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regard as trustworthy that was previously held by public libraries in hard copy and was accessible for free, has now been replaced by online  resources, some of which can’t really be accessed by casual users – due to high cost of subscriptions.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.