“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” is one of the many things Shakespeare made up as part of a story, and that we now regard as gospel. Of course not everyone follows his advice, and that’s a good thing for libraries which would otherwise have been a non-starter.

There are people who consider lending and borrowing to be immoral, or even sinful. These folks, however, usually come up with alternative ways to lend and borrow, sometimes making circuitous semantic journeys around gifting and returning in order to arrive at a very similar place whereby somebody gets something now and returns it in future, in the process gaining some advantage that can be spread around a little.

It seems society creates an essential need to borrow, to take out a loan in order to increase future returns for both borrower and lender. That’s how it works with money, in theory at least. Put money out there, get increased value back. Maybe it comes from our human lifespan; without borrowing, life’s too short to amass the resources required for things we take for granted. Imagine if we had to save up for that TV, the new car, let alone a house. Take forever. So instead we enjoy the benefits of a new house or a new car today, the lender enjoys the interest on the loan we took to get it, and society comprises a sheltered, mobile population.

Marketing people might call it a win-win.

We call it leverage, too. Odd term. Leverage — seems to capture the advantage to the leveraging party, if not to the leveraged. Maybe we should say instead fulcrum, which seems to be a more comprehensive image, capturing the mutual benefit that may follow. This plan offers a fulcrum, we might say. Get the fulcrum right, else leverager and leveraged can each lose any advantage.

The fulcrum is often placed closer to the borrower, though, giving maximum leverage to the lender and sometimes placing the borrower in a bit of a bind. But that’s another issue.

Libraries work in a similar way, don’t they, but they may just be the purest form of lending and borrowing. Put those books out there for people who may not otherwise have access to them, and you get returns on your investment in the form of a more educated, creative, productive and reflective public. In fact with libraries, unlike mortgages, or lease to own, or loans as investments, we may have the perfect teeter-totter. It’s hard to see how either side could lose.