At its meeting last
week, the Westchester Public Library Board had a lengthy discussion about
changing WPL’s homebound program where library materials are distributed to
patrons who can’t come to the library.
began when Library Director Lisa Stamm said she discovered that the
employees who deliver materials have no job description. Despite that lack
of guidance, the employees have developed a habit WPL cannot withstand,
according to Stamm--they go into patrons’ houses to talk with them when they
“In no way is that
safe for anybody,” Stamm said, “including the patron. We can’t have staff
going into patrons’ homes.”
Stamm said she
confirmed with WPL’s insurance carrier, Anton, that when an employee steps
foot into a residence, the Library’s insurance stops at the door.
The employees are
also not covered under the Library’s insurance when they drive to and from
the houses to deliver because they have not started using the Library van,
which Board President Rondi Wightman said was purchased in large part for
The third problem
is with paying the homebound employees. Stamm said they have thus far been
paid for their drive time as well as their delivery time, despite already
being paid the normal mileage rate. The mileage for Homebound is also paid
from Friends of the Library donations, which Stamm said prompted her to
reach out to the Indiana State Library to check if that was a normal
practice and legal in other similar programs.
is to keep our staff members safe at all ends,” Stamm said. “You are the
Board. You make the final decision. I am just very uncomfortable with staff
going into homes. If you do make that decision, I ask that it be made very
clear that I do not support it.”
Stamm said her
proposed solution is to tell the employees not to enter patrons’ homes, but
she has already received a letter from one patron who really enjoys those
chats, and she knows it will be a tough transition for all 28 patrons. She
noted that a former library she worked for had a similar program, a
bookmobile, but employees who delivered materials never went inside houses
and weren’t supposed to. Some libraries also do a similar program through
mail. It’s always free.
“The service is not
going away, what’s going away is them going inside and sitting and chatting
for a while,” said Stamm.
Board member Drew
Rhed thought there were several better solutions.
“It seems pretty
difficult to accomplish the homebound program without doing it the way these
people have been doing it because they get to know the people and know what
they like,” Rhed said.
Stamm said she
doesn’t want those relationships to go away, but would like them to happen
over the phone where the is no liability.
Nick Tilden said, “We’ve got three tiers here. The first is the safety of
the employee and the patron, the second is the integrity, and character of
the program, and how to maintain it, and the third tier would be resulting
liability to the Library.”
“We can pursue
courses of action to eliminate that liability. We can look for additional
insurance. We can go at the second tier by keeping that relationship and
doing it by phone,” Tilden said. Tilden said he thought patrons would
eventually accept and understand that route.
Vice-president Mike Livovich said, “The whole program really smells like a
volunteer program.” There was some talk of having the Friends of the Library
take it over, but Stamm said they don’t currently have enough active members
to pull it off, especially considering the time is takes to develop lists of
what the Homebound patrons have read already and might like next.
Stamm also said,
“If we replace them with volunteers, we’re still upsetting the apple cart
because relationships have been formed.”
saying the program could probably go on as is. “Salespeople do this all day,
document what they did and for how long, etc. They have charts that people
sign. It wouldn’t be much of a problem to have something like that.”
“I can’t imagine
that there’s that much potential liability that can’t be wiped away with
insurance. There’s too many people who do this as a profession,” Rhed added.
Rhed said going
into the homes is just a way of building a client relationship. “That’s what
we do at the reference desk downstairs.”
Board member Abbe
Trent said she is aware that most libraries perform this service by mail or
have volunteers do it. “I don’t want to see the program go away, but we do
have to be smart where liability’s concerned,” she said.
Livovich said, “I
think we’ve gone above and beyond in the years providing this service, and I
don’t think it’s going out of bounds to draw a line when it comes to our
employees.” Rhed reiterated that he’d like to find a way to continue the
program. Wightman and Stamm agreed they would never be comfortable with
employees going into patrons’ homes.
her nervousness about the issue. “That door shuts and all bets are off,” she
said, noting that no one can know what happened in the case of something
like an accusation of theft or, maybe more commonly, an animal bite. “An
accusation is made, and that door is shut? I don’t like that.”
Board member Kathy
Cochran chimed in. “I have no idea what it’s like to manage all the
potential liability for the library, so when I hear you say this is a
liability issue, I take it seriously.”
“The reputation of
the library and its connection with its patrons is really important, but
that’s something that can be honored with honest communication,” Cochran
Tilden pointed out
that this would likely be a snap decision if an employee came to the Board
and said he or she was uncomfortable going into the homes.
Rhed suggested that
Stamm send a letter to the Homebound patrons explaining the change in detail
and assuring them that the service won’t go away, and the Board settled on