COMMUNITY VOICES | How well does the library serve the public?


The people who make decisions for the Hennepin County Library have a different concept of “public” than I have. When the new library at East Lake St in Minneapolis was built, we were given wonderful windows, some places to sit and a lot more digital access. But, as far as I can tell there are fewer books. We are also able to rent books if our budget allows. If we are not able or willing to pay the public library rental for our books we can join a waiting list for popular titles. We often must wait several months for the books to be available.

In order to get the books I want that were not in the library, I began ordering them. This can be convenient but I miss the experience of being in the library and browsing among the books. An advantage is that I can order books that will be new in the near future. This means my list gets long because it can take 6 months or often longer for the books to be available. It is possible to jump ahead on this by paying a $4 fee to rent a book for 10 days. The rental policy called “Bestseller Express” was implemented at Hennepin County’s suburban libraries more than 10 years ago. It is now in place at the Minneapolis libraries. Last year Hennepin County rented more than 43,000 books that way. I do not know how many of these rentals came from Minneapolis. I see those books that are for rent standing on a counter every time I go into the library. They are the same books I wait months to get.

At about the same time rental books from the public library came about, the decision makers decided that they would put a limit on the number of books we can have on order without being charged. I wrote to Commissioner McLaughlin at the time of the new policy limiting books kept as a list on the computer database but he did not think this was an important or even valid issue.

If one inadvertently orders more books than the total of reserve and on order books, the computer system automatically removes books from the reserve list as it adds the new books to your waiting list. This is without informing the patron what is happening, thus possibly losing several months of waiting for a book that that can be rented by another patron for $4.

Not only does the library set into place a policy favoring those able to pay for their books, they also reduce the ability for patrons to access the books that are not rented.