March 24, 2015
By: Eric Andrew-Gee
The controversial pilot project allowed readers to sell used books to the library for $5. It will formally end on March 31 after four months of losing money and offending authors.
The Toronto Public Library is ending a fledgling program to buy used books for its collection after authors complained that they were missing out on royalties and the pilot project proved disappointing, the city’s chief librarian said Tuesday.
Launched Dec. 1, the initiative allowed Toronto residents to sell used books to the library for $5, provided the titles were on a list of in-demand adult fiction. The purpose of the program was to shorten hold times for readers and save money in a period of budget uncertainty.
City Librarian Vickery Bowles acknowledged Tuesday that the project failed on both those counts in its short, four-month life span.
The library bought just 127 books by the end of February, according to a staff report released Monday. Paying staff to handle the purchase of those volumes cost $2,246. Buying the same number of books through the library’s regular acquisition process would have cost less, Bowles said.
The program, which will formally end March 31, antagonized several high-profile writers. They complained that in bypassing publishers, the Library was depriving authors of income at a time when technological change is making book publishing increasingly precarious.
“We’re really pleased that they reconsidered the program,” said David Bezmozgis, a Toronto novelist and short-story writer who signed a letter from Canadian literary heavyweights opposing the policy in January.
Bezmozgis’s most recent novel, The Betrayers, is on the list of 101 works of adult fiction the library is open to buying in March. The list, based on demand, was updated on the first of every month.
Bowles said the program’s inefficiency, and not the ire of writers, was the deciding factor in shuttering the pilot project. Members of the public sold the library just 127 books, comprising 57 titles, in the initiative’s first three months.
“There wasn’t enough volume,” said Bowles. “It had no impact on our hold queue.”
Asked if the program might have gained momentum given more time, Bowles said she doubted it.
“To be honest, the program got a lot of publicity from the very beginning,” she said. “We were just getting about 50 copies per month, which in and of itself isn’t viable, it’s not efficient, and it doesn’t do anything to improve service.”
Discontent among writers and publishers did prompt the library’s board to launch a review of the project after just three months, rather than six. Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood were among the Canadian novelists who objected, and The Writers’ Union of Canada was vocally opposed. Writing in the Star, author Noah Richler even suggested a boycott of readings at the Toronto Public Library until the policy was stopped.
“There were some concerns raised by authors and publishers, and they wrote the Board about that,” said Bowles. “So that really accelerated our interest in conducting a review.”
Bezmozgis said he and his fellow writers are natural allies for the public library system, but felt slighted when the TPL failed to consult them before implementing the used-book program.
“I think the last thing that any author wants is to find the Library in financial trouble,” he said.
“We feel like we’re in this together and we should be able to support one another.”
Source: Toronto Star