Should rural residents pay to use public libraries?

Posted October 3, 2013 at 5:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

Until recently, Plymouth County’s five library directors agreed with the county’s funding formula which resulted in each library getting some funding.

The formula included taking half of the county dollars allocated and splitting it equally among the five libraries. The other half was split according to each library’s percentage of rural circulation. See adjacent chart.

Now, Le Mars library officials want the formula changed, saying they offer more services and serve more rural patrons than the other libraries do.

At their Aug. 27 meeting, the supervisors were displeased with Kroesche’s plan to begin charging rural residents after receiving a call that rural patrons will be refused library services in Le Mars.

Supervisors discussed Le Mars library officials could be in breach of the county’s contract with the five libraries which states city libraries shall furnish all library services to all residents of Plymouth County, on an equal basis, whether such person.

This 1970s contract was revised two years ago to include digital services.

Last week, the Le Mars Public Library Board considered eliminating rural patrons’ access to its library’s digital media materials, including electronic books, magazines and audio books. Plus, rural residents wouldn’t be able to use online programs and services. Furthermore, if rural residents wanted these Le Mars Public Library “digital” services, they would have to purchase a “full-service” card, which costs $20 per person or $30 per family. Rural residents could still come to the library and use the “print” materials at no charge.

But the other library directors disagree with Le Mars’ stance.

“We don’t charge rural patrons,” said Akron Library Director Jeannie Frerichs adamantly, “and we don’t plan to charge rural patrons.”

“We are distancing ourselves from the Le Mars Library (officials),” said Frerichs. “She’s just damaging the rest of us.”

“I really hate I’m saying this in the newspaper because I’ve tried to be her friend,” said Frerichs, “but Sue got to the point where she’s totally unreasonable (when it comes to seeking county funding).”

Each year, the five librarians usually begin meeting in October to come up with a joint budget proposal, which they present to the supervisors each December. Their first joint meeting was to be held Oct. 7.

However, Frerichs and the other three librarians have been meeting together — without Kroesche. On Friday, Frerichs emailed Kroesche saying that Kingsley Library Director Marilyn Lindgren, Merrill Library Director Norma Philips, Remsen Library Director Valerie Loutsch and she would not be meeting with Kroesche at all this year.

For 2012-2013, the Plymouth County Supervisors gave $80,000 to the libraries. This figures out to be $8.97 per capita.

“Sue is asking the supervisors for $18 per capita,” said Frerichs. “For all libraries in Iowa, the state average is only $16.64 per capita.”

When Frerichs became library director in 2003, she discovered the supervisors weren’t allocating even the state minimum county standard for libraries. In fact, Plymouth County was 11th from the bottom — 88th out of the 99 counties in counties’ monetary contributions to their libraries. When Frerichs brought this to the supervisors’ attention, they began increasing the amount allocated to Plymouth County libraries. With last year’s $75,000 contribution, Plymouth County had climbed the county funding ladder to 28th from the bottom.

“The supervisors have been trying for the past 10 years to increase our funding,” said Frerichs. “Because we went from 11th to 28th from the bottom, it means they have been working at helping us. All libraries are getting funding from the county and we have been moving up the ladder. They are trying to get us out of the basement (in county funding in comparison to other counties).”

“We are very pleased with what our cities have done for us, our communities, our county,” said Frerichs, “and all four of us agree if we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it, we buy less, we have a fundraiser or we write a grant.”

“Those are our four options when the money isn’t there,” she said.

“(At the December presentation) we usually tell the supervisors we do this and that with your money, please give us more,” said Frerichs. “They know what we do. We need to address the issues before them right now and say ‘thank you’ for what you’ve done. Instead of saying you gave us $80,000 this year, next year we want $160,000.”

And that’s just what the four librarians have done in a letter to the supervisors which they will be presenting soon.

Going up 17 rungs on the county library funding “is impressive,” the letter states. “Anyone working with budgets understands that you cannot jump to a 100 percent increase overnight. It’s not possible.”

“You can’t raise one department 100 percent without hurting something else along the way,” said Frerichs. “The supervisors are not only funding libraries but roads, sheriff, jail…”

Kroesche was originally going to address the supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 1. However, as of Friday night she has chosen not to.

According to Plymouth County Auditor Stacy Feldman, who is the supervisors’ secretary, the supervisors will be deciding on how to handle the 2014-2015 library funding in the next month or so. Some options they will consider is modifying the contract or leaving it as is, continue funding all libraries or only those that follow the current contract, and whether to increase funding as usual or change the formula.

So far, few rural patrons have voiced their opinion on this issue, said Frerichs.

Changing the Formula

Le Mars library officials have asked the supervisors to change the formula from being based upon a rural circulation to size of libraries.

“The revised contract has been deemed fair because it doesn’t differentiate between the size of our libraries,” said Frerichs, adding “size” may mean the number of community members each library serves.

“Size doesn’t always matter,” she said, explaining she used the Library Data visualization compiled by Connecticut State Library. This showed the Circulation Per Capita formula results.

Using the libraries’ 2011 survey data, Kingsley had the highest circulation per capita at 8.56 followed by Akron, 8.17; Merrill, 6.83; Le Mars, 6.18; and Remsen, 6.12.

Akron remains in second place of the five libraries while Le Mars drops to fourth, explained Frerichs, noting Akron has a rural circulation of 9,644 and “city” patrons of 1,486 plus South Dakota “out-of-state” residents.

The library had a 2012-2013 budget of $77,301.18. It received $17,827 from county coffers. The library receives no funding from South Dakota for its patrons.

But, we provide a service to the community, said Frerichs. We may not receive money for providing out-of-state patrons with services but those patrons benefit our community when they come to town.

“We are a community public library,” said Frerichs.

Kroesche’s claim that the Le Mars library provides more services than the other four libraries is somewhat misleading, said Frerichs, explaining many online services are available through the internet websites at no charge.

Kroesche gave the supervisors a list of services Le Mars’ rural patrons may lose if her library board implements the full-service card plan and rural patrons don’t pay the “full-service card” fee.

According to Frerichs, most of the other four libraries offer these types services to all patrons free of charge.

She noted subtle differences such as Le Mars has both ebooks available through the Western Iowa Library Building Online Resources (WILBOR) and GALE. Akron provides WILBOR ebooks to patrons but GALE is a service where libraries purchase ebooks and Akron doesn’t purchase ebooks.

Another example is both libraries offer EBSCOhost web-based information resources. Akron’s EBSCOhost “package” offers hundreds and hundreds of full-text magazines, journals, encyclopedia, newspapers, graphics and more, she explained. The Le Mars library may have purchased different or more items in their EBSCOhost package.

The Le Mars library offers the Daily Sentinel newspaper online while Akron has past issues of both the Daily Sentinel and Akron Hometowner available in the library.

In a letter to the supervisors, Kroesche has informed the supervisors Le Mars’ rural patrons will not receive the following free once the “full-service card” is implemented:

• eBooks from WILBOR, GALE and Tumble Books;

• Zinio eMagazines;

• Digital audio books from WILBOR and Recorded Books, from which libraries can purchase digital audio books;

• Online Daily Sentinel newspapers;

• Online Britannica encyclopedia;

• Mengo Languages learning language services;

• College prep testing and Learning Express career preparation and computer learning courses; and

• EBSCOhost database resources, including Consumer Health, Hobbies and Crafts, Small Business Reference Center, General news, Literature, Philosophy and Religion; Psychology and Sociology; Business and Economics; Computer Science and Engineering; Earth Environment; Education; Health Sciences; History; Law and Political Science; and Life Sciences.

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