September 10, 2012

Library to cut costs with ads on toilet paper


At a time when library funding is being cut in some places and technology is changing traditional patron activity, many libraries recognize the need to be creative and innovative with their budgets and services.

Recently, the Port Chester-Rye Brook Public Library in New York, earned some serious points in the budget creativity category by enlisting the Star Toilet Paper company, founded by two young entrepreneurs, to provide their toilet paper which is printed with advertisements. According to the Library Journal, who interviewed Library Director Robin Lettieri, this saves about $70,000 dollars a year.

Besides costs savings, Lettieri says her motive was to support local residents with a unique idea. She’s been pleased with her working relationship with Star so far. “We have final say on the advertisers; for instance, we wouldn’t want a bar advertised in the children’s room,” she explained. Star has already  “passed some of the advertisers by” Lettieri for approval.

News outlets covering this story have included NPR, CBS New YorkNew Delhi television and The Thaindian News, and some reports include lines like “At first, I poo-pooed it,” or “Two brothers from Westchester are flush with entrepreneurial spirit.”

But toilet paper puns aside, this move raises some serious questions. Where should the line be drawn for advertising in libraries that are public institutions of unbiased knowledge and content?  When the Toronto Public Library debated this question, they drew up an extensive policy and decided to limit ads to the back of date due slips.

But even this would not have been approved under the Georgia State University’s Library advertising policy, which prohibits non-library related advertising on “any print media at the library’s service desks” and other specified places like the library newsletter, blog, public announcement system, and exhibit cases, with the exception of a community bulletin board.

A study of advertising on library websites concluded that libraries in the US and in Europe use both self and corporate advertising on their websites, and identifies this as a growing trend.

Where should the line be drawn? Does your library have an advertising policy?


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.