The Travelin' Librarian Uncategorized Disappointed


DSC01755Today I unofficially visited the Marshall Public Library in Pocatello, ID just to take a look around and snap some photos. (All of the photos I took are in my recent Idaho flickr set.) While walking back toward the front door one sign (shown right) caught my eye. I started reading it and noticed that the library required a library card in order to use the Internet computers. This is standard procedure for most libraries so I continued reading wondering to myself what happens if you don’t have a library card, as I don’t. Here’s the relevant passages:

A fee of six dollars ($6.00) per hour or fraction of an hour will be charged everyone who does not meet these criteria.

Why? Because the routers, connections, computers and other things involved with providing Internet services cost money. The citizens of Pocatello pay for this, and the Marshall Public Library receives no other money to cover these costs. The Marshall Public Library extends Internet and other services to patrons of those libraries which reciprocate service to Marshall Public Library patrons. It is only fair that all others pay a share of the costs involved.

As Michael Stephens blogged “…if I came in on vacation to use the internet I’d turn and flee for sure!” Michael also says he “understands the thinking” but I can say that I don’t

First, yes, equipment costs money. Yes, the connection costs money. But the costs are the same no matter who is using the equipment and the connection. In fact, the cost is exactly the same if nobody is using the equipment or connection. (I’m assuming that they’re not paying based on connect time or actual bandwidth usage.) If the cost is the same for a local, a visitor, and for nobody, why should the visitor be penalized.

Second, a visitor is not charged to use a book while in the library. If the library wants to charge a visitor for borrowing privileges I can understand that a little (though I still don’t like it) since there is an increased chance of a non-resident walking off with materials (even inadvertently) than with someone who has a permanent residence in said community. However, a visitor is not (hopefully) taking your computer out of the library, just as they’re not taking a book out of your library so why should they be changed to use a computer on the premises and not be charged to use a book on the premises. (Books cost money too.)

Third, a visitor may not be paying taxes directly to the library, but they are contributing to the economy, usually in the form of sales-tax. More visitors, more extra income for the community. Alienating those visitors with such a policy doesn’t help.

Fourth, I have a problem with the “services just for our tax payers” logic whenever it comes up. Just imagine a fire truck arriving on the scene of a car accident involving a resident and a visitor. Upon finding that one of the people needing assistance is from out of state, the firemen decide not to help since they visitor doesn’t pay taxes. I don’t see that information needs should be treaded any differently.

Additionally, I do pay taxes to a library, just not yours. However, when I am in your town, I’m not using the services of my library. At the same time one of your tax-paying patrons may be in my home town wanting to use the services of my library. I’d say that’s a wash in the end.

Hey, what about locals that aren’t paying taxes that support the library. If you’re a library district, you get property taxes. Do you then deny services to those residents that live in apartments?

Lastly, on the taxing issue, imagine what would happen if every single one of your tax-paying citizens suddenly demanded services from your library. My guess is that you wouldn’t be able to help all of them. Admit it, not all of your tax-paying citizens use your services. So, how about spreading some good will, and letting a visitor use the services that one of the locals isn’t?

(Click on this post’s image to read the discussion going on in Flickr.)

On a related note, I’ve started a Library signage group on flickr. Feel free to join and submit your favorite (for good reasons or for bad) library signs.


13 thoughts on “Disappointed”

  1. Mary says:

    I agree, our library allows everyone the use of internet computers for one hour per day. I do, however, like the part on the other sign that says not to harass the library staff!!

  2. Mike Doellman, Director, Marshall Public Library says:

    The policy was put in place because the Marshall Public Library was being used by tourists to the extent that the taxpayers weren’t being accomodated. New hardware and software have since been installed which pretty much eliminate the problem, and we will be proposing the elimination of the policy at the September meeting of the Board of Trustees.

    However, on the basic principle of “fee for use” of the Internet, I suggest that you investigate what is done in such places as Ketchikan, Alaska and Rancho Cucamonga, California (in fact more that a few libraries in California). Ketchikan, for example, permits NO use of the Internet by tourists — they get up to 30 thousand tourists off the cruise ships every day during the “season.”
    And I’m not even touching on the policies of libraries outside the US — Canada, England, and others. (Yes, I’ve looked into it.)

