Summer 2003

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Facing Tough Times, A Rural Public Library Looks To Online Commerce

By Dan Theobald, i2i Communications

Summer 2003 issue of Trustee

That's the attitude of the Woodland Public Library, which has opened an Internet shopping mall to help offset budget cuts related to the statewide recession.  

The venture, called Shop for the Library (, features more than 200 merchants, including popular sites such as, ebay, and expedia.  Every purchase initiated through the Shop for the Library website generates a commission for the Woodland Public Library.  

"We have a clear choice in this economy - cut back or fight back," says library director Marie Bryan.  "We're fighting.  We received an LSTA grant to cover the costs of setting up Shop for the Library, and now all proceeds we raise will go to support services to the public."

Shop for the Library works with online merchants who agree to give the library a percentage -- between 2 and 55 percent -- of all sales referred from the Shop for the Library website.  "Folks pay the same price whether they go through Shop for the Library or directly to the merchant's website," says Bryan.  "So we're hoping library supporters will take an extra second or two and use the Shop for the Library portal."

Shop for the Library is the first public library fundraising campaign to feature multiple online merchants.  Other libraries have affiliated with individual online merchants such as -- but no one has ever built a virtual mall with more than 200 merchants.

Bryan is particularly optimistic about the fundraising potential of the library's own boutique on Shop for the Library, which offers cards, posters, and apparel items based on images from local archives.  "People love browsing our Woodland history collection, and now they can buy greeting cards and T-shirts with some of our most popular images."  

Woodland's collection was created through, an online venture that lets any organization or individual upload jpeg images (on which they own the copyright or from the public domain), and use them to create gift items.  Other libraries selling merchandise through Zazzle include the California History Collection of the California State Library and UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.  

Shop for the Library is an online update of a fundraising strategy long employed by larger urban libraries - the on-site gift shop.  For smaller and rural libraries, however, brick-and-mortar gift shops are impractical due to a variety of factors, including lack of volunteer staffing, complexity of set-up and inventory management, and shortage of available space in the library.  

"We could never find space for a gift shop in our building, much less offer items from 200 merchants," says Bryan.  "But we've got plenty of room on the web."   

The Shop for the Library website and associated promotional materials were designed for easy adaptation by other public libraries, if the project proves successful in Woodland.  "There's no grant money right now to support expansion to other libraries," says Bryan.  "But we'd be glad to provide advice and counsel, along with access to our tools and templates, for any libraries wanting to build their own version of Shop."

Library supporters can find Shop for the Library at or via the Woodland Public Library's homepage at  

Shop for the Library is supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), administered in California by the State Librarian.

Dan Theobald
Principal Consultant
i2i Communications
3716 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
FAX: 415-626-9499

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