News & Opinion

The Votes Are in and U.S. Libraries Win

by on December 3, 2012

The Votes Are in and U.S. Libraries Win

Even as the dust continues to settle from the election of 2012, an assessment of the final results unearths some interesting trends, especially with regard to ballot initiatives.Even amidst an environment that had some candidates for federal office decrying the inefficiency of government generally, specific up or down votes related to library funding issues fared quite well. Moreover, library ballot initiative successes can be found in both “blue” and “red” states, based on how they voted with regard to the two major presidential candidates.

Not surprisingly, given its long-standing and generous fiscal policies related to libraries, the otherwise swing state of Ohio burnished its pro-library reputation this year. For instance:

  1. Nearly 62% of the voters in Dayton, Ohio voted in favor of the $187 million “Libraries for the Future” initiative put forward by the Dayton Metro Library.  The broad outlines of this plan call for doubling the size of the main library, replacing 12 smaller and older buildings with eight new and larger facilities, and expanding and renovating eight additional branches.
  2. At the north end of the state of Ohio, 66% of local voters approved Issue 23, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s $2.9 million, five-year replacement levy. This stamp of approval also consisted of a provision which will increase, with new money, the library’s property tax funding stream by 45% – an amount that represents nearly half of the system’s overall revenue.

Another state whose electoral votes were generally thought to be up for grabs in this year’s presidential contest was the state of Colorado.  The overwhelming 73.8 % approval of the City of Denver’s Ballot Measure 2A will generate $68 million by allowing the city to keep revenue it already collects (but currently has to refund), providing new revenues – all without raising taxes or fees. The Denver Public Library will benefit from this additional revenue, allowing it to increase library hours by over 40%, from four to six days a week as well as some additional Sunday hours.

Both traditionally conservative (Texas)and liberal-leaning (California) states also were vocally supportive of their local public libraries. Specifically:

  1. Don’t mess with Texas … libraries, that is!  The El Paso Public Library, former home of 2004 – 2005 ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano, will grow as a result of approval of Proposition 2.  This initiative authorizes the issuance of $228.25 million in bonds to upgrade museums and libraries and to construct a new children’s museum and a multipurpose arena.
  2. Even in a climate of statewide fiscal austerity, voters in Fresno, California said yes to their local libraries. Sales tax Measure B was enthusiastically approved by 72% of voters. This revenue stream – initially enacted for the benefit of the Fresno County Public Library in 1998, will now be in place for a full 16 years. As a result of this favorable development, the library system can fund a series of improvements that will include: job and homework centers, wi-fi access, express checkout, and an increase in the number of public-use computers.  This funding stream represents roughly 55% of FCPL’s overall revenue base.

Other ballot measures not related to libraries didn’t always meet with similar success. This year’s endorsement at the polls builds on favorable trends seen in last year’s off-year elections.  According to Library Journal, “fully 88 percent of libraries that asked their communities to fund them were rewarded with a “yes.” This 2011 passage rate represented a ten-year high for library operating referenda success. For all of us who are supporters of public libraries, it’s good to know that the public at-large continues to see their value, even during these trying times.

References

  1. Press Release -“Voters Affirm Libraries,” Urban Libraries Council:  Chicago, Illinois, November 7, 2012.
  2. Dempsey, Beth, “Voters Keep the Doors Open:  Library Referenda 2011,” Library Journal: New York, New York, April 12, 2012.

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