Champaign library board considers options on user fee

CHAMPAIGN — No decision was made, but more information was exchanged on Thursday night as the Champaign Public Library board reviewed its policy to charge residents of the Tolono and Mahomet library districts $200 to use the Champaign library.

Board members discussed the user fee after its six-month anniversary, as they agreed to do when they approved the policy. In that half year, many factors have complicated the issue: the Lincoln Trail Libraries System, which acts as the conduit for sharing books and other materials among 117 libraries in the region, has pressured the Champaign library to drop the fee, while a new library system is expected to replace Lincoln Trail this summer.

The Champaign Public and Urbana Free libraries also plan to purchase their own material-tracking system separate from the new group of libraries, which would further distance them from other member libraries and make sharing more challenging between Champaign-Urbana and the rest of East Central Illinois.

Facing a complicated question with several members absent, the board decided to table the issue at least until June as they await further information from library staff about the potential consequences of a number of alternatives they may choose.

The library has sold the special nonresident cards to 84 households since it implemented the policy, said Library Director Marsha Grove. Library officials have collected $11,005 in revenue from the user fee (the fee is collected quarterly).

The user fee has worked for the purpose it was intended: the number of items checked out by residents of the Tolono and Mahomet library districts has dropped significantly, relieving some of the burden on a library staff with 12 vacant positions during a tight budget period.

Champaign has checked out 2,170 items to Tolono district residents during the past six months and 1,414 to Mahomet district residents, Grove said. That is compared to about 84,000 and 44,000 materials, respectively, during the six months before the policy was implemented.

"I would report to the board that it's really a good thing that our circulation did go down because, as you are well aware, we are holding 12 positions vacant, and we are struggling," Grove said.

Some residents of Savoy (the village is included in the Tolono library district) say the library should remain free for all cardholders of a Lincoln Trail member library.

"Champaign Public Library. The name 'public' is still attached to it, and that means it should be open to everybody with no financial implication," said Saood Khan.

Champaign library officials have maintained that Tolono and Mahomet district residents are overusing the Champaign library while they pay lower property taxes for their home libraries.

"While I appreciate it's the Champaign Public Library, public doesn't mean free, because it does cost money to run this library," said board member Rochelle Funderburg.

Some public comments did resonate with the board: Khan said his 5-year-old son is a "veracious" reader. "How do explain to my son that this is happening?" he asked.

And Savoy resident Todd Sweet said his son is a student at Carrie Busey Elementary, a Champaign school.

"Occasionally they'll come here on field trips, and he's not allowed to check out books here," Sweet said.

Board member Jan Simon said she would be happy to explore alternatives to the $200 user fee. She understands the library's budget troubles, she said, but it is also hard to hear about some of the children who are being denied materials.

"In my heart, I cannot bear to know that kids are not able — I'll just say that — I cannot bear that," Simon said.

The board is scheduled to revisit the issue next month after library officials gather more information about several alternatives. Among those options: establishing a program with Unit 4 schools to allow students to use the library, adopting a Lincoln Trail policy which would abolish the user fee but limit some nonresidents to five checked-out items or maintain the policy as-is.

Board members on Thursday gave no indication of which direction they might go.

Board President Rusty Freeland also suggested to the Savoy residents in attendance that they contact the Tolono library board to lobby for an agreement between the two libraries. Freeland said he offered to meet with the Tolono board to discuss a reimbursement plan, but "apparently, they just are not interested."

It is "as easy to solve with the Tolono library district as it is with us," Freeland said.

Also on Thursday, the board discussed its plans to join with the Urbana Free Library to purchase an "automation system" separate from that of a new group of libraries expected to replace the Lincoln Trail system this summer.

The automation system keeps track of checkouts and returns and provides a searchable catalog of library materials.

As it is right now, if a Champaign library user searches the catalog, that search will return results from the collections of every library in the Lincoln Trail system.

If the Champaign and Urbana libraries were to purchase their own automation system, those searches would only return results from the two libraries, Grove said. Likewise, patrons searching from outside of Champaign or Urbana would not see materials from the two libraries in the search results — they would be searching a separate database.

That would not exclude outside users from checking out materials from the twin cities' libraries — it would just make it more challenging and "not as smooth," Grove said.

