One year later, residents see fee system benefits

Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo Local residents have increased access to books and other materials at the Los Altos main and Woodland Branch libraries after a fee reduced use by nonresidents.

Although it was a public relations concern at the time, the $80 library-card fee imposed on users not residing in the Santa Clara County Library District in July 2011 has since proven mostly beneficial to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills users.

Nearly 14 months after the fee went into effect, statistics show increased patronage of the Los Altos main and Woodland Branch libraries by local residents and more materials available to them with decreased competition from nondistrict users.

Jane Cronkhite, community librarian at the Los Altos main library, said circulation of materials at the two town libraries last month was 130,089, up approximately 6 percent from July 2011.

Cronkhite noted that local residents are checking out more items. She said 81 percent of circulation at the Los Altos main and Woodland branch libraries is by Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents. Prior to the nonresident fee, residents accounted for 55 percent of total circulation.

“We have reduced wait times for very popular items requested by patrons,” she said, adding that the fee had no impact on library hours. “We have been able to focus on increasing library services to residents.”

Cronkhite said other benefits include outreach activities such as the new bookmobile stop at Gardner Bullis School in Los Altos Hills every other Friday, which began Aug. 10; the addition of two monthly senior book clubs; and increased programming at the Woodland Branch.

Although visits and materials used in-house remain free to everyone, library cards are required to check out materials or for free Internet access. Nonresident users are charged $4 for two hours of library computer use.

Acting County Librarian Nancy Howe said visits are beginning to pick up after the initial decrease in Los Altos following the nonresident fees.

Cronkhite said the Los Altos main library had 35,133 visitors in July. Deputy County Librarian Derek Wolfgram said visits dropped approximately 4 percent at the Los Altos main library last month compared to July 2011.

The opening of the Gilroy library last year offset gate counts at other libraries, but decreases at other existing libraries ranged from 3 percent to 10 percent.

“It was a hard thing to do,” Howe said of the library district’s Joint Powers Authority decision to impose the $80 annual fee.

For decades, state funding had subsidized the additional expense of nondistrict residents using county libraries free of charge, but that subsidy ended when the state budget underwent heavy cuts.

Howe said the decision to charge $80 came about because Los Altos and Los Altos Hills users pay an additional $80 annually in taxes for the local libraries.

Last year’s announcement had library officials scrambling to identify exceptions to the $80 fee for Mountain View students attending Los Altos elementary and high school districts. As a result, nonresident students may be issued free cards that have a five-item checkout limit per visit. The library district also exempted volunteers at the Los Altos libraries who do not live in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills.

Although some nonresident users stopped patronizing the two Los Altos libraries, others paid the $80 fee to maintain their library access.

“During fiscal year 2011-12, we sold 903 nondistrict resident cards at the Los Altos (main) library and 95 at Woodland,” Wolfgram said.

A total of 4,994 cards were sold for the entire district.

Librarians also issued 627 free student-limited cards at the main library and 148 at the Woodland Branch, Wolfgram said. Overall, the district issued 7,807 free student-limited cards.

In addition to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, the Santa Clara County District comprises Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill, Saratoga and all unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County.

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