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.

August 15th, 2006 by