Advocating for Funding for Your Public Library

Do you know where your library’s funding comes from?  I have to admit that I don’t.  I am aware that state and local taxes pay for my library.  I know that reduced funding caused a cut in hours and staff benefits.  I know that, over the years, various neighboring towns have stopped paying taxes towards, or discussed stopping paying taxes towards, the library.  However, I do not know how library funding is allocated or by whom.  And that’s a problem.

It can be easy to see the library as a government institution that has always been there and always will.  However, the little that I know of  my library’s funding makes it all too clear that, often, libraries have a precarious existence, one maintained by the support, not necessarily of the government, but of the local community members.  It is the patrons who have, over the years, donated the time, money, and books to keep the library at its best, even when the tax dollars stopped flowing as generously as they used to.  But sometimes even this does not quite seem to be enough.

Government support of the library matters because the government has money and resources that the local community members may not.  Libraries, after all, are supposed to be about equal access, about providing everyone with resources and materials, regardless of their income level.  But when the government withdraws support, libraries and their community members suffer.  Hours are reduced, making it more difficult for people to use library resources.  Jobs become part-time, creating high turnover in staff.  Materials become scarcer because the library cannot pay for them all.  And when the library becomes less frequented due to limited hours and resources, people stop going, giving government leaders an excuse to stop funding altogether.

The town leaders who have stopped paying tax dollars to the library are denying equal access to their residents.  Often they justify this decision by claiming that the library is obsolete, that people can just use the Internet.  They overlook the fact that not everyone can buy every book, lesson, or video they need.  They overlook the fact that some people cannot even afford the Internet.  Their decision seems justifiable because they, themselves, do not need the library.  Greater inequity is created as a result.

Knowing how your library is funded matters because of decisions like these.  Quite often I have seen people ask to apply for a library card, only to be shocked and angry that they are ineligible because their town does not pay taxes for their membership.  Understanding that local governments are making these decisions, and not the librarians, can help people advocate for themselves.  A concerted effort by the community to petition for renewed membership could be effective.  But the mystery surrounding library funding can make it difficult for people to know whom to contact or how to respond.

Even if your town is not considering withdrawing from the library, it could still be beneficial to find out where your library is getting funding from, and how much.  Especially because a library can often appear to be doing all right, when in fact its financial situation is not ideal.  Asking government leaders for more funding could mean longer hours, more services, and more materials.  It could also grant the library some security as they may not have to rely as much on fundraisers each year to supplement their budget.

It can be easy to take libraries for granted, but libraries are truly community institutions that rely upon the communities they serve.  Libraries do so much good, from providing Internet access to job seekers and students to providing a safe space for the homeless to helping patrons learn another language.  Their value to the community is immeasurable.  So why shouldn’t we advocate for them?

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19 thoughts on “Advocating for Funding for Your Public Library

  1. ashley says:

    I always promote libraries. I’ve written at least one or two posts on my blog promoting them. I’m in a group on Facebook and left a comment on a post suggesting libraries.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lydia Tewkesbury says:

    This is such a thought provoking post – thank you! I had to admit I don’t know how my local library is funded either. I’m lucky that my library does quite well – they have a lot of facilities and had parts of the building updated in the last few years. That said I know smaller towns nearby have lost theirs.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It’s so lovely that your library is doing well! But definitely a shame about the others. 😦 I often think that if my tax dollars are undeniably being well spent, it’s on the library!

      Like

  3. Christopher says:

    This really hits home for me–I work in a library, although it’s one that’s part of a private university–and I really appreciate it. I use and support the local public library too, and have a good idea where the funding comes from.
    Something else to consider: librarians in public libraries don’t just help you find things. They’re also trained to deal with the homeless, and increasingly are being trained to watch for signs of opioid abuse. So communities should support their libraries because libraries support communities.

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s a really great point! Librarians do so much, from teaching people how to use the computers or sites like Facebook or Gmail to linking people up with social services. And the library is one of the last places you can go and not have to pay to be there!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. La La in the Library says:

    I feel very lucky. The library in my city is the county public library, and we live in an area where three other cities bleed into each other to make a larger metropolitan area caller Greater Binghamton, so there are three other large libraries where my card is accepted, one of them is quite close to my neighborhood. The only time there was talk of a closing was one of the other libraries, but somehow it didn’t close, it only cut hours. 📚

    A new county library was built pretty recently and it has an auditorium and conference rooms they rent out and the historical society rents a large space on a permanent basis for their own records library and genealogy search computers, and there is a gift shop; so it does generate some of its own income. I don’t recall ever seeing anything about cutting funding for our library on a local level. So like I said, I feel really lucky. 🏫

    I did find out that our online library offerings are actually a pool from four counties, thats why the wait lists are so long on audios and new ebooks. I can see where that saves quite a bit of money after the blogger Knox Driver was tweeting about how much popular ebooks cost them and how the licensing is usually only for 4-6 borrows before they have to re-buy it. It kind of makes me feel bad about using the online library instead of going in and borrowing the physicals. I used to be at the library all the time because that’s where I did my literacy volunteering, but now I tutor at my neighborhood community center, so getting audios online is easier. 🎧

    I do know they get grants for certain projects and programs, like the makers space room they equipped, and the kids robotics program they run, but you are right, I am clueless about the amount of Federal and State funding they get. 😕

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    • Krysta says:

      Wow! Your library system sounds awesome! It’s like the library other libraries want to be! 😀

      I know years ago there was a lot of controversy around libraries and ebook pricing, but I never did learn how it all ended. I understand publishers would be concerned about ebooks since they could have unlimited use, whereas physical books do need to be repurchased periodically. However, the average physical book certainly goes out more than 4-6 times before it has to be discarded! That number seems unfairly low to libraries, to me.

      Like

  5. Enobong says:

    I live in Sheffield in the UK where 16 of the public libraries in the area are run by volunteers because government funding cuts meant they would have been shut down afterwards. It’s incredible that these people stepped up to the role but such a shame that libraries are so underfunded.

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    • Krysta says:

      Wow! Yes, that’s truly amazing the community stepped up! But a tragedy that the government cut funding so completely. 😦 We’ve had some pretty drastic cuts where I live. I don’t think most people even realize it. They’ve just gotten used to complaining about the short hours and such. I think they’ve forgotten the library used to be open more–when they had the money!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Gayathri Lakshminarayanan says:

    Wow, this is such a detailed post and I totally agree how important local community libraries are. I wish your local authorities gave it a deeper thought too.

    Like

  7. Alex Masegian says:

    It’s so sad to hear that some towns are losing their libraries! I’m really lucky with mine — they were headed in the direction of closing, with hours cut down to four days a week, but when our new mayor got elected he restored the usual 6-day schedule. I might not know where the funding comes from (which, thanks to your post, is something I now realize I should fix!) but I will always be an advocate for libraries. I wouldn’t have been able to read nearly as much as I did when I was a kid without them!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Oh dear! That was a lucky save! It’s always so sad when a library closes or reduces hours. I don’t think some officials realize the impact that can have on a community.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. spicejac says:

    What a great post. So I went away and investigated and this is what I found for my area:

    In 2017-18 the total direct cost of providing public library services in Victoria was $252 million (vs $248 million in 2016-17) – with $202 million (80%) of library operating funding coming from local government, $41 million (16%) from state government, and $9 million (4%) from other funding sources (including library fees and charges). This does not include federal program funding ($0.3 million) or capital funding for library buildings, mobile libraries and equipment.

    Basically the maths works out that the cost of a Library for each person in Victoria is under $40 a year. Great value, and I’m thankful I live in a country that still realises the value of Libraries.

    Like

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