    I will also point out that the Internet access costs more than a little money in staff time and equipment in addition to telecom costs. Our budget has been cut by more than $270,000 in the last three years, our primary clientele is the citizens of Pocatello who pay the bills (just as the clientele of ANY public library is, in the final analysis the same group)….

    But as I said earlier, we’re recommending a change in September.

  3. Michael says:

    Mr. Doellman,

    Thank you for your well written response and I am (as I’m sure others are) glad that the library feels the policy should be changed. We have the same issues in Colorodo in the resort areas with visitors yet I am not aware of any library in the state that is charging for visitor use. (If there is one, I would have the same problems.) I woud agree that a situation in which 30 thousand visitors might cause such a policy discussion but I’m still not sure charging would be the best solution.

    If you haven’t already, you may wish to view the comments posted to flickr relating to your policy. They might be of use to you when it comes to presenting the question to your board.

    Lastly, I would be interested in hearing the results of your request after the board meeting.

  4. Mike Doellman says:

    What I failed to mention (and most certainly should have) is that at the time we had six (6) PCs available for public Internet access. That number has been increased since then, and will very soon be increased again.

    We have had, since shortly after the policy was put into place, had a seperate, unmoderated and “un-sign-up-able” PC available which anyone could and can use for 15 minutes to check their email. This was the use to which most “tourists” put their Internet access, and we did our best to accomodate that.

    In short, it wasn’t as bad as it appears.

    What wasn’t mentioned either was the permanent exhibit of paintings (including a 350-year-old Japanese Ema painting) and photographs (including those of Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and others) the Library houses, the new Book Wagon (pop over to and take a look at the only one of its kind in in the US, as far as we know), and other things we’re doing.

    But the Internet access questions brings up, at least in my mind, larger issues. Issues like, “What ARE the core functions of a public library and how can we meet them?” “When do we realize that libraries can’t be everything to everybody and, as Herb White has suggested, we learn to say a firm “NO!”?

  5. Michael says:

    I’m glad to hear that there was a terminal available for visitors to check their e-mail at no charge. Had that been listed in the policy notice, I still would have had issue with the charging portion of it, but maybe not as much had that option been conveyed to visitors.

    Also, I would like to let you know that I will be attending the upcoming Idaho library conference in Moscow this October and would enjoy the chance to meet you. You’ll be able to find me in the BCR booth for most of the conference.

  6. Mike Doellman says:

    I will be at the CODI Conference in Salt Lake City at the time of the ILA conference in Moscow. I invite you to come ’round to the Library (perhaps after the ILA Conference?) and I’ll even take you to lunch. If you wish, email me at the email address on the administration page of the website.

    I’ll have two staff members at ILA, and I’ll have them pop ’round to meet you.

    Mike Doellman

  7. Kris G. says:


    Come to Idaho State University’s Oboler Library, located about two miles from Marshall Public. As a part of our community service mission, any visitor may use one of our public terminals, for free. All you need to do is show a photo ID at the circulation desk and receive a visitor log-in.

  8. Bill S. says:

    Does that town charge visitors to use their roads ????
    Roads would last a lot longer if people did not drive on them !

  9. Anonymous says:

    100% of the money we receive is from from property taxes. (Currently there is a revolt against high property taxes in Idaho and the Governor has called a special session of the Legislature to “repair” the property tax system. Frankly, Idaho doesn’t have a clue about what constitutes high property taxes, IMO.)

    No E-rate (although I’m working on that). No state money. No federal money. Nothing from the sales tax, nothing from gasoline taxes — the money comes ONLY from property taxes.

    It has been argued that we owe non-taxpayers nothing at all. Zip, zilch, nada. Don’t even let them in the doors.