She said it is not necessarily a strategy to limit sharing between Champaign and other libraries, but it will allow the Champaign catalog to maintain certain features it otherwise would not. Patrons may be able to submit book reviews to appear in search results, for example, or the library may be able to establish a mobile catalog for patrons to search for books on their cellphones.

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Betty Crocker wrote on May 19, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Thank you Ms. Funderburg! Finally someone points out the obvious. Public does not mean free, tax paying residents of Champaign are well aware of that, as well as the 84 households who appreciate the value the library represents. As well, kudos to Mr. Freeland. Could it be that the Tolono library board is not interested in your overtures because they don't have the money to discuss a reimbursement plan? As a resident of Champaign, I appreciate when government conducts itself in a fiscally responsible manner. Thank you.
Ms. Simon, please resist the urge to respond emotionally to this issue. You are not responsible for Mr. Kahn's son. Mr. Kahn is. Your primary responsibility is to your constituents, the tax payers of Champaign. The Board has provided an equitable option for Mr. Kahn and other families from Tolono and Mahomet, they choose whether to participate for themselves and their children. If a program with Unit 4 results in an increase in circulation without a corresponding increase in revenue from outside Champaign, then this would not be a solution. My property taxes support both Unit 4 and the library.
To Mr. Kahn I would suggest that you introduce your veracious reader (good for you by the way, you have instilled useful values in your son) to how government works. The book, "What is government?" (Bedesky) would be a good choice to help explain to your son why he can't check out books at the Champaign Public Library. Sadly, it isn't part of the CPL collection but lucky for you and your son, it is part of the collection at the Tolono Library.

gamera wrote on May 19, 2011 at 11:05 pm

In addition, perhaps Savoy residents whose children attend Unit #4 should ask their city council about changing library districts. If you want services, you have to pay for them. I live inside city limits because I want to use the library, I want to support the MTD, and I want to be a resident for the Champaign Park District.

And I would say to the person whose kid couldn't check out a book: my nephew was put on a 5 week waiting list for the Hunger Games. Once this fee was instituted, my nephew got the book almost immediately. So...those children whose parents are dodging Champaign Library taxes are denying my nephew books. Why is that okay?

tmsweet wrote on May 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm
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As I understand it the residents of Savoy (I'm a resident) long ago passed a referendum to become part of the Tolono Library District, so the voters, not our Village Trustees, are responsible for that. I'm assuming it would take a similar action to join the CPL system instead, which doesn't strike me as a quick process.

Glad you mentioned the CPD, which I think is an excellent model for the library to follow. As a non-resident I can choose to go to Sholem and pay a slightly higher fee to enter. I'm perfectly fine with that. Only fair. However, at the beginning of the season I do not have to buy a $200 pass, even if I only want to go once, which is precisely what the CPL fee does. There is no metered usage fee - it is all or nothing.

Finally, the issue of books on hold is a great example of the flaws of the system. Instead of finding a creative solution (Tolono and Mahaomet residents have limited holds, or perhaps go to the end of teh line on holds?), the CPL simply shut off access completely.

As non-residents we should be willing to pay a reasonable premium for using Champaign funded resources. However, the current fee was implemented to restrict access, not to find an equitable way to distribute the burden.

Betty Crocker wrote on May 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm

"As non-residents we should be willing to pay a reasonable premium for using Champaign funded resources."

As has been reported numerous times before, $200 per year to use the CPL for Tolono and Mahomet residents is not a "premium" but rather the gong rate for Champaign tax payers. Practice has demonstrated that Tolono and Mahomet residents use the CPL as much, if not more, than their home library. Therefore, if you are treating it as your home library, you need to pay what everyone else in the library district pays. Which is about $200 per year.

It probably would take a referendum from the residents of Savoy to switch library districts. Where is the grass roots effort to get that referendum on the ballot and end this gross inequity? Instead of making demands of a library district in which you have no representation or say, organize your neighbors and join the CPL. As the article points out, the CPL has attempted to contact the Tolono Library District about a cooperative agreement but thay have received no response.

Mahomet residents repeatedly vote down efforts to raise money for books. Tolono doesn't want to discuss a cooperative agreement with CPL. Neither of those districts have the funds to expand services. CPL doesn't have the revenue to absorb your underfunding either. Face it, money is tight and you will have to pay someone. Personally, I think the fee idea is a win win situation all around. The overwhelming majority of the Tolono and Mahomet Library District taxpayers do not have to pay higher taxes for services they don't use anyway, and CPL raises revenue by meeting the needs of those who do.

