Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Change for the better may be coming on Durham Library room fees

There are signs that the recently imposed Durham County Library meeting room fees will soon be modified or reduced.  
The County Commissioners asked the Library administration to develop a plan for fees in May.  Apparently this was initially done to make up for reduced income from overdue book fines, which have also been changed, without any increase in County budgeting.  The actual policy was approved by the Commissioners at the September 10th meeting, apparently unanimously.  The fees were going to be $50 dollars for non-profit use for up to 4 hours and $100 dollars for more than 4 hours, and double these fees for for-profit use.  For-profit use has actually been allowed all along, but it had to be open to the public and I think non-commercial.  Some small rooms would stay free, and now there is free space at all of the libraries save Southwest.  The new fees do not seem to be popular in the system and, after public complaints, the fees for non-profits were halved.  Initially the Library expected to make $30,000 dollars a year from the fees, but now they expect half that, and I think the figure for lost overdue books income was around $240,000 dollars (last year's figure), so the administration is not very concerned about getting extra funds from the fees.  The rationale for the fees is now room maintenance.  I still think the rooms are pretty clean, but there have been some cleaning issues and recent (and short-lived) floor replacements.  The administration doesn't actually know the statistics for room usage, but is in the process of finding out for some short period.        
The Durham People's Alliance ( has been lobbying against the fees and sent letters to the County Commissioners and Library Board of Trustees a few weeks ago, requesting a public forum on the fees.  As a result there was a meeting between PA representatives and "Skip" Auld and Ken Berger Monday afternoon, and the PA is planning to speak at the Board of Trustees meeting on the 11th.  Anyone can request to speak at a Board meeting, but the agenda is not posted online.  The Board has been asked to make new recommendations to the Commissioners, and the administration seems to want to reduce or eliminate the fees.  The sliding scale, based on an organization's budget, which the Library came up with earlier, is considered too much of a hassle to administer.  The old refreshments fee might be restored, instead of the fees.  It would help if organizations could solicit donations at the meetings, to pay the room fee, which is not currently allowed.  The administration seems to be sympathetic, believing that the libraries should be centers in the community and means to increase the availability of information.
Some other issues came up, like future plans and how decisions are made about removing worn or little used books.  Apparently the various libraries are behind in going through their collections, and there is more change in the collections than I thought, but that is because these are not academic research libraries.                  

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