Library System Suspends Champaign Library Over Patron Fee

November 03, 2011

The director of Illinois' downstate library system hopes the Champaign Public Library can come up with an alternative to charging some out of town patrons a $200 dollar annual fee.

The Heartland Library System board voted last week to suspend Champaign's membership as a result of that fee. Champaign started charging that fee to Tolono and Mahomet district patrons last year due to the strain their borrowing had on the library's resources. In 60 days, the suspension will kick in, barring the library from checking out books from other resources. It also wouldn't be eligible for receiving state and federal grants.

Heartland director Leslie Bednar says the move to suspend the library wasn't an easy one, but its board wanted to send a message.

"I mean, that's kind of where we are now, and why we are there is to hopefully resolve this," said Bednar. "But ultimately, it's a decision for the Champaign Public Library board to make, and they have to make the decision for the patrons that they serve. They were imposing a fee which is in direct opposition to the Library System Act."

Champaign Library Director Marsha Grove says her board will likely explore another option, such as limiting the number of items patrons from the neighboring districts can check out. She says losing the annual $77,000 per capita grant (a federal grant filtered through the state) that all libraries receive would have a detrimental effect.

"It doesn't really seem fair to Champaign residents that they would have to lose that," said Grove. "It certainly doesn't seem fair to the library board. We don't want to give up that $77,000. That's pretty important."

Grove says the library is already doing more with less. She says about 90-percent of the library's revenue comes from property taxes, which have remained flat the last couple of years while expenses go up. Champaign's library has had to leave 14 positions vacant through attrition the last 3 years.

Grove says the fee on the Tolono and Mahomet systems has helped deter some of those patrons, who are now using their home libraries more often.

The Heartland Library System is fairly new, the result of a merger last summer of four smaller systems. It includes 594 member libraries.

Story source: WILL