One of the accounting tricks in the proposed amendments to the FY 2010 Virginia Beach Budget is to impose an annual $45 fee for non-residents using our libraries. It's a case where what is good politics is bad public policy.
I live in Virginia Beach and have a Beach library card. I also have cards from Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. Each system has it's strengths:
Chesapeake - probably the best all-around: large book collections, plenty of good computers, nice buildings, and more operating hours than anyone else in the region. If they only had much better meeting rooms....
Newport News - the Pearl Bailey Library may be small, but has the feel of a community center.
Norfolk - my favorite computer room is in the new main library in the Seaboard Building. In addition, the Pretlow is a gem.
Portsmouth - patrons are friendly, plus a neat queueing system for the public computers.
Virginia Beach should not launch a regional fee war. First, as dependent as we are on visitors, we should be mindful of our image. Second, as Virginia Beach often gets portrayed as the bad guy in regional efforts, no need to feed into it.
Virginia law provides that the resident of any jurisdiction may get a reciprocal library card in any other locality in the Commonwealth. It's an easy argument that a non-residents fee violates the spirit - if not the letter - of the law.
Here's an idea for further regional cooperation: how about an agreement among localities not to impose non-resident library fees on residents from elsewhere in Hampton Roads?