Guest Column: Charging for library use

CYNDI STEVENSON
CYNDI STEVENSON
My guest column in Historic City News today is in response to a citizen recommendation that each library card holder be charged a fee for using the library.

Let me say that I appreciate and have invited citizen participation in the budget process; I do not believe taxpayers make “stupid suggestions” even though all ideas cannot be adopted for one reason or another.

The County issues over 100,000 cards a year. It was suggested that by charging $20 for each cardholder -a modest fee- the county could raise $2,000,000 per year.

During a recent meeting with the County Administrator, Michael Wanchick, several citizens learned more about the St. Johns County Library Service.

The 100,000 cards outstanding include multiple cards issued to one household. If charges were applied to cards, fewer cards would be issued, as households would share a single card. There is no number for how many households hold cards; but, there are about 80,000 households in the county. It is unlikely that each household holds a card each year. Library use, like many county resources are used more intensely at different stages and circumstances of life.

Libraries have traditionally been a free community resource, ensuring access to books and resources to people of varying means and places in life. In recent years they have been given access to the internet and email to people who would not otherwise have it. Many people use it to look for and apply for jobs on-line.

If the County charged fees for services to residents, the County would lose aid to libraries from the State of Florida. This was $113,000 last year.

In addition, the county would have to repay construction grant money already received in the amount of $790,000 if it began charging for library cards. Library construction grant money would also come due, if any is outstanding, if a branch were to be closed.

St. Johns County is allowed to charge a fee to non-residents who wish to receive a library card. Currently we charge $40 per year for non-residents. In 2012 the Library Advisory Board proposed a reduction to $20 per year to encourage more non-residents to purchase a card. We have over 3,000 non-resident cards outstanding.

Private donations, including donations from Friends of the Library, further reduce the cost of the library to taxpayers.

Two county libraries are open 5 days a week and 4 are open 6 days a week.

Many use the library as a place for a low cost social outing, for young children to gather and read, school children meet to work on a project and look things up, books on tape and old movies are shared, computers are used for job searches by people of modest means and who may be between jobs.

Libraries are important to our communities and offer access to information for people of all means and ages. We have a strong internet presence and research can be done online with your library membership, books can be ordered and made available at your branch or book mobile to leverage our existing collections.

Libraries are part of what makes our community what it is.

Others believe that libraries will become a thing of the past because of e-books and online content. Looking into the future, people will still want a place to meet, gather, discuss, have speakers, learn and be inspired. The way the library building square footage is used may change, but they will still be important parts of our community.

The library services are made possible by many volunteers and donations from the community. The Friends of the Library have enriched our lives in many ways, including bringing noted authors to our area for lectures and by promoting reading for people of all ages. Libraries are essential to our community’s success and instill a lifelong love of learning in people of all ages.

It is my hope that the county will continue to invest in its people through our libraries.

Charging a small fee for cards, while it seems an easy answer, would yield less revenue than has been estimated and would have immediate negative financial consequences to the county. Families are in need of low cost entertainment, information and access to databases that can help them with job searching services and information to advance their knowledge and education.

Additionally fees for libraries could place services out of reach of people when they need it most and reduce the use for people who have tight budgets.

I am pleased to share the result of this inquiry with you. The Administration and the Board continue to look for ways to deliver quality services that our community needs or desires as well as fill mandates from the Federal and State government at a reasonable cost.

Respectfully,

Cyndi Stevenson
St. Johns County Commissioner
District 1

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