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Some questions I had on consent agenda items from the last City Council meeting

November 8, 2011

I was significantly underwhelmed by the Mayor’s ability to completely avert the intention behind limiting the number of agenda items and thwarting the role of the Council to be able to ask questions and gain a more complete understanding of those items we are asked to approve.  I was also disappointed by City Council’s ability to be steam rolled by this agenda ploy into abdicating their role. I’ll have more to say on that later, but for now, let me share with you some of the questions regarding the library related consent items.

Following the Council session, I still had many more questions.  I sent a request to Director Ewell and the City Manager in an attempt to illuminate some areas I had concerns about.  Her comments are in line with my questions, which greatly facilitates following the answers.

Ok, here’s what I did.  I can’t find a way to change the text color to green.  I took the bold off of the Consent Agenda item numbers and titles so that it did not appear as though she had typed them.  With the exception of this formatting change, the email is as I received it.  If you’d care to see the original to verify that, you can file a Public Information Act (PIA) request with the City Secretary for the original.  The dates and times of the email as well as the recipients are included.  I believe you’d need that for the PIA request.

 

Councilman Clements,

My responses are below in green.[Russell Clements’ note:  her comments will show up in bold as mentioned earlier in the post.]

Lana Ewell

 

From: Council Member Russell Clements
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 2:31 AM
To: Scott Neils; Lana Ewell
Subject: Some questions for you, or the Library Board

 

Director Ewell,

Thank you for your assistance in answering my questions tonight regarding the keys and fees for the study room. I appreciate your candor.

I’m left with questions about some of the revised policies of the library and hoping I can get answers from you or from the board, whichever you deem most appropriate.

Consent Agenda Item 9: Approval of the Watauga Public Library’s proposed revisions to the Library Circulation Policy.

  • · Why are fees given maximums? Why would the maximum fee per item not be the cost to replace the item and fees to recover the cost in time and labeling and updating the system. Why should the taxpayer help pay for someone’s incompetence in losing a resource?

We have found we get a greater return of Library materials with a maximum fee. If the item becomes overdue for an extended period of time the item is marked “lost” and the cost of the item is charged to the patron. Patrons are more inclined to return material when we inform them that they owe the cost of the materials plus a processing fee if they are not returned, or they owe a maximum fine of $5.00 if they return the item. Since most items cost more than $5 this encourages them to return the material. If the fee is too high we lose that family as library users. One of the Library goals is to provide Library service to all citizens, whatever their economic status. The families that need us the most are least able to pay large fees.

  • · Does one dollar cover the costs of replacing a new card? If not, why does the cost not reflect the actual budgetary load on the library to replace the card? Why should the taxpayer be subsidizing a replacement card if the owner was so incompetent as to lose the original?

The cost of the patron library cards is about $.30 each because we buy them in bulk.

Consent Agenda Item 11: Approval of the Watauga Public Library’s proposed revisions to the Library Interlibrary Loan Policy.

  • · Under Lending Policy, Photocopies, why are up to 50 pages provided at no charge? Does the library allow 50 pages of printing at no cost? Why are these services not provided on a cost recovery basis?

We participate in the Interlibrary Loan through the Texas State Library and this is their policy. The photocopying of pages is usually reserved for materials that cannot be loaned to other libraries, most commonly genealogy information. We rarely have requests for this service. Donna Sanderson, Circulation Manager, has told me that she cannot remember a single occasion when we copied pages to send through Interlibrary Loan. However, our patrons have received photocopies on occasions when their requests were not available for physical loan.

Consent Agenda Item 12: Approval of the Watauga Public Library’s Meeting proposed revisions to the Meeting Room Policy/Application.

  • · Why are commercial presentations not allowed? As long as they are provided for on a first-come, first-served basis and the business pays the fees, why would they not be allowed?

