Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Santa Clara county library fee

The Santa Clara County libraries have started charging $80 to use the library. It seems to be an interesting divide with some of the wealthiest cities in the county (Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, etc.) charging a fee to some of the poorest areas (San Jose) for the privilege of using the library. Something seems a little wrong here.

To be fair, areas like Los Altos are up in arms about the fee, while it is "poorer" areas such as Campbell that are most in favor of the move. However, that just adds to the irony. The poor "in crowd" gets libraries subsidized by the likes of Los Altos, but doesn't want to subsidize San Jose.

On their homepage, they bragged that over 800 paid library cards (and 500 free student cards) were issued in the first few days. The big question is how it will turn out.

At one end, the library could rake in all sorts of money from the fee, and see a significant decrease in library activity.

On the other end, they could get just the most frequent library users ponying up. Say 2000 people pay the fee, bringing in $160,000. Since they pay the fee, they may increase their library usage to make sure they get their money's worth. Plenty of students get the free student cards, with families using a student card for occasional library usage. The net result is a stabilization or increase in library usage. Los Altos remains very perturbed about the library situation, and decides to leave the county system, taking away their multi-million dollar subsidy to the other libraries. End result: increased demands on the library, with decreased funding. (Not to mention the ill will.)

How will it pan out? It would be nice if Santa Clara county could simply create a unified system like San Mateo county, but that may be dreaming a bit too much...

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