CHAMPAIGN – The implications of the Champaign Public Library's decision to charge residents of the Mahomet and Tolono library districts to check out materials at the Champaign library likely will not be known until Sept. 20.
That is when the board members of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System, the network that forms a conduit for the exchange of materials among area libraries, will meet to discuss Champaign's new rule.
Earlier this week, the library announced that it would charge some non-resident users $200 annually for a special library card to continue their use of Champaign materials. Only residents of the Mahomet and Tolono library districts (the Tolono library district also serves Savoy residents) will be affected.
But an action the Lincoln Trail Libraries System board of directors took in July made it easier for the Champaign library to levy the fee on Mahomet and Tolono residents, said Champaign Library Director Marsha Grove.
Rosanne Reidner, the president of the Lincoln Trail board, said she "didn't know this was coming" before first hearing about Champaign's decision this week. She limited her comments on Thursday, saying she needed more time to discuss it with library officials.
"We really haven't had a chance to go over any information or discuss any of this," Reidner said. That discussion likely will happen during the board's next regular meeting on Sept. 20.
The Lincoln Trail board includes representatives from different types of libraries from across Central Illinois, each of whom is selected to sit on the board through an application process. If a library were to be found in violation of the system's policies, the board would have the power to remove that library from membership.
A general policy governs libraries which are members of the network and dictates how those members interact with each other. It includes guidelines on "reciprocal borrowing," by which a library lends materials to cardholders of a different library, and interlibrary loans, which is when a library sends materials to a different library for use by a patron who requested it there.
Grove, who has headed the Champaign Public Library for 7 1/2 years, said a policy that libraries may limit borrowing by cardholders of different districts existed when she started in Champaign. The Lincoln Trail board removed the policy shortly thereafter, and then reinstated it in July at the urging of Champaign library staff.
The policy now allows libraries to "restrict access by the users of those libraries who have created a significant imbalance," according to the minutes from the board's July 19 meeting. That imbalance is defined as a home library that is providing less than 60 percent of the total items checked out by residents of its district.
According to a press release from the Champaign library on Tuesday, Tolono cardholders 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.
"I've been asking about it for 7 years that we need to do something," Grove said. "I brought it up quite frequently."
The Champaign Public Library receives materials from the other two libraries via interlibrary loans – a service that will continue to Champaign cardholders – but Grove said the numbers are not balanced.
"Yes, we do receive quite a few items," Grove said. "But nowhere near like 86,000. It's under 5,000, maybe, from Mahomet."
Before the July amendments, the policy stated that member libraries must loan "all materials in any format, which are available for loan to local borrowers on the same basis as for local borrowers."
The policy now reads "all materials in any format, as generously as possible," according to meeting minutes.
Champaign library board president Rusty Freeland said compliance with Lincoln Trail policies was among the considerations when the library board approved the $200 annual fee.
"We considered that and have been considering that for months, and have been working with Lincoln Trail to get the policies changed," Freeland said.
The board made the decision based on property tax rates – the average Champaign property owner pays more into the library budget than does a resident of the Mahomet or Tolono districts – and the unbalanced use between the libraries.
"We believe our new policy complies with the Lincoln Trail policy," Freeland said.
Grove said Champaign may have been allowed to charge non-residents even under the older policy.
"It is suggested that libraries participate in reciprocal borrowing is the way I read the law," Grove said. "It doesn't say 'must.'"
Grove said even patrons who choose not to pay $200 for a special card will still find the materials they need through the local – and maybe even the national – network in which Champaign participates.
"There are a lot of other libraries that might loan it," Grove said.