There’s a lot of talk about the sharing economy as companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Lyft become increasingly popular.

But there is a successful part of the sharing economy that doesn’t get much attention: libraries.

Considered old school at a time when books are purchased and arrive at your door the next day, libraries are alive and well. They continue to attract lots of traffic for a growing number of reasons beyond borrowing books.

The Toronto Public Library, for example, had more than 18 million visitors who borrowed 31.9 million items in 2016. Despite Doug Ford’s suggestion that some of Toronto’s libraries should close, there is clearly demand to borrow books, rather than buy them.

So why are libraries so popular in a digital age?

For one, it’s economics. Many people prefer to borrow books for free rather than pay for them. Why buy something that will collect dust on a bookshelf?

Second, libraries are sanctuaries in a fast-moving, always-on world. They’re quiet and calming places where talking and smartphones are discouraged. People lose themselves in books, papers, words, and stories. Libraries offer opportunities to escape the hurly-burly.

Third, they epitomize the concept of sharing and the sharing economy. Enough people patronize libraries to justify their mandate and expenses. Libraries are an integral part of how healthy and educated societies operate.

Personally, I love libraries – always have, always will. As someone who consumes a lot of digital content, libraries are an analog counter-balance.

When I discover books that sound interesting online, I search for them in the Toronto Public Library. It lets me devour or taste books that I would likely not read.  Right now, I’m reading five books. including Positioning, The Second Industrial Revolution and Get to Aha!  

Sometimes, I only read a few chapters of a book. Sometimes, I read the entire book. Getting books from the library ensures there’s never buyer’s remorse.

As much as Amazon makes buying books effortless, the ability to share books with other people is a better, smarter option.

Do you use the library? What’s their future in a world of instant gratification?

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