Thursday, May 15, 2008

Changing the world one library card at a time.

I am a card-carrying believer in the power of the public library. I got my first library card at 5 - the earliest age allowed at the Lee County Library. I checked out the 5 allowed books at least once a week, read them, took them back and got more. My grandmother was one of the librarians there. She had a masters degree (obtained in 1957) from the first and best library science programs in the county. The rules of how to treat a book were ingrained in me from a very early age.

And the beautiful thing about the library is that is was all FREE! All those wonderful books on any topic you could imagine. The public library is freedom. Anyone can use it. It opens its doors to you no matter who you are. And most librarians I know are very helpful, intelligent people - not the stereotypical "shusher". You can get books, music and movies at the library. It breaks down all socioeconomic barriers.

Then there is my current public library. I should have known 7 years ago when I tried to get a library card when I lived in the next county over. They wanted me to pay them an annual fee of $60 to use the services of the library because I lived over this arbitrary line. It didn't matter that this was the closest library to me.

Very disturbing. So I continued to use the library in the town I used to live in. They didn't care that I lived 45 minutes away and in another county. I reserved books, picked them up and returned them when I was done and it wasn't too inconvenient, but it really chapped my hide to have to do it. But I wasn't going to pay for the library! That is what my taxes are for and my overdue fees (yes, I do forget from time to time to get my books back on time).

Now I live in the county and have a card. The last few years, most of it's activity has been for children's books, cookbooks and knitting books. I have been amazed that the selection is not better for what is supposed to be a very educated populace with a high percentage of phD's. Books on tape and CD's. I have just browsed the shelves and checked out what looked interesting.

Until now. I went online to reserve 2 books to read for a book club I am in. One dollar. They want a one dollar fee to reserve a book. For each book.

I was livid. A free library is requiring a dollar to reserve a book. I used to reserve 10-20 books at a time in my single, childless days, I never would have been able to afford to use this library like that.

So I haven't reserved the books yet. Yes, I can afford the one dollar, but it is the principle of the thing. I don't mind paying my overdue fees. My bad. Because I am an idiot that can't seem to renew with the easy online service, or get all the children's books that have been scattered to all 4 corners of the house, I gladly fork over the exorbitant overdue fees they charge because I might be holding someone else up and I am a bit scatterbrained.

But a reserve fee is just money grubbing. I am happy for my taxes to go to the library - I will gladly earmark extra for them (and take it from the mayor's salary). But you don't charge a fee for a standard library service. Next thing you know the librarian will have a tip jar out because she told you where the child psychology section was located.

So I wrote a little letter to the library trustees and this is the result...


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