More fees equals less books borrowed at Hamilton library

DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 15:59 07/02/2013

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Hamilton library book issues have fallen below every other major urban centre since new fees and charges were brought in last year.

The city is above only Porirua and Thames-Coromandel  and has fallen below Auckland for book issues per capita since the changes,  in benchmarking shown to city councillors to explain the impact of the charges, today's staff briefing heard.

City libraries management has  pointed to the overdue fines and reservations increases as a key reason for 90,000 fewer issues in the first six months since, and collapsing libraries income.

Overdue fees, the single biggest earner for the city council from its libraries, along with the other changes, were supposed to make an extra $205,000 a year but instead have generated less.

Hamilton's book issues per capita was 12.26 before the changes but has dropped to 11.03 since, below Auckland (11.57), Dunedin (12.92), Wellington (14.88), Tauranga (16.09), and Palmerston North (19.05).

Libraries manager Su Scott has explained widening ripples from the decision, with less borrowing meaning more books remained, putting off readers who can't navigate the crammed shelves.

''Overfull shelves mean they can't browse. It becomes a cyclical problem. If you can't move books back and forth on the shelves you become disenchanted with the whole experience,'' she said.

Her briefing to council revealed ''resistance'' to the fee increases had been ten times what staff had estimated, creating a likely $248,000 income shortfall by the end of June if no action is taken.

Staff are proposing rolling back half of the overdues increase, and spending $200,000 less on books, which would mean a $500,000 fall compared with last year's spend after earlier cuts.

The say Tauranga City Council experienced the same reaction when it increased charges in 2009, but since it had reversed some of those increases borrowing had begun to rise again.

But politicians at Thursday's meeting seemed unconvinced the budget-driven increases were responsible for falling patronage, asking for national information to see whether borrowing books is in decline.

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