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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Future: Access Uniform Fees at the Library?

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 1, 2005

The student asks the librarian for information for his research project for school. The information he needs is found online using the library's databases and includes full text copies of journal articles. A pamphlet published by the federal government also answers his needs, as well as an educational video. When the librarian's search is complete, the student is told to step to the library cash register so he can pay for the information.

Is this some sort of science fiction? No, it is an amendment to the State Budget Bill that has passed the Ohio House of Representatives in April. Use of the Internet, use of library databases, checkout of any audio-visual materials, are all part of the Uniform fee amendment added to the State Budget at the last minute.

It states that a library can "assess uniform fees for the provision of services to patrons of the library."  Exempted to that fee is the "circulation of printed materials held by the library." This proposal creates more questions than it answers.

Does this mean that the library must charge fees, or is that a local choice?  Are the "uniform" fees set by a state agency? If Interlibrary Loan borrows a book, is a fee charged because it is not a book "held by the library?" There is apparently a lack of understanding regarding the purpose of a "free public library."

A public library is established and funded collectively by government for the "public good" for all to use. A public library is not a commercial bookstore, or a commercial video rental agency.  A library has a collection of materials in all formats to meet the information needs of the citizens of Ohio.

A bookstore or video rental store has items that are being marketed for sale to the public, which the public would desire to purchase.

I assume this amendment is meant to address the proposed cut in library funding, by providing an alternate revenue stream for libraries. Did I mention that these fees would be subject to state sales tax?  So the State provides a revenue stream, and also receives a portion of the fees in return? What about Summer Reading Club, Parent-Child Workshops, and library programs for the public?  Does this amendment make charges for them?

It appears that someone is trying to turn back time 200 years.  In 1816, a group of interested citizens formed a subscription lending library in Steubenville. The purpose was to pool resources so some books could be acquired and shared among the members of the library. The subscription library grew rapidly in the back of a Drug Store, opened every Saturday for two hours. As time passed, the City Library Association was formed and government began purchasing books for the library for all to share.

The same thing was happening all across Ohio, and today 251 public library districts operate over 800 branches around the state providing information services to the citizens of Ohio. Now we are going to put a cash register at the door of those libraries?