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
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.
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
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.”
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
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.”
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
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.