It's unfortunate that in its report of the Gwinnett County library board's action this week to end the bookmark advertising program, ("Board votes no on bookmark advertising," Aug. 15, 1A) the Daily Post did not refer to its own June 27 report of the previous board meeting. At its June 25 meeting the board took action to suspend the program because it was costing rather than earning money for the library. As I was quoted in the Daily Post at the time, "It works out that for every dollar in sales, this bookmark initiative costs the library $3. In other words, tax money is subsidizing commercial advertising. Which I don't think is fair to the taxpayers of Gwinnett County."
What the library board did this week was put an end to an experiment that failed to fill even the minimum of the benefits promised. Discussions of this program had consumed hours of board and staff time over the past year. The board had been told that many significant local businesses were anxious to reach library patrons through this medium and it would be a sure source of income. The board asked for a business plan that would at least quantify some of these promises. Trusting that a business plan would be delivered and it would validate the program, the board reluctantly agreed last September to proceed.
Library patrons started finding numerous bookmarks and other promotional fliers for a variety of products, services and programs in their books. Many people wrote or called complaining about the "clutter," others about the content. But it wasn't until more than six months in when, having never received the promised business plan, one board member requested a report on the status of the program. That report revealed that not only was the bookmark advertising program failing to generate the high levels of advertiser interest and income promised, but it was costing the library money. And, in fact, there was no economy of scale. The more advertising sold, the more money the library lost.
In June, the board again requested a business plan to validate the program. The board received none. Instead, board chairman Phillip Saxton proposed that the library issue an RFP (Request For Proposal) for a private business to provide the service and operate the program. It is no a secret that libraries across the country are under severe financial strain. If "bookmark" advertising is a great money maker for a business and a library, a creative entrepreneur somewhere in the United States would have already come forward with it. Yet, no one has stepped up, anywhere. An RFP simply would have inappropriately shifted responsibility for developing a business plan to library staff, which does not have the requisite marketing and business expertise, instead of the private sector, where it belongs.
So, this week the board had heard enough unfounded optimistic promises of easy money, and decided to get back to the serious work of ensuring the citizens of Gwinnett receive the best library services possible for their tax dollars.
-- Dick Goodman
Member, Gwinnett County Library Board of Trustees