RamaSita wrote on May 20, 2011 at 1:05 am

The Lincoln Trails Library System is a great program that is desperately needed in E. Central Illinois. This is one of the best systems in the country. It is one of the few highlights of the area. I was happy to hear that the LTLS had an issue with the fee the Champaign library started charging. It goes against the very core of the program. Sharing resources makes for a stronger library that helps to foster a more intelligent and diverse population. I've never in my life seen a library or a section of the community act more like Gollum over their "precious" books. I've checked out many books via the LTLS that haven't been checked out since 1995 or earlier thanks to this program. These are still valid books that need to be offered to the public.

How much is this new system Champaign and Urbana want to implement? These systems aren't cheap, why isn't the cost revealed? These automation systems will eliminate the option to view outside resources. This is the opposite of what Champaign and Urbana desire. They want people to use other sources for their books, and yet now you'll only see offerings from those two libraries?

I've never heard of a library pleased that their circulation is down. Really? That is what a library wants at the end of the day? That is what pleases their hearts at night, knowing that all the little books are safe and sound in the library, far away from those who could benefit from them? Isn't it good enough that Champaign residents get put at the front of the hold lines for items? Isn't it good enough that outside residents can no longer reserve new items? I guess not.

I'm glad I'm not a kid that uses the Champaign library. I fell in love with the library where I grew up as a child. They encouraged everyone to read and to read often. Try new genres, new authors, check out stuff just to try it. This is a horrible lesson for children, much less adults. Sharing is a good thing.

It sure seems that all these issues came about with the new library building.

Since the board is considering ideas, how about charging for all the tot programs that so many parents use as free daycare? The library has become so miserable to visit because it appears to be acceptable to run, scream, and behave rudely to all those around you. Bring back the shushing librarians.

What a sad issue.

IU1977 wrote on May 20, 2011 at 6:05 am

No what the library is saying is that they have CUT 11 positions due to budget restraints and that the circulation is now available for CHAMPAIGN residents, not the 80k+ checks outs that Tolono and other villages residents checked out of the CPL. You can still check out books at CPL, just pay the fee. Thats pretty simple.

Yatiri wrote on May 20, 2011 at 9:05 am

It seems to me that people choose to live outside a tax zone because they save money on their taxes.

To then turn around and demand services supported by the taxes they all avoided is wanting to have your cake and eat it too all at the same time.

Betty Crocker wrote on May 20, 2011 at 10:05 am

You are correct, for whatever reason, they CHOOSE to live outside the tax zone that supports the Champaign Public Library.
Perhaps the city of Mahomet or Tolono should come and repair the pothole in front of my house in Champaign. After all, they can drive down my street and the roads are all part of a connected network, kind of like the LTS.

jbr wrote on May 20, 2011 at 11:05 am
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Perhaps the city of Mahomet or Tolono should come and repair the pothole in front of my house in Champaign. After all, they can drive down my street and the roads are all part of a connected network, kind of like the LTS.

No town (AFAIK) forces neighboring towns to fix their roads, since they are a network and people are free to use this public resource as it is made available. People pay, through taxes and purchases, to have access to the vast network of roads provided to us. Presumably more vehicular traffic means more wear and tear, but also hopefully means more revenue for that city. You can not only drive to the next town, but all over the State of Illinois. You can even drive to other states or other countries and your home town public works department has no responsibility to pay for your road use.

Similarly, it seems silly that CPL is demanding Mahomet & Tolono users pay for using a public resource made available according to the terms of the library system. Mahomet and Tolono patrons have paid for a portion of the library system and can use (almost) any library in the system. For libraries, higher circulation can mean higher costs, but also means more recognition and more funding opportunities. Have you seen CPL's constant mention of their higher circulation and awards they've won (website, annual reports, etc.)? Having usage drop 8-15% (accounting for no more Mahomet & Tolono users) will likely affect their eligibility for those awards.

