CHAMPAIGN — Library officials plan to rescind their policy of charging $200 annually to members of the Tolono and Mahomet districts to use the Champaign library, the board chairman said on Friday.
But the policy change comes with a new restriction on most non-Champaign library card holders: With the exception of Urbana card holders, non-residents will be limited to checking out a maximum of two items at a time at the Champaign library.
The library board gave preliminary approval to the changes this week, but the library's policy committee will still need to work out the details before the Dec. 8 effective date, board chairman Rusty Freeland said. Still pending is what will happen to the money some non-residents have already paid for the $200 special library card.
"That will be addressed in the policy," Freeland said. "That was not discussed at the meeting" Thursday night.
The policy change comes only weeks after the Illinois Heartland Library System threatened to suspend the Champaign library from the group. Had that suspension been finalized, Champaign residents would have lost access to materials at other libraries in the region, and the library would have become ineligible for thousands of dollars in state "per capita" grants.
The Illinois Heartland Library System is the conduit through which 594 downstate libraries share books and other materials. It was formed when four smaller systems, including the Lincoln Trail Libraries System, merged this summer.
Last month, the Heartland system moved to suspend the Champaign library and exclude it from the reciprocal borrowing system. That suspension triggered a review by the state of Illinois, which had 60 days to either uphold or overturn the suspension.
Leslie Bednar, the director of the Heartland system, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Freeland said the pending suspension did not change his opinion of the $200 user fee, but the possibility of losing the grant money did.
"By adopting this more uniform policy" on most non-residents, Freeland said, "we should be in compliance with the Heartland policies, and that should allow them to rescind the suspension."
The user fee was established when Champaign library officials felt residents of the Mahomet and Tolono districts were overusing the Champaign facility and not adequately using their home libraries. That put a strain on the budget and the library collection, Freeland said, and that problem still exists today.
"It's really an equity issue, and I'm just looking at it as a member of the Champaign Public Library board, representing the taxpayers of Champaign," Freeland said.
It is not an uncommon problem, he said, and one that might need to be addressed at the state level.
"It's really just a difficult issue," Freeland said. "And unfortunately, the state library law and the creation of these two systems (IHLS and another in the northern region of the state) are just not really able to address under their current policies and under the current statutes and limitations."
The policy committee meeting will be open to the public, but a date for that meeting has yet to be scheduled. Committee members will meet before the proposed Dec. 8 effective date of the policy change.