Wednesday, June 8, 2011


We’re getting used to free things, aren’t we? Like TV. I watched the series finale of The Good Wife online because my DVR had missed it. I used to subscribe to the newspaper, but now read the local news online. It's even delivered to my inbox. For free.

So is it any wonder I balk when the original "free" service, the library, asks me to start paying?

Due to budget cuts, I will have to start paying to use my library. Turns out, I was never a real member of the library I’ve been using for fifteen years. I thought I was. I didn’t live in the town where the library was located but it was a county library and I live and pay taxes in that county. I was wrong. All these years of using that branch, I was an interloper, a hanger-on, a freeloader. That library was intended only for the residents of Milpitas. I live in San Jose and therefore have to go to SJ neighborhood libraries.

Ugh. Not there’s anything wrong with these branches. Well, they are a lot smaller, with far fewer options. The computer system isn’t as user friendly. The parking isn’t great. And the hours are limited. I have been spoiled.

My heart belongs in the county system. I gave a speech at the grand opening of the Milpitas branch, on how instrumental libraries were in my writing career.
When my first book came out, I traveled for their Summer of Mystery with other local authors to many of the branches. It was great fun, and a paying gig, which is extremely rare.

I use the library a lot. I read a ton of fiction and couldn’t buy two or three books a week, even if we had a local bookstore. I have a book club that meets there. I give all my used books to the Friends for their book sales. I love my librarians and the volunteers.

I’ve been cast out. The question is, should I pay to get back in?


Julie said...

Well, yes, I'm afraid. As a former public librarian, in an area with similarly confusing jurisdictional issues, I can tell you that tax monies to support libraries are something of a red-headed-stepchild in shrinking budgets. Libraries are often considered "not necessary." They absolutely are, but that's another speech to make. Even Milpitas, with a better tax base than most, is undoubtedly feeling the pinch, and if you aren't in their service area, they are not receiving the per-capita federal or state funds allocated to you as a constituent. I doubt it's a prohibitive amount, but if you pay, it will help them continue to provice such great service.

Katreader said...

I too love libraries. I need them too. Although I have plenty of bookstores near me I simply can't afford to buy all the books I read! I'm also a bit spoiled. The library system here in great-when I moved to Texas it was abysmal and I was buying books. I was so pleased to be back. Now I can use any library in my county for free (although now you have to pay to hold books or order them from other libraries.) If I want to use another county's library I'd have to pay. Would I? I guess it depends on how much they charge. $50 a year? Seems like a lot-but when you figure you pay $75 a MONTH for cable-the library bill sounds downright cheap! Good luck-and if you have the money-support your not so local library!

Linda O. Johnston said...

I love the LA library system, Terri. Although they keep cutting back hours, so far we haven't had to pay anything. But I can understand your quandary. I've had library cards for nearby communities and not had to pay, but I haven't checked them recently.

Terri Thayer said...

I do understand the struggles the libraries go through, and have been so impressed that the county library can stay open long hours and have an impressive collection of books. This was inevitable.

They're asking us to pay $80 year. That's less than the $15 a month I pay Netflix or $12 a month to public radio. And far, far less than my cable bill!

And of course supporting the library is an added bonus.

Thanks for your input, helping me see this in a different way.

Janice said...

You may be interested in fellow author, Susan Wise Bauer's issue with a local library. Unfortunately, she can't even pay to use it. Check her story on her blog

While in SC there was the same kind of thing between Richland and Lexington counties, even if you worked, shopped in Richland you had to pay $25 a year to use their library. It was tough for teacher's who worked in the county but couldn't use their resources unless they lived there. Unlike where I presently live, MD, they had a limit on the number of materials teacher's could take out so colleagues couldn't really help.

Terri Thayer said...

I'll check it out, Janice. It's always tough when resources have to be limited. Teachers have a hard enough time!

Carol S said...

I pay $40 a year to get my local library card because I live 1-1/2 miles north of town in a different county. Yes, it is worth it to me because I can order books online and they email me when they are ready to be picked up, and I can renew online if I don't get finished in two weeks time.

Terri Thayer said...

For a while when we moved to Long Island in the early sixties, we didn't have a free library. Our town went by school district boundaries and the school district we were in used town boundaries. We were in no man's land. They fixed that eventually.

The bottom line is I think I'll pay the $80.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could work out a trade, books or appearances for a free card. I also live in San Jose but my son is a volunteer firefighter in Milpitas. The people there are wonderful about holding fundraisers for the Spring Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Maybe you could volunteer to host a book drive or some such thing and they could grant you an "honorary" citizen card. Good Luck! Debra Thompson