IU1977 wrote on May 20, 2011 at 12:05 pm

However, my taxes have PAID for those books. I should not have to wait, as that one person did for 6 weeks while others who DONT PAY those same taxes borrow the books. Have their libraries get the books, but then again in this last election, the voters of Mahomet voted DOWN a proposal to increase their taxes to buy books. I would have too if I could drive 8 miles and get a book from someone elses library.

jbr wrote on May 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm
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If waitlists are an issue, put some restrictions on reciprocal borrowers, or put "locals" at the top of wait lists. It doesn't make sense for every library to have every book patrons want to check out, so I don't expect that Mahomet or Tolono libraries should buy significantly more books. Nor, on the other hand, should CPL buy less-circulated items that other libraries carry.

Having to pay $200 a year to be able to check out some children's books or other less-frequently circulated items is an immense obstacle for Mahomet & Tolono patrons who have already paid for borrowing privileges in the LTLS.

Betty Crocker wrote on May 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm

They have placed restrictions on reciprocal borrowers, you just don't like what they are.

tmsweet wrote on May 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm
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Oops, supposed to be reply to another comment, not a new one.

tmsweet wrote on May 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm
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You are implying that the only reason people live in communities like savoy is to avoid taxes and sponge off of its neighbors to the north. As a resident I can tell you that thought wasn't on my mind when I moved there. As someone new to the community I had no idea where my home library was, let alone the complex system in place to fund it.

Let me remind you that the CPL is still a member of the Lincoln Trail Library System, which has said the current fee is not in compliance with its policies. Consequently, the CPL should either get in compliance, or end its affiliation with the system.

Yatiri wrote on May 21, 2011 at 8:05 am

Its not the only reason, but in our area it is one of the important reasons. Another important reason is the schools and I'm sure there are personal reasons as well.

I won't take your word for it that the CPL is deliberately not complying with the Lincoln Trail Libraries policies. You need to back that up fella. Link something to support this accusation.

The reasons why you live where you live are your business. I for one support charging you for the use of the CPL because you need to pay for what you use buddy.

Vav wrote on May 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I don't believe it is possible for Savoy or anyone else to choose to join the CPL. CPL is a city library that enjoys the benefits of home rule. If CPL were to become a library district with boundaries outside of Champaign it would have even bigger budget issues because it would operate under tax caps which would likely decrease its effective tax rate rather than hold it steady.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm

While Champaign residents feel that they are being ripped off; why not put toll booths around Champaign? Of course, they would have to pay the toll to exit also. Andrew Carnegie is probably spinning in his grave right now. If you want to place an age restriction on the fee, fine; but keep it free for children under the age of 16. Maybe, the U of I will restrict it's library services from the public also.

Neutral wrote on May 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Sharing is a 2-way street. Champaign library users have been receiving the benefits of all the other LTLS libraries since they joined this "sharing" group. Last year, their patrons received over 130,000 items that were sent by the other members of LTLS. You can find those numbers on the LTLS website.

Champaign has restricted what it is willing to share. New items are protected. The queue that picks where you get an item from further protects their items from leaving their building. It is built on their item barcode equals their patron barcode. Their patrons start receiving new items from the other members of this system long before their new items ever leave their building (usually they are blocked for 6 months).

Last year, the rest of the LTLS membership only borrowed 60,000+ items from them.

So they basically received double the items from the rest of the membership than they gave. So, where is the equity in that? Shouldn't that be taken into account? This includes items from Mahomet and Tolono.

For those that use the Champaign Public Library your access will be extremely limited if they leave the automation system. For those that live around Champaign you will still have access to the rest of the system membership. You may have to wait longer for an item and there won't be as much variety but your patrons will still be served.

The article declares how tight the Champaign Public Library's budget is. Many of the smaller libraries in this area send their newest items right away to Champaign's patrons. They have less tax dollars and less staff; yet they share because it is the best way to utilize ALL taxpayer money by collectively sharing.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 25, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Thank you, Neutral. Your comments are enlightening, and appreciated.

John O'Connor wrote on May 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm

It's pretty simple: enough residents of the Tolono district and Mahomet abused what was meant to be an equitable sharing system so that CPL responded by instituting a fee mirroring what all residents of the CPL district pay. They could adequately fund their own libraries; instead, they continually refuse to do so. Then, some express outrage that CPL acted to curb the abuse. They want to have their cake and eat ours too.

The sense of entitlement is baffling and tiresome. They really can choose to adequately fund their own libraries at any time. But if they choose not to do so, they shouldn't be upset or surprised that the CPL now requires them to finally pay for services they have been consuming for a very long time.