Canton Twp. to let readers check it out with no fee

2B Detroit Free Press/Tuesday, October 9, 1990

Local News

Canton Twp. to let readers check it out with no fee
By Dennis Niemiec
Free Press Staff Writer

Starting in January, patrons of the Canton Public Library can enjoy the likes of Danielle Steele, Jack Nicholson and Billy Joel — for free.

Canton Township's library board voted in September to discontinue a long-standing policy of charging rental fees for videos, compact discs and newly released books.

In so doing, Canton officials are reacting to a fundamental question regarding library services: Fee or free?

Since its opening in 1980, the Canton library had charged 10 cents a day to rent extra copies of books on the New York Times best-seller lists. One copy was circulated free.

The policy surprised some patrons, but "nobody jumped up and down in front of the reference desk," said Rebecca Havenstein-Coughlin, assistant library director. "Occasionally someone would say — 'Wow, this is a public library. You mean I can't get this book free?'"

Havenstein-Coughlin said the income helped replenish the book supply, partly in response to customers who ask, "Kmart has this book. Why don't you?"

The decision to lift all fees — including a $1-a-day charge for videos and 10 cents for CDs — was made to promote goodwill and increase library use, library officials said. The library collects more than $17,000 a year from rental fees, about $15,000 of that from videos. It has a collection of about 100,000 books, 2,000 videos and 700 CDs.

A growing demand for books and videos, combined with a lack of funds, have caused many of Michigan's 398 public libraries to charge varying amounts for popular materials, said Deputy State Librarian Jeffrey Johnson. The state does not keep statistics on how many libraries charge fees.

"Charging for rental books is becoming quite common," said Doug Whitaker, deputy director of the Wayne-Oakland Library Federation, a consortium of 60 libraries. "The rationale is that people in a hurry would pay for the convenience. And as long as a copy is in free circulation, no one is deprived the use of a book because they couldn't afford it."

Whitaker said multimedia libraries are finding little opposition to their expansion into video and musical markets. But they must remember "the main reason we're here is still books."

In Canton, the library has a $1.6-million annual budget, based on a levy of up to 2 mills. It purchases as many as 10 copies of popular hardbacks and later sells them as used.

Because libraries are funded mostly through local taxes, many librarians and patrons say services should be free.

But some taxpayers are willing to pay.

Milo Vukovich of Sumpter Township is one Canton library-goer who says you can't judge a book by its price tag.

"It it's something I want to read and don't want to wait, I'll pay for it," he said. "You're going to pay for it one way or the other anyway."