One of the side effects of a down economy is that library usage goes up. People borrow books and movies instead of purchasing them or going to the theater. I've spoken to many folks during my time around town who are so pleased with the number of movies our library has available to rent at a much cheaper rate than Blockbuster. I've also heard several compliments on the increased selection of books on CD.
The Friends, of course, funded a large portion of these two specific collection increases. Which in turn makes money for the library because a reasonable fee is collected to use these items.
Yesterday while I was at the Leadership event I heard some bad news. News that I feared would be coming. Our library will start to charge a users fee for people who do not live in our zip code. The other libraries in our consortium do this and have done so for several years. Our open door policy was, if I'm not mistaken, insisted upon by our previous mayor.
This new user fee policy has been adopted by the library board at the recommendation of the director and I'm sure the Town is all 'over it' as it will bring in revenue. Approximately 6000 cardholders do not live in our zip code. Because of our location on the border of another county and another state, that number has always been high. Our very near neighbors do not have local libraries, but do have regional libraries, often tens of miles away from their small towns.
I'm a firm believer that libraries are one of the few institutions left that should be run for the public good and free to the public. They are one of the few avenues all people have left to obtain education and information in an equal fashion. Free and open libraries should be a cornerstone of our democracy not a privilege for those who can afford to live in a certain zip code. Unfortunately, this new policy will punish the ones who can least afford the $50 fee for a card and who most need free access to a library, in our area those people are predominately African American and Hispanic children.
We may even lose some Friends members over this as several members live in the neighboring county and even the bordering state.
I have to think long and hard about what I say and how I say it and to who I open my mouth. This is quite upsetting and I fear that such policies will only serve to divide the 'haves' from the have nots' even further. I have no doubt that the folks who can afford the $50 will pay up, complain and move on. It is those voiceless ones, the people who most need the library, the children who have no computer at home and rely on the ones in the library, those are the ones my heart is breaking for this morning.