So the WRL Board of Trustees never responded at all to my latest request, which was, very simply, “Please explain why you have decided not to make fee-based cards available to people in neighboring counties.” NOT, please note, “Give us all library services for free!” or even “Give us fee-based cards!” Just, simply, “What lay behind the decision to make this particular use of public funds?”

So I sent a reminder:

Ms. Geary,

I would very much appreciate it if you could answer the questions I posed in my email. I have copied it below for your convenience.

In addition, Mr. Moorman has been quoted as saying that fee-based cards are not possible “to preserve current funding.” You have been quoted as saying that fee-based cards have been rejected based on a “philosophical consideration.” Could you clarify which of these is the reason?


Susan Wise Bauer

And I got this back.

Ms. Bauer–

Although you may not be satisfied with our answers, I believe we have answered your questions as best as we can.

Thanks again for expressing your concerns.

Susan Geary


Sent this back:

Ms. Geary,

I think we both know that none of my questions have been answered.

I have no expectation that this email will get any response, but I feel I must try one more time to make an appeal to you, Mr. Moorman, and the board.

We are your neighbors.

We would appeal to you for the consideration due to neighbors–meaning that even when an unpleasant and difficult decision must be made, there is honesty and openness as to why that decision is necessary.

We are not asking for free privileges. We are just distraught (this is not too strong a word) that the institution so many of us love is being taken away from us without any explanation.

We are not being treated like neighbors–let alone like members of your community.

But we are members of your community. We have supported your library, worked at your stores, taught in your schools, eaten at your restaurants, supported the College and Colonial Williamsburg and the other wonderful institutions that make Williamsburg what it is. For decades, those institutions have included the Williamsburg Regional Library System.

Please tell us what we can do to help resolve the situation. Should we lobby our counties for a buy-in? Appeal to York County not to remove its funding? Offer to pay whatever card fee is necessary?

We have no idea. We have been shut out. The silence is both painful and humiliating. We are, as so many news reports have put it, apparently “outsiders” and “free riders” in your eyes, despite our lifelong support of your library.

Please reconsider the silence which has cloaked this issue from six thousand people who will be deeply affected by it.

With sadness,

Susan Wise Bauer

While I appreciate the sentiments some of you have sent this way, along the lines of, “They’re going to wish they hadn’t messed with you!”, the truth is that a public institution which decides to stonewall the public has most of the power on its side.

I sincerely hope that residents of Williamsburg, York County, and James City will hold this board to account.

In the meantime, the kids and I went over to the Yorktown Library, which offers free cards to all Virginia residents, and applied for library cards. We were welcomed warmly, told what a shame it was that WRL was kicking us out, given full access to all library services, and allowed to check out thirty items each.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m incredibly grateful. The Yorktown Library is more than twice as far away, but if I have to (which apparently I do), I can deal with that. My daughter, who cried when I told her we couldn’t go back to Her Library any more, found many of her old favorites and quite a few new ones and was comforted. I checked out three weeks’ worth of reading. My sons stocked up. I intend to join the Friends of the Library.

But in what universe does this make sense?

Showing 11 comments
  • Sara Berry
    I am sure you’ve seen this but though it was awesome how the community pulled together to show the council just how many of them there are.

  • Heather Q.

    It doesn’t make sense.

    In many ways, I consider the children’s library in Bedford to be my Alma Mater. The books I read there and the librarians who helped me to find them shaped me more than any school I ever attended.

    Sometimes I think that the people who are in positions of authority in “library systems” don’t even like to read and can’t imagine why not having access to the book in hand would even be a problem as long as they still allow computer/internet access.

    I miss the personality of the “old” library.

  • Justin

    I’ve been coming to the WRL for 13 years. Like your daughter, I almost cried when it hit me that I would be cut off from using it. I’m baffled by the Newspeak of “i think we’ve answered your questions.” I’d say it was Orwellian, but that’s not the case: the Ministry of Love at least pretended to like the people it dealt with.

    To your excellent paragraph about “we are members of your community,” I would add, “We clean your floors and cook your food.” Many of the housekeeping and food service staff from W&M and the local hotels live in Charles City or other now-cut-off counties.

  • dangermom

    This is just so sad. I am really disappointed in WRL.

  • Kendra Fletcher

    I’ve been following this whole thing with interest, even though it in no way affects my family in California. But it is so illogical that it is a great puzzle as to why these people are operating the way they are. Are they hoping their library system fails? Are they so daft as to not realize that circulation is the lifeblood of any library?

    We check out an inordinate amount of materials from the small branch in our town of 4,000. I once apologized and asked if they were sorry we had moved there. The library emphatically explained, “Oh no! We LOVE it that you check out so many books! Anything that improves our branch circulation only helps us garner more materials and improvements.” Well, duh.

