Fight over library fee takes new shape

The Champaign library has a new plan to ease the burden caused by checkouts by out-of-district residents.

Champaign library officials wouldn't have won any popularity contests in Mahomet, Savoy and Tolono after they instituted a $200 annual fee for residents of those communities who wanted to check materials out of the library.

Now they probably won't win any popularity contests after deciding to drop the fee but limit nonresidents to checking out no more than two items at a time. But given both the budget constraints and the demands for service placed on the Champaign library, the decision by library board members is understandable.

In a new policy that will go into effect on Thursday, the Champaign library is limiting checkouts to all nonresidents, with the exception of those in Urbana. Previously, the library had placed the restriction, in the form of the $200 annual fee, only on the residents of the Mahomet and Tolono library districts.

This ongoing dispute has placed the Champaign library at odds with, first, the Lincoln Trails Library System, and now its successor, the Illinois Heartland Library System.

Arguing that charging a fee to nonresidents is contrary to state law, Heartland recently threatened to suspend Champaign's membership in the cooperative organization, which allows for wide sharing of library materials. While not accepting Heartland's legal interpretation, Champaign acquiesced on the fee and countered with the checkout limitation.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that Mahomet, Savoy and Tolono are essentially bedroom communities to Champaign-Urbana. Hundreds of residents of those communities, many of them University of Illinois employees, drive to Champaign-Urbana daily, and it's more convenient for them to use the Champaign library, or perhaps Urbana's fine library, than their own.

In doing so, they put a burden on the Champaign library. Numbers show that in 2009-10 Tolono and Mahomet cardholders checked out 253,000 items from Champaign, far more than the 208,000 items checked out of their own libraries.

That's a problem, and it's unfortunate that Heartland refused to even acknowledge it as a problem. Finding a solution also has proved to be a problem.

It will be interesting to see how this standoff plays out. Heartland may object to the checkout limitation, although libraries certainly ought to be able to set their own rules regarding library materials.

Just as the library fee essentially forced Mahomet and Tolono residents back to their own libraries, the checkout limitation is designed to have a similar effect. Time will tell if it will work. Champaign library director Marsha Grove said she expects residents of those communities back in larger numbers than before because of all the media attention the dispute has generated.

Meanwhile, the Champaign library is wrestling with what to do about the relative handful of $200 library cards it issued to nonresidents. Should it refund the full amount or provide only a prorated refund?

Since library officials have reluctantly accepted the Heartland ultimatum, the best approach would be to refund the full amount. It if was inappropriate to charge a fee in the first place, it's equally inappropriate to return less than the full amount. Frankly, it's a minor point on which no more time ought be spent.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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Sid Saltfork wrote on December 05, 2011 at 2:12 pm

A limit is reasonable if Champaign is limited to the same extent by the other libraries.  Information was provided by previous comments on the issue that Champaign borrows more than it loans.  There is nothing wrong with a limit if it is the same limit for all.  Sharing is the basis of our library systems.  Andrew Carnegie can rest easy now. 

Yatiri wrote on December 06, 2011 at 8:12 am

Seems fair to me.

But there is another lesson here for those who abuse generosity.  If you abuse a generous system you are killing the goose that lays golden eggs.

Yes, you cardholders who abusively checked out more than your reasonable share, I am speaking directly to you. Those 10 who checked out so many items they could not have possibly even digested so much.  You know who you are and shame on you.  Your inconsiderate behavior caused this problem.

parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on December 05, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I agree with previous comment; as a courtesy to our fellow readers the limit should be reciprocal; you only trade 2-- we only trade two; equality and courtesy are wholly missing in this altercation.

serf wrote on December 05, 2011 at 10:12 pm

You know, I keep hearing over and over that Mahomet checked out X number of books during that specific time period.  Weren't they building a new library in Mahomet during that time period?  Couldn't that have something to do with the fact that the numbers might have been skewed?  For a better estimate, what's the number averaged over the past ten years or so.


If I only knew a reporter that could look into that.....

Place Holder Name wrote on December 06, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Just to update the news story, I recieved a prorated refund for my library fee a few days ago.  Apparently, I was one of just 21 households to purchase the special card.

From a philosophical stand point, I have no problem paying for services such as this.  I also pay extra to go swimming with the family at the Champaign pool.  Seems fair to me.