I am a heavy user of our college library, and during the past several years I have been trying to give back to it, with the hope of benefiting others in the same ways that I have benefited.
This has been on my mind because apparently I am not the only person with that impulse: Many of the printed
books in our collection were donated by members of the
college community. (Information about donors is not broadcasted anywhere, but it is visible in the catalog records and frequently on book plates.)
With limited funds, and with attempts to ensure that there is an outcome for every dollar spent, using college
money to buy printed books -- which admittedly do have the potential to go
unused and take up real estate -- can perhaps seem lavish. To outward
appearances, databases, e-books, and other online resources give more
bang for the buck. Yet it is the books that are more enduring, and if someone were to
contribute to the college library I think they would be less interested
in giving a year's access to an electronic journal.
This may be returning to an earlier model in the history of libraries, but I
wonder if civic pride could be harnessed to contribute to the collection. In collaboration with the college, the library could reach out to student alumni and faculty retirees, and/or establish a friends group. We do already have viable channels for accepting donations of money or items, but they are not widely known about.
What would it take to get this started? For one, I like this idea from the Smithsonian Libraries of having a public wishlist on Amazon. That way, potential donors could be aware of exactly which books we would like to purchase, approximately how much they cost, and what immediate impact their contribution would have.
Financial accounting rules are numerous and complicated for the college, but I doubt they would be insurmountable. The main objection I can anticipate is that the college needs money for lots of things, not just for the library. But a printed book is a modestly-priced item, relative to a new building, and it is something simple that people concerned with higher education might really connect with. I can at least try, right?