Library meeting rooms serve two purposes based on our mission as a Library: 1) Library programming; 2) Informational/educational programs for the public by

Nonprofit groups. When there are time slots free, we make the room available for other use by nonprofit organizations in our service area. If we invite or permit use by a for-profit organization it is for information/education purposes, in line with our mission:

 Mission

The Watauga Public Library is committed to enriching the community through full access to informational, educational, cultural, recreational, and lifelong learning materials in a variety of formats. The Library anticipates and responds to the library needs of the community and offers a variety of programs and services in a professional, efficient, caring, and friendly manner.

 Because we only have one meeting room, it is in use for Library related programs every morning, most afternoons after school, and all evenings we are open. We have already had to move some of our programs off site due to not enough space to accommodate all Library sponsored programs.

Additionally, we are very short staffed and have space limitations. We do not have the manpower to provide a major new service (scheduled room rental) at this time even if we had additional meeting rooms. We would need additional staff for scheduling the room and collecting fees, setting up the room, making sure it was left in an acceptable condition and cleaning the room.

The change in the policy to charge $30/hr. for use of the room by appropriate groups was done in an effort to assist the City during these stressful economic times, and is a typical fee found at surrounding public libraries (Keller, Haltom City, and others).

· Why are “No political programs for the election or defeat of a particular candidate or issue allowed”?

Libraries, as part of City government, cannot be partisan. A forum including all candidates could be permitted, with the approval of the City Manager. A meeting for one party or one candidate cannot.

  • · Why don’t the residents of Watauga have a right to use the room for whatever purpose they choose, so long as they are provided for on a first-come, first-served basis and they pay the fees to use the room? I’m fairly surprised by these limitations. I’d like to understand why these restrictions are there.

According to court decisions a number of years ago, it was determined that a public library is a “limited public forum,” meaning that it is open to the public for use for the purposes for which it is intended. Also for practical reasons stated above—we have only one meeting room and it is in almost constant use.

  • · What are the usage rates now? How often is this room sitting empty? How could utilization be increased by freeing the room from some of these constraints? How much revenue would the library generate if usage were 100%?

The revision in the policy allows the charge to be $30/hr. plus a refundable $50 deposit fee. The room is in use Monday, Thursday & Friday from 9 am to 12 pm for GED classes, Tuesday and Wednesday it is in use all morning for story time, Monday, Tuesday & Thursday nights for library programs, Homework Help Center, Computer classes and other educational purposes, Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm for English as a Second Language classes, and most afternoons after school for children’s programs, such as Homework Help Center on Tuesday 3:45 pm to 5:45 pm. We also have quilting classes, genealogy workshops, Money Smart programs and others scheduled during the day.

In addition City departments, such as Human Resources, requests to book our room on occasion for testing or other City meetings or business. That takes priority over the general public as well.

The Meeting Room is used so regularly that it is becoming difficult for us to find a slot for our own programs and an occasional Girl Scout registration meeting or other community event.

Consent Agenda Item 14: Approval of the Watauga Public Library’s proposed revisions to the Library Patron Behavior Policy.

  • · I don’t see much problem with this except for the last section under Weapons. “Carrying weapons of any type on Library or City property is not permissible except by law enforcement officers.” Is it not possible that one patron could bludgeon another with a book? Wouldn’t that make the book a weapon? This is over-broad and ridiculous.

Anything can be used as a weapon, including a chair, but guns and knives are weapons and current law prohibits carrying them in public libraries. Library users deserve a safe place to read and study without anxiety because they saw a knife or gun in someone’s pocket or bag.

  • · Am I not allowed in the library when I’m carrying my pocket knife? I wouldn’t shop at Barnes and Noble if they prohibited me from carrying my pocket knife, why should I put up with this from the library? How is the library going to enforce this? Are patrons to be frisked at the door to make sure they are not armed?

The Library enforces rules and laws the same way stores do, by calling the police when an infraction is observed.

Your assistance in finding answers to these questions would be greatly appreciated.

Russell Clements

 

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