Library seeing boom in passport applications

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Melissa Vollman, Passport Acceptance Agent, left, takes a photo of Emily Green of the library’s circulation department at the James V. Brown Library recently.

Passport or real ID?

With the new state law regarding identification needed to travel by air domestically and to enter federal facilities, many people are opting to go one step further and apply for a passport.

“With a passport, it’s much more aspirational,” said Kevin Renahan, county services manager at the James V. Brown Library and its passport manager.

“People get their passports because they want to set the stage for something different in their lives in the future, whether that’s missionary trips for missions’ reasons, school trips or study abroad for kids. It sets the stage for some future potential,” he added.

“In my opinion people look at Real ID and see that as just another fee-base obstruction,” Renahan said, adding that he doesn’t mean to be critical of the Real ID program, but he feels “they’re charging you $30 to travel domestically and which you could have done for free three years ago.”

“I think people are looking at passports as you’re getting something for the money. You’re getting the freedom to travel. You’re getting a document that lasts for 10 years for adults,” he said.

He added that with the Real ID you can travel within the U.S., but with a passport you can travel to other countries.

At a recent meeting of the library’s board of directors, Renahan shared how offering passports at the local library has opened up a source of self-generated income.

Since the library first began offering the service in 2008, the number of passport applications has grown, with Renahan noting 2018 was the best year yet and 1,717 applications were processed. In the first two months of this year, 357 people have already applied for passports at the facility.

The income realized from the service has also grown with last year bringing in $52,745 in revenue and $10,000 so far this year.

Renahan sees this as a plus, not only because of the actual amount, but also because it takes the emphasis away from the traditional source of a library’s self-generated income–library fines.

“Library fines used to be the primary means of self-generated income,” he said. “Some people don’t pay, some people can’t pay and some people let their fines lapse into perpetuity, but with passports you are able to get income without putting in jeopardy your base of support.”

He added generating income from passports “doesn’t cause any harm. It only benefits us.”

The library is one of three locations where area residents can apply for a passport. The Prothonotary’s office at the Lycoming County Court House and the Post Office on Reach Road are the other two.

When contacted, Suzanne Fedele, County Prothonotary, said that her office has actually seen a decline in passport applications. She attributes this to the fact that her office only offers the passport service during the day, ending a half hour before the courthouse closes.

The library has the advantage of remaining open after the court house has closed, which is a plus for parents who are applying for passports for their children, Renehan said. Both parents have to be there for the process in addition to the children, so by being open evenings and weekends, including Sundays, the library is able to accommodate the public.

He noted that the library is also easily accessible and in a central location. Plus there are currently 10 staff members who are trained to do passports during the time the library is open, which is why no appointments are necessary.

“We don’t leave it for one person to be a designated passport person,” he said. “Everybody checks everybody else’s work.”

This also helps maintain the quality control of his department when it comes to the documentation necessary to apply for a passport.

“We’re looking at it. We’re verifying it. We’re having people swear to the authenticity of it and the integrity of the documents that they’re showing us. Ultimately it is up to the passport agency to decide what passes or what fails. They do the in-depth vetting of the applicant, but for the most part we want to prevent any problems on our end. We want to make sure they have all the right documentation, all the right information is filled out, so that we don’t get a bounce back,” he said.

In 2015 the library invested in a camera to take passport photos, which has resulted in a revenue stream alone of about $5,000 to $6,000 a year, Renahan said.

Producing the photos for the passports in-house adds another layer of quality control. This in turn again results in fewer rejections by the passport agency, he said.

“When you talk about passports and library employees, it really aligns with their best attributes,” Renahan said.

“They’re diligent people, they’re focused, they’re very good at taking complex information, deciphering it and explaining that to people who don’t have the time to study perhaps the tedious intricacies of that subject matter. Library people are perfect at doing that because that’s sort of something they do every day, dealing with complex information and transferring that over. That’s one thing that makes passports an easy skill for them to pick up,” he added.