One of the towns I visited on my (now-complete) AT thru-hike was the small tourist town of Lincoln, NH. While in Lincoln I visited the library to do my usual chores; checking email, reading up on the town, writing letters, etc. and was astounded to find that a fee of $2.00 per half hour was charged for non-residents and seasonal workers to use the library computers. I do not believe this is an acceptable way for libraries to raise money (or even recuperate their internet / maintenance bills) for reasons which I outlined in the following letter to the Lincoln city council:
To whom it may concern:
I am writing to you today to express my displeasure at your decision to charge a fee for computer use at the local library located at 22 Church St.
The purpose of a library is to facilitate the betterment of humanity through open access to information. This has traditionally been accomplished through written word, archival materials, and knowledgeable support staff. In recent years the means of spreading knowledge and information has expanded to encompass the internet and other computer services. One would not charge for the use of a typewriter (though tape is much more expensive than electricity) or for the use of an encyclopedia (which cost a small fortune to purchase in physical form, but may be obtained freely online); the same goals apply to the use of a computer.
The internet changed the world more than any other invention of the past century — it shrank the world more than the telephone, or even the genesis of commercial flight. As Stewart Brand famously said, “Information wants to be free.” You are in charge of a library, a repository of free knowledge and information, not an internet café; please treat it as such. A library and, by extension, the city or organization which empowers it has a responsibility to all people, local or alien, and this responsibility transcends the boarders of your municipality. Please consider making the library computers free for all patrons, as is your duty.
After returning from the trail, I received a letter from the Lincoln Public Library informing me that they had reviewed their policies and agreed to cease charging for computer use at the library. I’m very happy with their decision; the mission of a library is to provide access to information, and that mission is now being embrased more fully by the city of Lincoln. Their letter follows:
Dear Mr. Whited,
Thank you for your letter to the Town of Lincoln addressing your concern about the charge for non-resident computer use. I am happy to inform you that the Town manager and the Library Board of Trustees have decided that the policy was [sic] no longer necessary, and the library will not continue to charge anyone for use of our desktop computers. We are happy to provide all our means of research now free of charge to everyone. Thank you for bringing our attention to the matter and we hope that next time you are in Lincoln you will be able to stop in and use all of the library’s resources.
Lincoln Public Library
22 Church St
Lincoln, NH 03251
Needless to say, I will be writing a letter of thanks as soon as may be. Hopefully other travellers (particularly those on the AT) will benefit from this policy change.