Thoughts On Library Membership Charges

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This article about the introduction of membership charges at Bexley Village Library caught my eye today.

The article states:

BVCL is planning to introduce three levels of membership to the library.

- Reader’s Ticket – Free membership and free loans of stock, with some limits to the numbers of items which can be borrowed. Due dates and fines will apply.

- Library Member – A £24 annual fee will see people join as full members of the wider charity. Benefits will include being able to borrow a higher number of books, keeping books for an unlimited time, a free period of use on the public computers, discounts in the cafe and priority booking for events.

- Gold Membership – Customers can join as a ‘patron’ for a £75 annual subscription. Members would be making a donation to the running costs of the library and attracting additional funds to the charity through Gift Aid. BVCL will reinvest income earned through membership in new library stock. 
Two things (Edit: Three things now) struck me about this membership scheme and membership schemes in general:
  1. I’d consider free access to online information as part of the core functions of a comprehensive public library service – a large proportion of reference material you would regard as trustworthy that was previously held by public libraries in hard copy and was accessible for free, has now been replaced by online  resources, some of which can’t really be accessed by casual users – due to high cost of subscriptions.
  2. Apart from  Central Government funding cuts, another reason local councils are having to save money is because Council Taxes were capped. This ensured local residents didn’t have to stick their hands in their pockets any deeper to pay for local services. Membership schemes like this mean that residents are still going to have that money taken out of their pockets anyway.
  3. (Edit) If you have more money you’ll receive more library services. This is at odds with the ethos behind public libraries, which provides services for free because it’s recognised that some people can’t afford or don’t have access to these services/resources via any other means.

I’m not pointing the finger at Bexley Village Community Library for doing this. At the end of the day they have stepped in to provide a service the council has a responsibility to provide free of charge.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts On Library Membership Charges

  1. Your last paragraph goes to the heart of the problem. If volunteers have to find the money to maintain library buildings and grants get harder and harder to obtain, how can they keep their libraries open without charging for something, somewhere? It’s a question of paying up or closing down.

    None of us believes we should have to pay for libraries. They should be free….or rather, our council taxes should pay for them. No doubt many feel disillusioned with our local authorities throughout the country. Accountability? Consultations? Efficiency? These are words which appear in many lengthy management-speak documents but are never translated into action.

    Of course libraries could be kept open but they never will while the pigs are in charge of the farmyard and yes, Councillors, I am making a literary reference here. I found the book in the library – dangerous places, those libraries.

  2. Jonathan Rooks

    Hi Gary, I am the chair of the group that will be taking over Bexley Village Library from Bexley Council.

    We first got involved because we were concerned that the library was going to be closed if a group didn’t come forwards. I have to be fair to Bexley Council and say that they have been very supportive of our project and I do believe their motivation is the protection of local services in the face of government funding cuts. I would say that I am politically active in opposition to the party that controls Bexley, so this isn’t me ‘sucking up’.

    We will be able to maintain free access to the Library and the Library will be open for nine more hours a week than it is at the moment. We will also have an experienced member of staff seconded to us from the Council.

    We have decided to introduce a small charge for access to computers as it will cost us a lot to keep that service going. If we can do it for free later, we will.

    Our membership scheme is aimed at the large number of people who don’t use libraries at the moment. Our ‘research’ shows that a lot of people don’t use libraries because of the nuisance of returning/renewing books on time. Our paying members essentially avoid fines, so we hope to be able to welcome many uses back to this library. Bexley village has a large commuting population and the current availability of the library of only a couple of hours on a Saturday is a big disincentive to use the service. We hope to overcome this.

    I do think we have to be careful when discussing community groups taking over local libraries. I think you would find that almost all would rather not be doing it. Do we all oppose the closing of libraries (with limited success it would seem so far) or do we get involved in protecting community access by taking the libraries under our control?

    I’m not certain what the answer is, but Bexley Village Library is not closing and will be open 9 more hous per week.

    Regards

    Jonathan Rooks
    Bexley Village Community Library

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