Chesterton Tribune



Changes proposed for Westchester Library homebound program

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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.

The discussion 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 deliver.

“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 that purpose.

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.

“My responsibility 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.

Board Treasurer 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.

Board 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.”

Rhed continued, 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.

Stamm reiterated 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 said.

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 that.


Posted 11/16/2018






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