Round Rock Library

The Coming Return to Non-Resident Fees at RRPL – Why We’ve Gotta Do It

Written by: Edward Y., Adult Services Manager

Back in the Spring of 2015, the City of Round Rock decided to stop charging non-residents, (basically defined as folks who lived outside the city limits of Round Rock) extra fees to use our Parks and Recreation facilities and the Round Rock Public Library. The motive behind this decision was basic altruism; people outside of Round Rock needed these services and often could not get them in their local communities, or could not get the same quality, and the city directors saw a way to help our neighbors without taking on too extreme of an expense. For the library’s part at least, the city effectively lost around $60,000 per year when we removed this fee, but we found the budget replacements through other avenues.  

And for the last nine years or so, we’ve consequently become THE library spot of all the ‘bedroom communities’ north of Austin, with almost half of our regular library users living outside of Round Rock. We even have significant numbers of Austinites using our library too; we have a much bigger collection than the northern Austin branches, and at the risk of sounding big-headed, often better programs too! There’s even a small percentage of RRPL patrons that live way, way far off; because we’ve allowed folks to get a card with us as long as they have a Texas address, we’ve enjoyed the patronage of people living as far away as the Houston and Dallas areas. 

In many ways, this has been a fantastic mantle to wear for our library staff. We take pride in being the first Central Texas library to reopen our doors during the pandemic, (early May 2020), and helped folks stranded by the digital divide from all over our state use public computers to handle their crucial business that then could only be done online. The attendance of our children story times, ESL classes, and other programs for all ages are bolstered by many thousands more people than our city population would otherwise supply, enabling learning and recreation for many surrounding communities without similar public facilities. Our new building hosts weekly regulars from as far afield as Jarell, Bartlett, and many of the smaller communities even closer to Killeen. 

However, there’s been a surprising cost due to this generosity that we’ve struggled with for many years now, the demand for eBooks. These digitally rendered books, designed to be read on your phone, tablet, or PC, are very, very expensive. Each year we hurl every extra cent we can scrape together from our library budget to try and answer the swelling demand through our primary eBook app Libby, but consistently fall short. This issue has also worsened in the last two years because we’ve added a new eBook service called Hoopla, which has a ~$2-3 charge per eBook checkout. This extraordinary cost, (which occurs even if a patron chooses a book on Hoopla and then doesn’t actually read it, just the selection incurs the fee) forced RRPL to assign a daily dollar limit for Hoopla so that our budget won’t run out of funds before the end of the year. As a perfect demonstration of the straits we are facing in the eBook realm, this daily dollar limit, which starts at midnight, often runs out before daylight even comes around… 

After some research by our Technical Services Manager Rhonda Kuiper and other library staff, we found that these eBook checkouts are fairly evenly spread between Round Rock residents and non-residents living further out. So, with a heavy heart, we’ve unfortunately had to start the process of returning to a fee for non-residents, mostly to solve this eBook problem; we will be much more capable of answering local demand for these digital items if we are not simultaneously providing them for the entire Central Texas region and beyond. 

However, we don’t want to reverse course completely, we still want to provide as many of our services to potential patrons outside of Round Rock as we can justify. So we will soon, (the exact date is still undetermined), have three categories of cards: a local Resident card that works just as they always have, for applicants that can prove residence within the Round Rock city limits, (the area charged additional taxes to support city services like the library), a second card that’s a free Non-Resident card for any Texas resident that can check out a limited number of physical items and access only those online and digital services that are paid for by state funds instead of municipal, and a paid Non-Resident card that, with a yearly fee paid up front, can use all of our services just like a Resident card.  

We will have many more announcements about this upcoming change, with full details, coming soon from all of our library media channels, including signage in the building. This blog post isn’t about those details, but simply a plea for understanding from you, our patrons, that we are making this change, reluctantly, because we have no other way to ensure the local patrons who fund our library have consistent access to the digital materials they are paying for. With non-residents paying their fair share to gain access, we’ll be able to grow our eBook collection to the heights of excellence rightly expected from the Round Rock Public Library.

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