Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How a San Francisco parking meter can benefit libraries

The [new parking] system will use electronic sensors to measure real-time demand for parking spaces, and adjust prices accordingly. When there are lots of empty spaces, it will be cheap to park. When spaces are hard to find, rates will be higher.

The range in prices will be huge: from 25 cents an hour to a maximum of $6 an hour...

So how can this idea work for libraries? It can work by adjusting borrowing periods and fines based on demand.

Say, I want the DVD for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which will be popular and have a long reserve list; with a system like this, I could "bid" for a higher position on the wait list by choosing to borrow the movie for just 1 day.

Which means that I need to be ready to pick up the DVD the day I get notified and bring it back the next day. And if not, my fine might be 24X the normal fine (to use the above parking meter math).

I could also just put my name in for the regular borrowing period and wait the 3-6-12 weeks it might normally take to get a popular item.

In the original story, the supply and demand pricing is the only option. In my version, it's voluntary.

But I think this is a cool idea. If you can afford better service, you pay for it.

I want to see two lines at every desk in the library. If you want the librarian first, put your money where your mouth is and pay for my time. If you're not in a rush, then wait patiently until I finish milking this rich idiot for all he's worth. But since he can't figure out how to save to his flash drive, this could take a while: cha ching!

added note on how this is supposed to work:

PATRON A wants a popular item for a shorter loan period, so instead of going at the bottom of the list, she goes to the top:

present system * new "bid" system
NAME*NAME / loan period
Patron x*Patron A / 1 day
Patron x*Patron x / normal
Patron A*Patron x / normal

Now, Patron A needs to comply with new requirements and get to the library that day, in fact, we would need to split the day into 2 halves, MORNING and EVENING, to make these high demand items move faster. So patrons who wish to participate would need the ability to receive text messages and the library would need the ability to send them.

In this scenario, the daily FINE would increase to $2.40 a day at our library. If your library charges $1.00 a day for DVDs fines, then you might only be able to increase your find to $5 or $6 per day.

But I could see this working. A library could either keep a few items separate for these 1-day borrowers or if your software allowed for it, keep everyone in the same queue and let the system keep track of each borrower. But patrons would need the ability to choose whether they want the "express" (1 day) borrowing or the regular borrowing. And I would expect that a library who uses this would never have an "amnesty day" for forgiving fines. You could also let the patron keep the item once a $30 maximum was reached for that item... anyway...

Yes, it's complicated, but I could see it work if you wanted to do it.