Support of Chapel Hill Public Library

The resources and staff of the Chapel Hill Public Library are among the many great positives of living in this town.  However, these resources and the assistance offered in using them are supported by our tax dollars and the efforts of the Friends of the CH Public Library.  I would urge fellow bloggers to in turn urge the Mayor and members of the Town Council to stop dancing around this issue, talk with the Library's director and, if she agrees, come up with an ultimatum for Orange County: either promptly give us the tax-generated revenues we need and request or we will develop a fee structure for use with out of town borrowers and users.


I'm mostly with you in this, but I read the article in this morning's CH Herald ( ) and realized I really didn't have a good grasp of the per-user cost or the level of use by non-Chapel-Hillians.  The article says that the proposed user fee would be $100 per person.  Currently OC contributes $249,333, which works out to 2,493 users 'already covered.'  At the other end of the scale, Matt Cz cites a possible $1 million in revenue if the fee were imposed,  which works out to 10,000 users -- and he accepts a revised guess of $500K if "only half" of those users actually ponied up the fee, which implies 5,000 non-Chapel Hill users paying the fee.  Is that close to actual use levels?  I rechecked (using that great reference, wikipedia) the total population of Carrboro and found it just over 18K, which with Hillsborough approx. 5.6K, only gets us up to about 24K residents. I know there are many other OC residents, but I was hypothesizing primary use from these populations -- if I'm wrong, please correct me.I'm fairly certain the fee of $100 would discourage more than 50% of current non-CH users, but in honesty I really have no idea whether a fifth of the population nearest CH actually uses the library now.   The questions I'm left with are: how many non-CH residents use the library now?  Is $100 a reasonable guess at the actual cost per user per year? How much of the proposed $100 is actually aimed at operation and overhead and how much, if any, at renovation or new construction?  I apologize if this information has already been provided somewhere here, but I did not find it.

Priscilla, I haven't researched the numbers either, but qualitatively, there is another issue.  Because of the CHPL, the CH-Carr School System has been able to avoid  building good school libraries.  Should the CHPL start charging out-of-towners, school funding issues would move front and center. 

Would this fee be charged only to OC residents that used the library???It may backfire in that OC residents that use the library may stop and you would be right back where you started from.Maybe we should charge usage fees to Chapel Hill people that use OWASA water. After all OWASA water does not benefit OC residents outside Chapel Hill while the county has lost the property tax revnue from that land. Same can be said for the town maintenance facility on Millhouse.  

The $100 per user fee for non-CH residents is just speculative at this time.  The Chapel Hill Town Council has yet to make a decision on this issue and thus has not decided on what the fee should be or even if there will be one.Of course, one possibility is that Orange County could return to Chapel Hill the 40% of the operating costs ($1,567,542) for the Orange County Library System that Chapel Hill taxpayers now contribute each year, even though they aren't using the County's System and thus are not burdening the operating budget.  This $625,000 or so is certainly more than the current $250,000 the County sends us but is still less than the $950,000 or so that would be required if non-Chapel Hill users paid their pro-rata share of the operating costs of the Chapel Hill Library.

that of the $250,000 that Orange County currently contributes to the Chapel Hill Library, approximately $100,000 of that comes from Chapel Hill taxpayers.  That makes the effective contribution of non-CH Orange County users about 6.3% even though they comprise 40% of the total users.

What is the usage RATE of non Chapel Hill residents compared to Chapel Hill (for example what if non CH use it once month while CH users say use it 6 times a month). Seems like USAGE RATE should be a factor as well as the total number of users.

Approximately 40% percent of CHPL’s card-carrying patrons are Orange County residents who do not pay Chapel Hill taxes. Based on periodic library automation system surveys over 14 years, approximately 40% of CHPL’s circulation is also by Orange County residents living outside Chapel Hill. These percentages have remained consistent over the years, varying no more than 1-2 percent in any given year.From this data I would conclude that the usage rate for non-CH County residents is esssentially the same as that for CH residents.

I agree with the need for additional county funding of the library generally, but on this particular point, is it far to say the Chapel Hill residents aren't using the County's system? It's clear that a large number of non-CH/OC residents use the Chapel Hill library, but there must be some number of CH/OC residents who do use the county library, particularly given the proximity to CH of some of the branches.

Geoff,  that is a fair question.  According to the report CH citizens compose 19% of the OC Library patrons so my original statements were not completely accurate.  Although CH citizens contribute 40% (about $625,000) of the total operating costs of the OC Library they also account for 19% ( about $298,000) of the operating costs.  But CH residents are still contributing significantly more (about $327,000) than their fair share.  Contrast this situation to that of the non-CH Orange County users who contribute about 6.3% (about $150,000) of the operating costs of the CH Library even though they comprise 40% of the total users which would require about $950,000 to provide their fair share of operating costs.  Thus CH residents are providing about $325,00 more than their fair share of costs to the OC Library while non-CH residents are providing about $800,000 less than their fair share of costs to the CH Library.Hopefully the non-CH OC residents can understand why the CH Council feels that this inequity cannot continue, especially as the Council considers how to fund the expansion of the CH Library.

