Libraries are in general a necessity in academic work but also for personal use. The main benefit they provide is to offer books and articles so you can either peek at them to consider buying your own copy, or you could take the book with you for a certain time and read it. In providing these services to the customers the library needs to have an extensive amount of different books – as well they need to have several copies of each book, especially popular books. The amount of books existing today is wast – and the library is restricted by both space and especially budgets. It is thus no surprise that not every book ever made is available in the library. This holds true especially for brand new books or books without a general interest field (i.e. not enough potential “customers”). This provides a problem with the easy solution being to buy a copy of the book even if you do not know for sure that it is a good book. Secondly the library face a problem with very popular books when they do not have sufficient copies to service all their customers. Figure 1 illustrates the essence of this.
At universities the staff consists mostly of people that read a lot and in turn they own a lot of books. In some cases they even receive free copies of books as a medium for advertising. These books are of course located in shelves at the owners office. In general they are almost never read, at least not continuously – so it’s fair to say they have a lot of “downtime” in terms of the most efficient use of the book. Combined this forms an untapped resource. What if all these person-owned books were to be made available for the library customers? What if the library could integrate with this resource? Figure 2 illustrate the concept I propose in which the library is integrated with a peer2peer library.
There are of course some issues which needs to be addressed in this idea. Firstly the book owners need to be willing to lend out their books to potentially complete strangers. I believe this is an issue of trust and security that your book will be treated well and returned. Overcoming this can be to integrate/adopt the library system in which you need a student card or similar to loan the book – and by which you are identified as the loaner. If the owners are willing, the books still need to be made available in a library database. This is a tedious task which needs to be as easy as possible. Solutions for this is to use the barcode/ISBN-code to look up the information on the book – this requires a barcode reader which is not common to have. However advances in mobile phone cameras enables software to interpret the image and “read” the barcode. Webcams found on almost every laptop provides also the possibilities of software “scanning”. Although not always perfect this is one possibility of overcoming the problem of self managing the peers own library.
In a P2P library the books are scattered rather than gathered at one location. This is a problem when searching for a book. An essential requirement for the search results is often that it is nearby (i.e. at the local library and not in another city’s). Thus, some spatial consideration should also be included in a P2P library system. This could be as easy as taking the (work) address of the loaner/owner and assume the book is there – or at least not very far away. Search results should of course include and rank accordingly.
I believe this rather novel approach to the traditional library enable the use of the untapped resource of “shelf-books” as well it expands the books available to book-loaners dramatically without additional cost. However this should be awarded back to the book owners in some compensation (i.e. prizes for every 25 book made available or similar).
Is this a good idea? The main problem is the willingness of book-owners. Are book-owners willing to lend out their books? How could this willingness be supported/motivated? Will such systems work outside of an organization? For instance publicly available?