Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Public libraries and funding

So I'm part of a team that is thinking about public libraries and funding. Right now my head is in the realm of bonds, levies, millages, etc that communities pass in order to do library building campaigns or special projects.

If you had to guess, why do you think people support these types of projects? What are some of the reasons they might NOT vote/support for them?

Any communities that have run up against this issue?
(I've read about Lawrence, KS and Minneapolis, MN, among others...)

Does the size of the community make a difference?

Curious to see what you think.


Anonymous said...

My sense is that, at least sometimes, the library is used as the preverbial whipping boy, and a library tax is rejected on the basis of "no more taxes," and the rejection is not specific to the library or its services. In other words, the voter says "I can't afford more taxes, so I'm voting no, no matter what I feel about the library." A "no" vote can also be used as a referendum on the performance of the municipality's leaders if fiscal mismanagement has occurred in the past ("they messed up by mis-spending the school referendum money we gave them two years ago, so why should we let them have this money?"). Again, nothing specifically to do with the library, instead a more general comment on the leadership of the community. Of course, this is not always the case, but it is often mentioned by voters as a reason for their "no" vote.

Anne Abrams said...

I've been following elections in Idaho for 10 years, and I agree an anti-tax climate can sink an election. The libraries that have been successful have these characteristics in common: Trustees who champion the cause, staff who deliver exceptional customer service, a marketing campaign to raise the visibility of the library (before the initiative is introduced), an active education campaign in the weeks leading up to the vote, and volunteers who execute a get-out-the vote tactics.

Alice said...

Very interesting. So the fact that it's the Library we're asking about may in fact have no relevance whatsoever for a voter. Whoever is asking--the fact that they're asking at all is likely to generate a No vote--unless the clear case for WHY with Benefits for You, Mr. Smith, Jones and Johnson is made.

Hmmm. I also wondered about states that do not currently have state or local income taxes. Are those states (TN, NH and others) at a disadvantage in local elections for levies?

Daniel said...

I don't have a feel for how common it is, but it seems like perceptions of collection bias figure in some people's votes on library issues.

You can get a feel for the passion of these perceptions from a retired librarian's explanation of why she will vote against a levy for the Upper Arlington Public Library.

I don't agree with this poster, but she might be saying what others are thinking.

Anonymous said...

Our local library gets funded as part of the larger library system for the county and for the state of Pennsylvania. The township only has a library because 50 years ago, it was seen as a desirable way of attracting families and shoring up the tax base for the community. That's no longer a viable justification for the funding, in part because the community sees the local public library as largely just an adjunct service to the local school district and not as a central service to the community at large. Now the library is frequently seen as a drain on township resources and they're being encouraged to move. I think this is a situation reflective of many communities. I don't know how to increase funding but in our area (which has a number of seniors) anything that increases the tax burden on property owners is a negative factor.

Alice said...

Ah, collection bias is something I totally hasn't thought about. Good point! Has anyone else heard about situations like this?

Alice said...

True enough--there may be age-related concerns for the library, too. Jill also raises a good question: if your library is funded from a source outside the town, how do you make the case to people inside the town?