The Floating Library

I have been an enthusiastic patron of Prince Edward Island’s Public Library Service for more than 20 years, but I didn’t learn until this weekend that it had what’s called a “floating collection.”

On Saturday, Oliver and I traveled up to Summerside to see the new Inspire Learning Centre, and, because the collection is so well-displayed, I quickly found some books I wanted to borrow:

The books I borrowed: The News, Gondola, The VW Camper Van

Except I wasn’t sure this was allowed: could I, a Charlottetowner, borrow Summerside books and, what’s more, could I return then to Charlottetown?

Yes!”, the enthusiastic librarian an l at the checkout desk told me.

And—here’s the floating bit—the books I borrow and return to Charlottetown will stay in Charlottetown.

I’d always imagined that each library branch had its own collection and that there was a complicated scheme for returning them “home” if they left. But there isn’t: the books float from branch to branch organically.

This raises two interesting possibilities:

First, if one could get anonymized data on the flow of books from branch to branch, maps of “interest flow” could be drawn. That would be cool.

And, because we all have the power, through our borrowing and returning, to change books’ locations, it’s possible to influence that same interest flow. If I want to increase chainsaw literacy in Cornwall, or tip the discussion of early English drama in Tignish, I simply need to borrow-and-transfer the right books.


David's picture
David on January 17, 2017 - 18:13 Permalink

I work for a library system and actually work with this kind of data behind the scenes. Toronto does one better in that it publishes an open feed of what users are searching for in the collection at any given time, which also collects interest in electronic materials or databases.

It is neat in theory, but in practice what ends up happening are a few power users horde all the DVDs to their home branch and a "reset" needs to be done periodically lest that branch run out of space to put DVDs.

Heather's picture
Heather on January 18, 2017 - 11:49 Permalink

Some of the items are tagged to specific libraries on PEI so when they are returned they do go back "home". I have been requesting in a great collection of books into our rural library. I do know the PEI Library does move the collection frequently as well to prevent hoarding.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 18, 2017 - 11:50 Permalink

So if early English drama literacy in Tignish gets out of control, they can pull back. Good call.