A few years ago, the school district reduced their portion of the library resources budget within each school with the expectation that children could go to the public library to get their homework done or that they could get references online. On another forum, Fred Black said the cost of generating user data was prohibitively expensive. However, without knowing what portion of the non-CH resident usage can be attributed to CHCCS children doing their homework, I don't think the numbers you are breaking out are completely representative of usage. There's a big difference in children from CHCCS going to the CH public library to do homework and non-residents checking out books.

Terri,As noted below from an excerpt of the report, the 40% non-CH users number is based on circulation, not on people using the facility to read, do homework, etc.  So if anything, that 40% figure may underrepresent the true usage by non-CH residents.

The excerpt does not make it clear whether the 40% is card holders or circulation. Plus, I challenge anyone to correctly disentangle the zip codes in south Orange. Unless the library has run a verification of their card holders against the municipal tax roles, I would be leary of accepting their numbers. It doesn't really matter though. My point is that this is a dispute that needs to end. Just charge those of use who do not live in town the fee and get it over with instead of jeopardizing the quality of the Orange County system by diverting county funds away from it OR from the school library system. That said, I do believe an exception from the out-of-town fee should be given to school children from the CHCCS system.

Speaking to your first paragraph, when I went to get my library card last year the librarian pulled out some detailed maps to see just exactly where I lived. I can't promise they've done that for years, or that they do that for every patron registering for a library card, but there seems to be some effort to correctly determine where patrons live.As to your second paragraph, that's a good point.  Why not just diesntangle the systems. CH stops contributing to the OC library; OC stops contributing to the CH library. A CH resident who wants to use an OC library pays for it; an OC non-CH residents who wants to use the CH library pays for it. There's the problem of taxing, but instead of messing with the county tax collection system, the county could just make a payment to CH for CH residents' share of OC library funding. If the systems are going to be separate, then keep them separate.

Priscilla,Based on the report presented at the Assembly of Government meeting last Monday evening there are nearly 12,000 non-CH Orange County residents that use the Chapel Hill Library.  I would guess that most of those residents are from southern Orange County and probably a very high percentage from Carrboro.

Is the report available on line anywhere?  And thank you for the added info.

 The report presented last Monday by the library directors for both Chapel Hill and Orange County is available here: On page 13 is this statement, with analysis of its implications: North Carolina’s GS 153A-264 states that “if a county or city…operates or makescontributions to the support of a library, any resident of the county or city, as the casemay be, is entitled to the free use of the library.”I would note that this report does not appear to be available anywhere on the Orange County website. Ed Harrison   

I too think nonChapel Hill residents should pay extra to use the library. I also think Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents should pay the extraordinary costs for building new schools since these schools are not used by Orange County residents outside of the city school district, and it is a huge amount compared with what is spent for building county schools. If Chapel Hill/Carrboro pays for it's own school construction, and Orange County pays it's own school construction costs, I'd be MORE THAN HAPPY TO PAY $100 a year for the library whether I use it or not!

According to my calculations, CH citizens contribute about an extra $13 million this year to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools above and beyond what they contribute as part of their County taxes.

I'm pretty sure that the additional revenues generated by the CHCCS tax goes to programming and, possibly, some maintenance, not to new school construction which comes from the county.

What exactly is the "huge amount" difference and do you think it might correlate to the huge amount difference in property values (and thus tax) collected in CH/C vs county schools?  Or are you just spouting off with no supporting data?I honestly don't know whether CH/C pays more or less than it spends as a % of the school budget, but if you're going to make accusations, please base on reality.

It would be interesting to see how much of the total bond issues that go towards new school construction over the years went to CH and how much went to OC schools and compare that to what goes in to the bond payment by each sector. Personally I fell pretty agitated when I drive by the 4 or 5 CH schools on my way to work knowing that I pay for the building but have no access even though they are closest schools to my house. Yet I had to send my child in an opposite direction from where I live and work way out of the way and get her there myself since I didn't want the kid to ride the bus for an hour and a half or more each day. Pretty crazy way to run a business.I believe if you are willing to pay the additional CH school tax you should be able to use these schools if they are physically the closest schools to your residence.

that you don't move to Meadowmont Lane, in Meadowmont. One side is in Orange County. The other side is in Durham County. That means you could live *directly* across the street from Rashkis Elementary and yet be unable to attend it. 