    It may be that the WRL will soon feel the loss in the form of revenue and welcome you back, tails tucked under themselves.

  • cheapirish

    You ask: “Please tell us what we can do to help resolve the situation. Should we lobby our counties for a buy-in? Appeal to York County not to remove its funding? Offer to pay whatever card fee is necessary?”

    You’re welcome to do the second, but I don’t think you’d get far with those members of the York Board of Supervisors who oppose funding entities outside York County proper – even though they get much of their tax revenue from people who live outside the county. As the Marquis library debacle shows, they generally don’t consult their own citizens who live closer to Williamsburg than to Yorktown. I believe that project never came to fruition more through economic downturn than through the well-documented protests of the Bruton district residents.

    Regarding the desire to pay “whatever fee is required,” I think you know that most folks would not be willing to pay the $100+ per card that would be required to offset lost York County revenue. You’ve seen the numbers provided here and elsewhere, and that’s the answer to your continued puzzlement over the library’s efforts to “preserve current funding.” If York pulls out of their committment to fund WRL that’s a cut of 8% in the library’s budget. It will result in layoff of staff and further cutbacks in materials, both of which, I think you’d agree, would result in reduced quality of library service to all.

    Lastly, dry your daughter’s eyes and tell her you were wrong that she can’t come back to the library. She can. You can. Everyone can. Use the library’s computers, research to your heart’s content, come to the many programs presented – almost all free to everyone. Even get your taxes done free! Regretably, you won’t be able to check out your ten books or DVDs and take them home, but libraries are – and for centuries have been – much more than that to those they serve.

  • Susan

    It is a “lending library.” Losing borrowing privileges is not in any compensated for by “permission” to use the computers and research. We like to use the books. Read them. Together. At home. At bedtime, during free time, outside on the porch, with each other. As we have been doing for the past forty years.

    And no, I don’t “know” that people wouldn’t be willing to pay the necessary fee–because I haven’t seen numbers provided by the WRL Board, just speculation from others. The speculation may be correct, but without honesty and openness from those who are theoretically appointed to serve the public interest, we will never know.

    I have directly asked the library whether York County has threatened to pull out. York County, as you may know, has publicly denied this. I haven’t gotten the library board to answer.

  • Anne Cuthill

    Good on you for not just accepting their form letters and requesting some accountability.
    In so many ways I think the technological age has caused a cult of depersonalisation and bureaucracy. To them you aren’t Susan Wise Bauer but borrower #847363939 and they really could care less what borrower #847363939 does.
    You made a stand. You didn’t lie down and do nothing in the face of a bureaucratic juggernaut.
    I am sorry that they refused to answer your questions and that you were treated with such disdain.
    May you have many happy borrowing hours at the new library, and begin to build a new relationship with that institution.

  • Justin

    to Cheapirish: I’m glad that the WRL isn’t cutting off access to the computers. That’s helpful to many folks, though it doesn’t improve the deal much for me, since I’ve used a library computer maybe twice in 13 years. But while the computer room is a useful service, that’s not the main function of the library. Checking out materials is the main thing. As Susan said, it’s a lending library. Our Charles City neighbors don’t drive their kids there by the minivan-load in order to use the computer. They go there to check out books, audiobooks, DVDs, etc.

    Mr. Moorman has suggested that we could come to the library to peruse these materials. Ummm…has he ever tried to read a 600 page book that way? Or listen to an audiobook, or watch a DVD in the library stacks?

    As to the programs part…you may be incorrect on that. One of our Charles City friends (not Susan) has already had her children turned away from a summer program because they weren’t JCC/York/Wmsbrg residents.

  • Sebastian (a lady)

    I have spent five of the last seven years living overseas in communities where English language libraries were something rare and access to them was a privilege that wasn’t at all taken for granted.
    In the early years when my older sons were learning to read, it was almost impossible to keep them in enough books. We spent well over $100 a year on books from Amazon and Scholastic. Our parents routinely send us boxes of books collected from their used book stores back in the US. When I finally found a bilingual school that was willing to let us check out books I was thrilled. I could only get eight books at a time and I carefully planned two books per kid and then two more books for me to read aloud. I am forever grateful to the graciousness of the librarians there who let us check out books.
    $100 a year to maintain book borrowing services if I had no other local options would be a drop in the bucket. I probably would get that amount of value in the first couple of months. So don’t assume that just because the price attached seems high to one person that it wouldn’t seem like a wise investment to others.

  • Sebastian (a lady)

    BTW, is there a Friends group for your county’s library (or book room as the case may be)? I’d like to make a donation.

    Books do matter to our family’s quality of life and I think they matter in other’s lives too.

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