MATTOON -- As the new school year begins, many students will likely need to check out books at their local libraries for their homework assignments.
However, some families live in rural areas outside of library taxing districts and cannot afford the nonresident cards that their children need to bring home books from nearby libraries.
With this need in mind, community members founded the Readers' Bridge in 2001. This Mattoon-based nonprofit organization pays 90 percent of the cost of a card for those in financial need who live outside of a library district. Readers' Bridge relies on donations and grants, and has called for continued financial support from the community at the outset of the new school year.
Charleston is one of the communities served by Readers' Bridge, which also provides funding for cards in Mattoon, Sullivan, Effingham, Newman, Kansas and Neoga. Representatives from these libraries serve on this organization's board.
"(Readers' Bridge) is an amazing program. It really is. It's just a great resource to have," said Chris Houchens, director of the Charleston Carnegie Public Libary. He added that the nonresident cards can be used at Charleston, Mattoon and other Illinois Heartland Library System participating libraries.
Houchens said the Charleston library wants everyone to have access to checking out books and other items. Consequently, Houchens said they promote Readers' Bridge to nonresident card applicants who meet the eligibility requirements.
Readers' Bridge reported that the financial need of recipients can be demonstrated by them working only part-time, having children who are eligible for reduced or free school meals, living in subsidized housing, using a Link card, or receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Application forms are available at participating libraries, and the local librarians review the applications.
Mattoon Public Library Director Carl Walworth said their staff is knowledgeable about Readers' Bridge and welcomes questions from applicants. He said this program helps ensure that rural residents have access to checking out items, while also bringing nonresident card revenue to local libraries.
Readers' Bridge reported that all monetary donations go directly to fund library cards. As card requests come in, this organization reimburses the requesting library. The annual costs of nonresident cards range from $50 in Sullivan and $75 in Mattoon to $95 in Charleston and $139 in Effingham. Readers' Bridge requires that the applicants pay 10 percent of the cost to "buy-in" to the card.
Figures compiled by Readers' Bridge President Max Jaeger showed that they provided funding for 42 library cards and $3,301 in library reimbursement in 2016. This compares to 31 cards, $2,226 in reimbursement in 2015; 21 cards, $1,536 in 2014; and 18 cards, $1,210 in 2013. They anticipate funding 40 or more cards in 2017. More than 1,000 individuals or families have received a sponsored card since 2001.
Jaeger said Toledo resident Virginia Katzeff, now deceased, led the creation of Readers' Bridge in 2001 to ensure that no one in the area would be denied a library card due to lack of money. Jaeger, a retired management instructor, said Katzeff was one of his former students at Lake Land College and she recruited him to help start this organization. Jaeger has been involved ever since then.
Readers' Bridge provides a way for volunteers and donors to make an immediate positive difference in the lives of their fellow community members, Jaeger said.
"It's good to help people," Jaeger said. "(The library card) is tangible. It's right there and it's in their community."
Those interested in donating to Readers' Bridge can do so via participating libraries or by contacting Jaeger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donor names are not released unless requested by the donors.