A circulating library offers ladies a pleasant and not particularly arduous means of augmenting a modest income. When run in conjunction with stationery, tea-rooms, manicure, home-made sweets, or a reading-room, it becomes the means of securing quite a reliable income.
Library work can only be learnt by experience, and is by no means simple. It needs no elaborate bookkeeping or accounts ; but it does require a clear, personal system, which does not permit of " muddles " and mistakes. A woman can arrange her own system when she starts ; indeed, most of the circulating libraries run by ladies are worked on different but, none the less, equally successful lines.
There is no doubt that there are openings for good circulating libraries both in London and the provinces. In London the openings are chiefly in the suburbs ; but even in the West End there are certain districts without circulating libraries where the inhabitants do not, by any means, subscribe en masse to Mudie's or any other large libraries.
In choosing a locality, if possible start where a few friends will be glad to come and change their books instead of walking to a very large and busy library.
In country districts two girls should do well with a circulating library, which caters for those who do not have a box of books from town and those who do not want to send in to the station.
A carrier bag, holding eight to a dozen books, is easily fixed on a bicycle ; and one partner could ride round for several miles, distributing books that people really want.
Personal care and consideration of clients enters largely into the success of a library of this kind. Ladies soon learn the little fads and idiosyncrasies of their customers ; and it is always pleasant to be told that a particularly good book has been kept purposely for oneself. Again, if ladies have read the books themselves, and thus are able to recommend them, clients are often induced to do the same. Over books more than anything the general public likes to think it is being especially considered and remembered in regard to its favourite authors and special abominations. It is in this respect that a small library scores.
The capital required must include a year's rental of the necessary premises ; the subscription to the big library with which the small is "in connection " ; the purchase of a parcel of books to form a stock ; and, of course, advertising and printing expenses.
Rent varies, of course, according to locality. In London or the suburbs from £15 to £75 a year should provide a room on the ground floor. One room is quite sufficient ; but it must be fitted with bookshelves, tables, chairs, etc. - £5 to £10 should provide the furnishing.
In the country, a library may be carried on in a private house ; or the rental of a shop would entail but a small expense.
The matter of advertising is a question for each to decide. The wisest method is to have some good-sized posters printed, and display them in the window and in other shop windows some weeks before the opening of the library.
Once the library is open the posters should announce the fact, and after that advertising may drop, unless it seems imperative.
Printing expenses include the labels which must be affixed to every book. If the library is in connection with Mudie's, these labels must be of the exact size of Mudie's labels ; otherwise there is trouble when the books are returned, and Mudie labels are again stuck over the private ones.
The labels may be of any colour, but must be a uniform size. It is best to have them printed in two colours - one for the books that are the property of the library, and the other for those that are going back to Mudie's or elsewhere. The cost of printing these is small.
As regards subscriptions to a large library - for all the large libraries are prepared to supply small ones, to be run " in connection with " them - the small library takes out a subscription exactly as would a private individual, only instead of being for three or four books it is for fifty or a hundred.
The rates at Mudie's are as follows : For any number of volumes up to six, one guinea a year per volume. For more than six the price is 10s. 6d. a volume for a year. It is at this rate that small libraries subscribe, taking fifty to a hundred, or even more volumes, according to their business.
As it is possible to add to the number of volumes at any time it is wisest to start with a moderate number. This subscription entitles the library to change all the books every day, if necessary, thus giving a small library a chance of keeping its clients supplied with the newest books more quickly than can a large library where the demand is so great.
It is possible to subscribe at a slightly lower rate, which allows the entire number of books to be changed once a week only. This method is best for country libraries, as the books are sent by train in a box. But for London the more expensive subscription is best.
In addition to the books being changed daily, the librarians must be prepared to buy on their own account copies of new novels which may be in great demand. Out of a subscription of fifty books it is unwise to choose twenty-five all of one popular novel, because it leaves so few other books to be chosen. If the librarian knows that a large number of customers will want that book, the only way is to purchase it. This is done, at wholesale prices, from Simpkin, Marshall & Co., and the books can often be resold to other libraries or dealers when the first rush is over.
This "buying" does not occur all the year round ; the busiest times are spring and autumn, when the majority of new novels appear; and often three or four months go by without the necessity for purchasing a single book. The necessary ready money outlay after the start is, therefore, comparatively small.
To form a " stock," parcels of books can be bought from Mudie's at very moderate terms. These are made up in hundreds, and contain books that are mostly six months or a year old. There are many people who have not read these ; and, in any case, they form the basis of a stock that is added to as new purchases are made. Five or six hundred books form a good nucleus of a stock and cost about £6.
The library subscription has to be paid in advance, of course, also the money for the parcels of books. This done, it remains to run the library for a year and see if it pays its way.
The charge for new books should be 3d. for three days - 1d. a day - and for older ones 3d. a week. Subscriptions, on a scale of reduction for numbers of books and length of time, should start at 3s. a month for one volume.
A deposit of 2s. 6d. should always be charged on books let out by the week without a subscription. This covers possible loss of or damage to books. In the case of actual loss of a volume, the loser should pay the full value of a new book and the approximate value of an older one.
Those who embark upon a library must be careful not to make rash promises of immediate delivery of new books. The matter of exchange needs great discretion, and it is fatal to earn a reputation for making injudicious promises that are not kept. In time a librarian begins to know how long clients take to read books, and is able to fit in a rapid reader between two slow ones by means of cautious promises.
A day-book should be kept and brought up to date every evening ; it must contain names of customers, the books out, and the books that have come in.
Subscribers should be entered apart from single-volume people ; and all money received should be entered. All this becomes a matter of careful arrangement and routine ; a girl will soon discover methods of dealing with books, money, and customers. Every evening, or once a week, a list should be made out of the volumes required from the big library, so that it can be sent or taken the first thing in the morning.
It is an excellent plan to combine another enterprise with a circulating library. In London a good inexpensive tea-room and reading-room often pays well. People coming to change books like to sit and read the week's illustrated papers at the modest charge of 1d. ; and if tea is on the spot and is not too dear, it, too, will seem desirable. Customers who come in for tea see the library ; and that is how fresh clients are obtained.
Selling theatre tickets is also workable with a library in conjunction with a public telephone. The theatre tickets must be obtained through an agent, who takes a commission. In many suburban districts there is a big opening for such theatre ticket agents. The bills and posters of plays make a pleasing display and serve to attract customers.
Stationery is also profitable, especially if printing and die stamping is done. This can be arranged through the printer of the library labels ; and quite a good profit can be made, without charging high prices.
In the country theatre ticket selling is impossible, but selling stationery, or keeping a tea-room, or a good reading-room, would prove remunerative.
Home-made needlework, sweets, or cakes are very profitable, and sell extremely well when attractively displayed. Antique furniture, in parts of the country where china, brass, and old oak may be picked up, proves a great " draw." A good circulating library conducted in a room fitted up like an old-english " parlour," with everything for sale, and a good, home-made tea served as well, should make a small fortune for its enterprising owner.