Why We Need Free Public Libraries More Than Ever

Keith Michael Fiels - Keith Michael Fiels is the executive director of the American Library Association.

Jul 27 2011, 3:00 PM ET

By Keith Michael Fiels

Yes, it's time to bring a beloved institution into the 21st century -- but not by making it less effective

As a former head of the state library agency in Massachusetts and a taxpayer myself, I read with interest the recent Atlantic editorial in which an elected official from Swampscott, Massachusetts proposed public library user fees as a reasonable and "modern" solution to some perceived imbalance.
Under this proposal, a 50 cent user fee would be added to each book circulated by the library. In addition to addressing the supposed tax inequity created by the current system of funding for the Swampscott Library, the proposal would generate an estimated $300,000 in additional funds for the library.
The fact is: This would be the costliest additional revenue ever generated.
The reasons for this are twofold: First of all, this fee, while described as nominal, would hurt those most in need of the free services the library offers. While Swampscott is a relatively well-to-do town by national standards, there are plenty of unemployed and/or poor people living in the town. The costs that might not make a difference to the wealthiest users would certainly constitute an additional barrier to use for almost everyone else ...
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