. They have paid for them, just earlier, as part of their taxes. We need to be more accurate on principle, yes but there is more to it.

Second, when we aren't being honest about the cost of our services, when we dismiss them as "free," we lull our patrons into a false sense that these services will always be there no matter what. If they forget that they have paid for these services as taxes, when the talk of tax freezes or tax cuts comes around, it will be much easier for the public to argue for cutting the library's tax line because they forget that they pay for it. All that "free" talk means they aren't reminded about the actual cost.

We need to be advocates for the good feels that the library gives people and equate that as a cost benefit. I live in a high tax area. I get it. But when my friends and neighbors complain about their taxes, I remind them what a great deal they are getting through the library [and the schools]. I tell people to think what it would actually cost them to check out those materials, stream those shows, buy audio books, go to great programs, etc.... Now look at your library tax line. It is a steal.

We have to talk about the money openly, honestly, and accurately or we will loose the financial support we need to survive.

Third, and this one is just human nature, people don't value things that are free as much as they value things they pay for. Reminding people, frequently, that they have pre-paid for the library and all of its services, elevates the value of the institution.

Every time you remind patrons that the services and items they are so please with are PRE-PAID you are advocating for your public library, actually for every public library. You are advocating for the institution itself. You are advocating for equal service to all, everywhere, all of the time.

But every time you tell people the service is free, you are undermining everything. I know you think you are trying to help by letting people know there is no charge at the time of service, but there is a charge. We have budgets, budgets that are shrinking. We do a lot with very little already, any less and we will disappear. People need to know that. They need to realize that their tax dollars are key to our survival.

So please, consider using PRE-PAID when you talk about user costs of our services. And remind them often so that if a time comes when people in your town start talking about budget cuts, they won't even consider the library's tax line. Why? Because that line is one they respect, one they use, one they know has monetary value, one that isn't free, one that requires dollars to survive. And it is our responsibility to stop the fake news of free and accurately proclaim...PRE-PAID!

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