What a bummer. I guess you would then pay Durham property taxes and no CH school taxes.

Orange County Deputy Clerk David Hunt supplied me a link to where the agenda and report are available on the Orange County website, in the list of past and upcoming Commissioners' meetings:  Ed 

I just checked out my first books under the new poilcy that has some books with a 2 week check out time frame and others with the 3 week check out.  the librarian told me that this new policy was a result of the extensive hold requests placed on many of the books,  which seems to be a direct result of increased numbers of users and the number of books needed to satisfy demand. This led me to think about where the library would see cost savings if users were reduced to residents only.    We want to  charge because we  think there are additional operating costs associated with having non-residents use the library, so if their patronage went away, what costs would go away and how much cost savings would we see?   The fixed costs of electricity,  square footage, etc are all going to remain pretty much the same, which leaves only the major hard costs  of staffing and inventory acquistion/maintenance.   ( I am not including a library expansion in my thinking,  I am only looking at operating costs).    I can see book acquistion and maintenance  costs being lowered --you need fewer copies of popular books if there is less demand.    You also don't have to replace books as often if there is less wear and tear on the book or less likelihood of loss due to decreased handling of the inventory.     Personnel--do we really know how much reduction in feet through the door or number of books checked out  it would take to significantly reduce personnel and other variable costs associated with providing library service? I guess there is also a case to be made about the opportunity cost that residents pay when they have to wait longer for the book they want, or in the check out line,  or to use the computer.       I guess what I am getting at is that  while there is an issue in many people's minds of fairness that certainly drives the converation about charging non-residents,  do we really know how much the 40% of users that come from outside Chapel Hill  add to the operating costs of the library?   Just curious if this info is out there.   

I see what you are getting at. Is it fair to charge non CHC residents a percentage of the full costs or only the marginal costs?? The library has certain costs that will occurr whether the library serves non CH or not. Maybe it is a better method to figure out what costs vary (marginal costs) as non CH residents enter the door and compare that to what the county contibutes now. 

You can't check out books at the library unless someone pays to run it and heat it, etc.  Why should CH residents pay the full costs to run it (even though most of them won't use it) but non-CH residents but only pay marginal costs?  That's wasteful.  A lot of things pertaining to the library are wasteful.

Here's another.  According to what I was told on the phone yesterday, any UNC employee can use UNC libraries for free. Thousands of people come to UNC every workday, during which time they're within walking distance of UNC libraries.  And then they go home in the afternoon.  And then in the evening or on weekends they go to the CH library.  How many of those people would use UNC libraries for their pleasure reading instead of the CH library if they knew it was an option, especially since the selection at UNC is much larger and you can keep the books for much longer?  The more people that used UNC the less they'd use CH and therefore the less CH library would cost.  For that matter, even some non-UNC employees would use it and pay the requird fee ($25 per year I think) if they knew it was an option.

I checked out over 100 books a year for 3-4 years at the CH library before I learned UNC libraries was an option for pleasure reading.  In addition to me wasting CH public resources by doing that, I was also wasting my time by not using what would be my preferred option (UNC) had I known about it.

What would be the cost of letting CH library users know that UNC libraries is an option?  Well, what is the cost of sending an e-mail once or twice a year to all CH library card holders?  $0.0001 perhaps?  I think the savings from resulting reduced usage of the CH library would cover that.

Also, UNC employees that live outside CH and use CH library would probably appreciate it even more since they have even farther to come to use the CH library.  It's funny how people say they're for the environment but they'd rather have the public drive from their home to the CH library to get books than walk from their office on campus to the UNC library to get them.

Speaking of being for the environment, why are we expanding the CH library when doing so is environmentally unfriendly and will cost a lot of money?  We're going to spend millions of dollars to increase the book capacity of the library by 50% at the same time that modern technology is in the process of increasing the book capacity of the library by 50,000% for free.  Did anyone see the recent story about the maker of the Kindle (e-book) greatly underestimated the Christmas demand for them and now they're rushing to catch up?  These things are coming like the bugs in the Starship Trooper movie.  Pretty soon they're going to be all over the place.  I love the feel of a physical book and yet I know it is a dying medium.  Everybody knows it but some people just can't bring themselves to admit it.  Why are we putting up bigger and bigger buildings to store these things again?  And by the way, I hear they have to cut down trees to make physical books.  Waste!

And one last waste item.  Since the demise of the physical book in favor of the much more efficient digitial media was forseeable long ago, why did we bother spending a big chunk of money for research and planning for a library expansion?

I think people get the means and the ends mixed up sometimes.  The CH library is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  The goal isn't to have the biggest building or the highest circulation but rather to provide the public with lots of literary and information gathering options, regardless of the source or medium they use.  The library is supposed to serve the community, not vice-versa.


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.