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St. Joseph County Public Library will now charge annual fee for guest cards

Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE

The St. Joseph County Public Library has announced new rates for guest library cards, meaning some county residents will go from paying nothing to $50 annually.

The library’s taxed service area includes all of South Bend, parts of Granger, parts of Mishawaka, all of North Liberty and all of Lakeville.

Marissa Gebhard, the library’s communications manager, said the Indiana Library Association sets the guest card fee for residents without a home library they pay taxes to at $85 annually. For example, that includes Madison Township in St. Joseph County and all out-of-state residents.

All Indiana residents with a home library are eligible for a discounted $65 yearly guest card.

But previously, residents living in the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library and New Carlisle-Olive Township Public Library service areas enjoyed free guest card access to the St. Joseph County Public Library under a reciprocal agreement.

Starting in June, they’ll need to pay $50 per year for a guest access card. That new reciprocal card rate also applies to the Walkerton-Lincoln Township Public Library and residents of Center, North, Polk, West and German Townships in Marshall County.

Gebhard said the new charges are needed to cover the costs of providing library services to residents outside of the library’s tax district.

“With increased costs and decreased revenue, we just need a little bit of money from those outside of our service area to cover some of our costs of serving the people outside of our service area,” she said.

The library did recently eliminate all fines and late fees for all cardholders as part of an effort to increase access, but Gebhard said that did not have a significant impact on the budget.

Instead, she pointed to the county’s new consolidated 911 center. Taxes were not increased to fund it — instead, existing revenue was shifted around, and the library lost about $600,000 annually.

“Going fine-free did not have nearly as big a financial impact as the 911 center,” she said. “That was a huge hit to our budget — so when we have huge hits like that, we just have to make the bottom-line work somehow.”

Non-resident teachers and students over 18 years old are still eligible for free guest cards, and kids under 17 are eligible for a free, limited-access guest card allowing five books to be checked out at a time.

Guest card holders can access normal library services including unlimited book rentals, magazines, CDs, DVDs, video games, eBooks, audiobooks, digital magazines and discovery passes for county parks. 

Free services without a library card include tax assistance, visiting the library itself, taking part in library programs and attending library events.

Contact Jakob at or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.