For Wichita library gold card members, two popular benefits are about to go away

Jackson Colflesh uses an individual study carrel at the Advanced Learning Library Wednesday. (July 18, 2018)
Jackson Colflesh uses an individual study carrel at the Advanced Learning Library Wednesday. (July 18, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

If you have a Wichita Public Library gold card, get ready to say goodbye to unlimited holds and your three-day grace period for returning library materials.

The Friends of the Wichita Public Library, a nonprofit group that supports library operations, will change its membership benefits starting next month, officials said.

Cynthia Berner, the director of libraries for the city of Wichita, talks about what one might expect to see when the new Advanced Learning Library opens its doors to the public for the first time this weekend. (June 13, 2018)

People who join or renew gold- or platinum-card memberships by Aug. 31 will have free holds and a three-day grace period through July of next year. After that, all library patrons will pay 25 cents to reserve a book or other item and have it delivered to their chosen branch, and due dates will be firm.

Cindy Berner, director of libraries, said she requested the change out of concern for the library’s budget.

“Grace periods and unlimited holds have been increasingly expensive for our library to provide,” Berner said in an e-mail.

“Knowing that this year’s difficult budget climate might result in recommendations regarding branch closings in order to reduce the costs of library operations, we asked that the Friends board consider updating the membership program with benefits that do not directly impact the revenue that the city generates from library fees and fines.”

Under a plan presented last week by City Manager Robert Layton, two Wichita library branches — Evergreen and Linwood — would close over the next two years. Mayor Jeff Longwell has since walked back that proposal, saying he doesn’t think the City Council would approve a plan to close libraries.

The Friends group’s new set of membership perks no longer will be tied to library accounts. According to a spokesman for the group, here’s the new tier structure and benefits.

  • Basic ($10 a year) — early entry into library book sale events.

  • Gold ($25) — early entry into book sales and other special events, a $5 gift certificate to the Friends used bookstore in the Advanced Learning Library and a Friends tote bag.

  • Gold Plus ($50) — early entry to events, tote bag, $10 bookstore certificate and 20 percent off food or drink items at the Reverie Roasters inside the Advanced Learning Library.

  • Platinum ($100) — all the Gold Plus benefits, plus an invitation to a Friends of the Wichita Public Library contributor event.

New memberships or renewals received after Aug. 31 will fall under the new structure, the letter says.

Over 1,000 volunteers lined the streets in downtown as 100 items from the old Wichita library were moved to the new Advanced Learning Library. The ceremonial items included books and various items that represented the library. (June 16, 2018)

The Friends of the Wichita Public Library, which supports initiatives such as the summer reading program, Wichita Big Read and the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten campaign, implemented its gold card program in 1997.

“The intent was to help encourage greater awareness of the good work of the Wichita Friends,” Berner said. “Today there are nearly 1,500 current Friends members, suggesting that the organization is now better able to attract and maintain members without the financial incentives of unlimited holds and grace periods on library due dates.”

News of the change on social media prompted complaints among some members. Several said the free holds and three-day grace period were the primary reasons they joined the gold-card program.

“I have had a gold card for five years now,” Liz Wine said on the Wichita Eagle #ReadICT Challenge Facebook page. “So sad about the changes.”

Susan Hunnicutt-Balman said reserving materials requires library staff members to retrieve the item, print and attach a sticker, and shelve it with library holds, so it makes sense to charge patrons.

“For holds in one library to be picked up at another location, it takes time, staff and gasoline to transport it to where we want,” she said.

Some members said they would pay more for their gold cards to keep the free holds and grace period. Others said reserving materials and transferring them among branches should be a standard library service, not an additional perk.

“I love the library, and I love to support it however I can. But requesting a book from the other side of town should be free, whether or not someone can afford a Friends of the Library gold card,” Jessica Hammond posted on the #ReadICT Facebook page.

“All library users are supposed to have equal access to the materials, even if they don’t live near one of the large branches.”