The Not-So-New Library Uproar

The Santa Clara County Library System in California issued a press release Friday, April 29th notifying patrons (and potential patrons) that non-residents of Santa Clara, CA (and qualifying surrounding cities and counties) will be charged an annual fee of $80 for library check-out privileges. Visiting the library and using its services inside the building will continue to be free of charge.

(I love library cards)

People on listservs and in the comments section of the local Santa Clara newspaper are going both ways on this. Some argue that it makes sense, because residents pay taxes to support the library while non-residents do not (and should therefore not be privy to the same usage abilities). I, personally, have worked in libraries where this was commonplace, and in my tenure never received any backlash from customers. In fact, they were pleased that for $20 they had a year’s worth of access to a significant DVD, audio book, and book collection.

On the other hand, there are some who argue that it’s not ‘fair’; that it’s ‘comical’ that a Free Library should institute a fee; and that it is breaking the law in 0 (which states that libraries “shall be forever free to the inhabitants and nonresident taxpayers of the municipality”) to which my argument is that non-residents can still use the materials inside the library, they just can’t check them out.

Do these people not understand how difficult it was for the Board of Trustees (and whomever else was involved in the decision-making process)?? As I replied to one commenter, “You think they WANT to charge users? You think they WANT to lose customers who cannot afford the fee? No…but they have to do what is in the best interest of THEIR constituents, which are the people whose taxes directly pay for the institution.” The public libraries of California just lost over $30 million from their annual budget, and in order to stay afloat they must scramble to make money. Local funds are already stretched to the limit, so fees must be enacted.

This is, sadly, the new reality for many libraries. My old library system recently implemented a $0.50 charge for each reserve item not picked up within the 5-day holding period. That fee will likely bring down the number of holds people place (thereby keeping items in circulation, instead of on a shelf not being circulated) and it will also be a small source of revenue for a library system looking to build a new branch/keep their current branches at the high standard at which they have always been.

With budget cuts come difficult decisions, but trust that your libraries are doing all they can to keep the buildings and materials and services at the level at which customers are accustomed. We are in the public service industry because we want to serve you and get you want you want and need. You can help us do so by writing your Congressmen, telling them how important libraries are to you.

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