Ramble of the day: The Library is a Sharing Economy Pioneer

I had one of those revelations two days ago that are completely obvious, but have been hidden in plain site.

The library was the original institution in the sharing economy.

Thinking about it, it’s very obvious. Books are shared amongst users, unlocking value and increasing efficiency. The only differences between the model of a library and the current crop of sharing economies businesses, such as Uber, Peerby and AirBnB, are the medium of distribution, and the ultimate ownership of the underlying assets.

I have long been an advocate of the emerging sharing economy, with my very first post on this blog being dedicated to exploring the benefits of the AirBnB model, and how they could overcome some potential pitfalls.

Thinking of a library as a sharing enterprise both gave me hope for the future of the sharing economy, but also raised some concern about why people still don’t leverage a library’s facilities.

People still own books for 4 reasons, as far as I can tell:

  • Reliability (your book is always available to you)
  • Convenience of one time transaction
  • Pride of ownership
  • Distrust/dislike of others

This insight gives rise to a number of implications for the emerging sharing economy enterprises:

  • While a vibrant market for sharing may exist, it will never subsume the ownership market
  • While sharing asset companies can never combat the pride of ownership, they can increase the reliability and convenience of shared assets through improved mediums of distribution (through online, mobile marketplaces). Building an underlying community spirit (a la AirBnB) can also help enhance trust.

The other thing to note with the library model is that public libraries often suffer from asset deterioration as people take liberties, but private libraries are not serving the people who could benefit most by accessing the books. An important claim of the asset-sharing industry is that it will increase access to assets for those whom the assets were previously too expensive. Undoubtedly, services such as Neighborgoods and Lyft are making assets cheaper to utilize, but I can foresee the same problem inflicting the asset-sharing problem as inflicts the private library, and that their positive social impact will exclude those at the bottom of the ladder.

Just something to think about!

Until next time!

Ross Garlick


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