Advertising In Libraries? Maybe…

I’ve been hearing about public libraries selling advertising space as a source of funding for a couple of years now. I keep thinking that I should be opposed to this idea on principle – and I’m fascinated to discover that I’m not.

I think this article does a fine and concise job of summarizing the issue:

Advertising in Libraries? Considering the Consequences (posted on Non-Profit Quarterly, February 27, 2013)

Selling advertising space in libraries has the potential to be a substantial source of funding. Librarians are well aware of the dangers this type of arrangement poses; any library wishing to go this route will make sure to include language in any such contacts that explicitly deny advertisers the right to have any say in operational or policy decisions.

I’m not too worried about the explicit legal thorns that can crop up in such a system. We’re on top of those. On paper, we’ll be fine. But this is not to say that I don’t still harbor some serious concerns…

Hypothetical scenario:

  • Corporation A is a major advertiser in the library and the source of a substantial sum of funding.
  • The library decides to do a series of public programs about the local LBGT community and highlight the LGBT resources in its collection.
  • Corporation A decides to stop advertising through the library. As a result, the library loses a substantial sum of funding.

Corporation A will officially cite any number of reasons why it decided to cease advertising in the library, and will never publicly admit that it’s because of the LGBT-themed programs. Legally, explicitly, the situation won’t violate any of the terms of the contract that Corporation A has with the library. But everyone will know the real reason.

So the next time the library thinks about doing a program, or series, or class, etc., with the potential be controversial, there will be questions at the back of everyone’s mind:

Will this cost us advertising dollars? Can we afford the loss?

Questions like these will start to exert a powerful and pernicious influence on our decision-making. And I see no way to eliminate the potential for such a situation, no matter how well-crafted a library’s advertising contracts may be.

It’s my bedrock belief that public libraries cannot allow themselves to become beholden to private interests.

This is not to say that libraries shouldn’t explore the idea of selling advertising space. The fundraising potential is compelling.

But we – the library community as a whole – will need to keep a very close eye on this.

One thought on “Advertising In Libraries? Maybe…

  1. With what you just said in mind I would have to ask: are there acceptable advertisers? Such as media companies or publishers?

    Or do you feel the sponsorship model is a safer route?


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