Chesterton Tribune



Westchester Library drops limits on patrons' computer access

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In a move for public access, Library Director Lisa Stamm proposed that the Westchester Public Library change its policy on the use of public computers for non-residents and cardholders who have fines in excess of $5.

At last night’s meeting of the Westchester Library Board of Trustees, Stamm said, “I used to be staunchly on the other side of this issue, but it’s amazing how people can change.”

Stamm proposed changes to the WPL’s Computer Use Policies following what she terms a couple of unpleasant experiences regarding patrons who wanted to use computers but were not eligible under the policy.

Currently, the Library staff will deny the use of a public computer to a WPL cardholder who has racked up more than $5 in unpaid library fines or otherwise has a card that is not in good standing. Visitors to the Library who do not have a WPL card or non-residents of Indiana are limited to five total uses of the computers.

Stamm said in one case, she received a phone call from a patron who wanted to use the public computers to look for jobs, but he said he was unable to pay off his fines. In another, Library staff denied use of the computers to a patron who had accumulated too much in fines, and the patron was very upset.

“I would rather err on the side of letting someone use a public computer than denying access,” Stamm said. “The goal of changing this policy is to increase computer access to those who need it, to stop perpetuating a cycle of need, and to reduce staff time spent monitoring patrons who want to use a computer.”

Stamm noted that times have changed so that the days of waiting in line to use a Library computer are gone, but likewise, the Internet is almost required for daily functions. “We have room in the lab, and for persons who are struggling with financial burdens or homelessness, I’d like to make it easier, rather than harder or impossible, for them to use our computers to look for jobs, complete online job applications, and access web-based information.”

Stamm’s changes require only that someone wanting to use the Library computers have a valid photo ID--valid meaning not expired. The amount of fines the patron may have or whether or not the patron holds a WPL card is not considered. She emphasized that borrowing of physical Library materials and the use of expensive specialty software applications such as Hoopla and OverDrive on the Library’s computers will always be restricted to cardholders in good standing.

Board Treasurer Nick Tilden noted, “If we’re opening up the computers, maybe we shouldn’t have restrictions that would turn somebody away in other situations, like if they had a questionable immigration status.” Stamm concurred that a lot of those people may not seek service at libraries due to fear.

“I just want staff to stop policing and I want the people who need access to have access to it,” Stamm said.

Board member Drew Rhed interjected: “I think that’s a political statement. The question is if they’re public citizens, and we’re saying that they are.” He cautioned, “We’re picking a side.” Board member Kathy Cochran commented, “No, we’re weighing the harms.”

Board Vice-president Michael Livovich said the policy is just intended for the Library to have recourse in case of damage or criminal activity that could be traced back to the Library. “That’s basically what it is. All we need is a name.”

Tilden said the phrasing of asking for a valid state ID could scare off people worried about their citizenship status. “It might dissuade some of the very people we want to let in.”

Livovich said the issue is similar to the issue of homelessness. “Someone might want to access a device who doesn’t have an ID or a residence,” he said. He suggested that someone signing a visitor log could be enough.

With guidance from Board Attorney Terry Hiestand, the Board settled on and approved the requirement that someone wanting to use a Library computer must only fill out a visitor computer use form, and that form will be kept on file if the patron comes back for future uses.


Posted 9/14/2018





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