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Precedent for library fee




January 26, 2011








As a student in high school, I worked afternoons and summers for the East Orange, N.J., public library system. At that time, the East Orange Library, with its spacious main library and three branches, was recognized as one of the best in the state in terms of holdings and research services.


Despite the fact that most surrounding communities had their own libraries, non-residents came to East Orange when they were involved in intricate research or simply needed information of an arcane nature.  .  


The only thing they could not do was check out books or other material. For this they had to rely on interlibrary loan services. More recently, there has become available to non-residents a Subscription Card, which, for a fee, allows them limited borrowing privileges (four items).    


The philosophy behind these restrictions on non-residents was admittedly financial in nature. The reasoning was that library systems were bought and paid for by residents of the cities or regions in which the libraries were located. Library holdings, therefore, should be available primarily for the taxpayers who footed the bill for them. Accommodating the needs of thousands of non-residents meant purchasing more books and other materials that residents might reasonably expect to be available to them.


The reason I mention all this is because our Williamsburg Regional Library seems to be in somewhat of a pickle because of its decision to curtail check-out privileges for non-residents. 


I suppose the real question is why such privileges were granted to begin with, since, as it turns out, there are now more than 6,000 non-resident cardholders using the WRL  free of charge.


According to library director John Moorman, non-residents have what are called standard card privileges, which means they are limited to checking out 10 items at one time. York residents, since their county contributes to the library’s coffers, have, with their “enhanced” cards, a limit of 20 items.


All surrounding counties, it should be noted, have regional libraries of their own, including the Heritage Public Library in Providence Forge and its branch in Charles City. Any books or materials not available in these libraries may be secured through interlibrary loan. In addition, the WRL would still be open to anyone needing informational or research services. 


But that’s not enough, say the present non-resident cardholders.


Chief among them is Susan Bauer, an adjunct professor at William & Mary, who, though she has full command of anything she wants at the college’s Swem Library, is leading a charge against WRL. On Jan. 31, she will urge all non-resident cardholders to check out ten items, thus depleting the shelves of the library by 20%. 


Why, she wonders, doesn’t the library institute a non-resident fee for using the facility?


In fact, there is some precedent for this. The James City-Williamsburg Community Center allows non-residents to use that facility for a hefty fee. Whereas Williamsburg and James City adult residents pay $240 a year for membership, those living outside the area fork over a whopping $540. Use of the facility for a day would cost a Charles City resident $11.   


Yet I suspect that an annual fee of $540 or a daily fee of $11 is not what the library’s non-residents have in mind. 


Nor is it what the WRL board and director Moorman have in mind. They quite correctly point out that library funding falls under the purview of local and state governments and should not be derived from a host of individual fees. It is up to local governments and their residents to decide what type of library facilities will be available to the resident public and county or city taxpayers. 


Rather than directing their anger at a library system funded by Williamsburg, James City and, to a lesser degree, York County, Prof. Bauer and her cohorts from Charles City and elsewhere might better direct their efforts toward improving the regional libraries in their own counties.


Either that or make better use of their own interlibrary loan services.  












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