About a year ago, I had an idea to build a networked public library out of the private collections of individual readers. I, unfortunately, do not have the technical skills to launch this project on my own, so I am going to give a description of the proposed project here with the hope that someone may read this and help bring the idea to life.
Public and university library budgets are far too small to keep up with the amount of new books being published all the time. Independent and academic presses often print in very limited runs, so their books can quickly become hard to come by. This makes it difficult and expensive to read even a fraction of the books that sites like one this cover.
On the other hand, multiple copies of many small press books are floating around almost any sizable city. I’m interested in helping this books to actually circulate, not just sit inert on our collective shelves. I would like to build easy platform to search for books to borrow, a kind of Airbnb for books.
Essentially, it would work like this: Users would list their neighborhood and any books they’d be willing to lend out. They could also list rare books that they would share under supervision but not actually lend. Would-be borrowers could search by location as well as by traditional criteria like subject or author. Once someone found their desired book, they would message the owner and arrange to either pick up the book at the owner’s house or at a neutral public location. Lenders could set due-dates for loaned items and some kind of system of arbitration would need to be set up to resolve any disputes over lost or damaged books. Probably this would require a small deposit in exchange for borrowing purchases and some way of banning members for repeated abuses. These details can be worked out as the project is developed.
The benefits of this para-institutional Networked Public Library would be two-fold. First, obviously, this would make more books available to more people. It would be especially useful for readers and scholars interested in materials that most libraries do not collect. Second, this network would allow people to find neighbors with shared literary interests. The fact that physical objects need to be exchanged would create opportunities for real-life connection and strengthened ties in local literary communities.
If successful, the model could obviously be expanded to include things like films or games.
So that’s the basic idea. Does anyone know if something like this already exists? Do you think it would be better to start from scratch or to try to partner with an already existing book-cataloguing service like Goodreads or LibraryThing? Do you have programming skills to help build this? I am very open to collaboration, to ideas for taking this in new directions, to any other kind of feedback you might offer. I just want to help make something exciting.
Please leave thoughts in the comments section or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.