By Todd G. DicksonLas Cruces Bulletin
Branigan Memorial Library is in the process of giving homeless people the option of a temporary library card for checking out books.
Lynette Schurdevin, City of Las Cruces library administrator who is leaving to head up Rio Rancho’s library, said Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, that the library advisory board recently approved a revision to its policy.
The new policy will allow theissuance of a two-month temporary library card to someone who is a resident but without proof of a permanent address, Schurdevin said. The temporary card will allow its holder to check out two books, and the person can renew the temporary card every two months, she said.
The library’s policy about services to the city’s homeless was recently questioned by New Mexico State University social work student Amanda Miller.
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During a visit to the library, Miller said she saw a memo for staff that stated library cards should not be issued for people giving their mailing address as the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope (MVCH), the La Casa domestic violence shelter and other local entities providing services to homeless people.
The official policy posted on the city’s website, however, stated only that a person had to be a resident of Doņa Ana County with photo identification and proof of an address in the county. Children and teens under the age of 17 are required to have a parent or guardian to sign for the card.
After Miller was told by library staff thatthe memo wasn’t meant to seen by the public, she contacted Schurdevin with her concerns that the restrictions could keep county residents in a temporary homeless situation – such as a mother with children at the domestic violence shelter or a person living at MVCH’s Camp Hope tent city – from being able to check out books from the library.
“(Schurdevin) told me that the policy was because the library is funded by taxpayers and is meant for them,” Miller said. “That just doesn’t make sense.”
Some of the people living at the tent city or at the domestic shelter have jobs and contribute to the local tax base through spending, Miller said.
Schurdevin said there was some confusion about how to define a taxpayer. In many places outside of New Mexico, she said, librariesare supported by taxes from property taxes, but gross receipts taxes (GRT) support municipal governments here, including city libraries. GRT in many cases acts a sales tax, so that made the question murkier, she said.
Proof of residence isn’t required to gain access to the library’s resources and Internet during normal hours, Schurdevin said. Also, the library often offers free donated books to those who want them, she said. The library has a guest pass option, as well as a program through which a patron can check out a new book if they return the previous book they checked out.
“We try to find as many ways as possible for people to get access,” Schurdevin said.
Schurdevin told Miller that the library lets the domestic violence shelter’s social worker check out books on behalf of its residents.
Nicole Martinez, MVCH executive director, said her organization doesn’t have this formal a working arrangement with the library, but that a number of homeless county residents do use MVCH as a place to receive mail. Many of the homeless served by MVCH are disabled and can’t work, she said.
Although the new policy was recently approved, Schurdevin said it will take a couple weeks to get it into place with the library’s computer software system.
David Dollohan, director of Community and Cultural Services, said Bonnie Hobbs will act as the library’s interim director for the next six months starting Wednesday, Jan. 1, as he begins a search for a new administrator. Dollohan said he has a number of key positions that need to be filled, including leads for the city’s museum system and senior services.