    However, cooler heads have prevailed and I hope will continue to prevail. We participate in state-wide reciprocal borrowing, and we’re one of the few “large” libraries to do so (the only one in Eastern Idaho). Idaho Falls PL does not participate, Boise Public Library does not participate…because they feel that non-residents would descend like a plague of locusts, take everything they own, and leave nothing for the taxpayers (yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve heard that in four states for 30+ years, but facts don’t seem to change anyone’s mind). Heck, there are some libraries out here (which shall remain nameless) that don’t even lend on ILL, even though they DO borrow.

    This ain’t the East or even the Midwest. It ain’t California (yet!) and it ain’t Utah. If you’d like to help change it, why not take a job out here and work at it?

    Mike Doellman

  10. Dan says:

    One more thought from Idaho:

    I work in an academic library, not public, but from having been involved in statewide access issues I know that a significant percentage of Idaho residents have NO public library service. A great many public libraries in Idaho charge a fee, such as $75 per year, for access by those who don’t live within their taxing/service district. Why? People a few miles away who don’t have library service, and who consistently vote against creating library service, hit them hard for services.

    As to free internet access at the university, anyone can walk into the library and use any of our 70 or so workstations for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or internet access. If we’re very crowded at term paper time, we ask the non-university people to relinquish their seat. This doesn’t happen often. There is no time limit on use of the workstations for anybody.

    However, for one to access the campus network, wired or wireless, from their own laptop, they have to authenticate with their university logon and password. This is a campus security requirement, and is not determined by the library. We refer those who want open access with their laptops to the public library, about a mile away, that has such access (though it is filtered)

    Our access for visitors is simpler than it is at Idaho State, as we don’t require logins to use the computer. Some of our non-university users are regulars, and may camp out for several hours a day. Again, if they don’t cause any problems or we’re not overly crowded, it is just not an issue.

    Dan Lester,

  11. Mike Doellman says:

    About the fees charged non-resident, non-taxpaying users of public libraries: this is common practice. I’ve worked in public libraries for more than 30 years, in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and now Idaho and in three of the four states non-residents were charged for a card (unless reciprocal borrowing arrangements were in effect). For instance, when I was in Indiana, St Joseph County Public Library charged residents of (I believe it was) Greene Township for a card because Greene Township, although in St. Joe County, had elected not to pay the tax to support SJCPL. The same thing was true in Elkhart — people might live across a street would be in a township without library service, their neighbor could get a card because the township line went down the middle of the road.

    Mike Doellman

  12. Michael says:


    I see the charge for borrowing privileges a totally different issue. I don’t particularly like that sort of charge but I understand it since you’re allowing a non-resident to remove material from your library and, by the fact that they don’t live in your standard service area, the chance of the item not being returned in a timely manner is (somewhat) increased.

    However, no library charges non-residents to use material in the library. The computers are in the library and not allowed to be removed, so why should they be treated differently from books?

    However, let me repeat that I’m glad you’re asking your board to change the policy. As I blogged just this morning, Post Falls Public Library allows anyone from anywhere to get borrowing privileges. Maybe you can discuss the issues with them and use them as an example for your board.

    If the board does not decide to change the policy might I suggest that the sign regarding the policy be at least reworded into something much more friendly to visitors to your town as others have suggested.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I don’t believe in charging guests to use the internet. I live in a state where almost all libraries have a recipricol agreement. But we still have folks who for whatever reasons don’t have a library card (they don’t want the governement tracking their internet use, they have fines, so pretend they don’t have a card, a parent doesn’t have time to come in and sign for a child, etc.) We make our “guest cards” much less desireable than a real library card (30 minutes a day, no extensions, vs. 3 60-minute sessions provided no one is waiting; all guest cards are filtered whereas regular users pick if they want filtered or unfiltered access). We have another option: visitor cards. These are designed for people who will be in the area only for a short time (“I’m here only for a semester as a student.” or “I’m in town visiting for three weeks”) Those customers put down a $5 deposit, have full computer use, may borrow up to 5 books, and receive their deposit back when the turn in their books and the card. Obviously that wouldn’t work for 30,000 daily cruise ship tourists, but it works for a lot of other people. One last thought — many of the people who request guest cards would never be able to afford $6/hour.

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