CHAMPAIGN – On a tight budget, library officials are hoping to send some nonresident patrons "back to their home libraries" and lessen the burden on the collection of materials by charging them to check out books in Champaign.
Beginning Nov. 1, residents of the Tolono and Mahomet library districts, who previously were able to use their library cards for free in Champaign, will now be asked to pay $200 annually if they want to continue borrowing items from the Champaign Public Library.
Library Director Marsha Grove said Tolono and Mahomet residents are among the heaviest users of the Champaign library – a situation that has become particularly burdensome on the collection in a tight budget year.
"The major problem is that so many of their (Tolono's and Mahomet's) cardholders are coming here and somewhat using it as their own home library," Grove said.
Mahomet Public Library Director Lynn Schmit said she was disappointed in Champaign's decision, but it will not affect the libraries' relationship.
"We have to take care of our taxpayers, and that's what Champaign has decided they need to do," Schmit said.
Janet Cler, director of the Tolono library, was also disappointed.
"It is an unfortunate situation," she said. "For our patrons, we're here to serve them the best we can."
Cler and Schmit said both of their libraries will continue to serve Champaign cardholders for free.
"We are here to serve the residents of the community, and we have some Champaign cardholders that come down and use our library, and we're fine with that," Cler said.
According to a press release from the Champaign library on Tuesday, Tolono residents borrowed 17 items in Champaign for every 10 they checked out at their own library – a total of 167,259 Champaign materials during the last fiscal year. Mahomet residents checked out eight items in Champaign for every 10 they checked out in Mahomet, a total of 86,050 items.
"It's been going on for a long time, and we decided we needed to restrict those cardholders," Grove said.
The $200 annual fee is based on what an average Champaign homeowner pays in property taxes to support the public library. The special cards will be available for purchase beginning Oct. 4, in advance of the Nov. 1 effective date.
Cardholders of area libraries other than those in Mahomet and Tolono will still be allowed to use their home library cards for free in Champaign. Patrons of the Urbana Free Library, part of the Lincoln Trails Library System that connects many libraries in the region, will be unaffected.
Grove said the library board considered an across-the-board fee for the other cardholders, too, but eventually decided that those users did not have as much of an impact as patrons from Mahomet and Tolono.
The Champaign library also will cut off free deliveries to Mahomet and Tolono. Anyone wishing to check out a book from Champaign's collection via the interlibrary loan system will have to purchase the special Champaign card.
"If we allowed that to go on, it would be even more work for us," Grove said.
Champaign library officials are not sure what to expect before the rule goes into effect – it could add revenue to the library's budget, or "maybe most of the people will just go back and use their home library in Mahomet and Tolono," Grove said.
Kenney Davenport works in Champaign, a 1 1/2-minute drive from the library, but lives in the Mahomet library district. Now 36 years old, he said he has not stepped into the Mahomet library since he was a kid.
"I will not be paying $200 a year to use the library," Davenport said.
Davenport said he checks out music and guitar books and CDs from the Champaign Public Library, and is not confident he will be able to find what he is looking for in Mahomet.
"It's a minute and a half from my office, and obviously it's a lot bigger, they have a coffee shop and it's a nice facility," Davenport said.
Jennifer Price, a Tolono resident, said she uses the Champaign library nearly every week during the winter. She usually goes on Sundays, when the Tolono Public Library is not open.
"I think it's a load of crap," Price said.
She checks out books, video games and CDs from Champaign, and rarely uses the Tolono library. She said she has not yet decided if she will pay $200 for a special Champaign card.
"I thought being part of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System meant you could use your card anywhere," she said. "I don't think it's fair."
Cler said she expects Champaign's decision will bring more residents of the Tolono Public Library district to their own library. She said the library has made several changes during the past year to serve its patrons better, like extending hours, adding a Blu-Ray video collection and setting up an online "virtual library."
"We're continuing to build our resources, and we're in the process of a long-range plan that's been going on for a while now," Cler said.
Mahomet's Schmit said she expects some patrons will be disappointed, "but it's understandable" that Champaign would charge for services as its budget tightens.
"We're going to continue to do what we've done for years, and that's taking care of the needs of our library patrons," Schmit said.