State Funding for Libraries – It’s Overdue

So today I went to a meeting of the Vermont Library Association’s Advocacy Committee. The Advocacy Committee works closely with the Government Relations Committee of VLA to get stuff done on a legislative level. They act and we promote. We work in tandem.

Big news this year is that the VLA is working with the Dept. of Libraries to try to get a small amount of guaranteed state funding for Vermont’s public libraries. Currently funding is 100% local, with the exception of grant programs like LSTA, Gates Foundation and Freeman Foundation money. For most Vermont towns this means getting the budget approved in town meeting every year. Some towns have the library as part of the town government funding and some have a separate line item. Some of the towns I work with have big fights about library funding every year. Some libraries get small increases every year when they need them. In any case, Vermont is one of only six states that has no state level funding for libraries and we are asking the Governor for $1.6 million [pdf] which will give public libraries in the state the equivalent of 10% of their operating costs, or a minimum of $1500.

A concern among some of the libraries is that towns might see the state money as supplanting money the town would have to pay and libraries would actually see no net increase in funding. And, of course, in a state where people are used to being so independent, there are always concerns when money comes from the government (CIPA anyone?).

In any case I’m new to this lobbying and legislating stuff, though I am pretty good at stringing sentences together. If anyone has advice, feel free to leave it in the comments.

6 thoughts on “State Funding for Libraries – It’s Overdue

  1. I am no expert on fundraising but would it be more helpful instead of lobbying for a flat 10% of operating costs, to seek to persuade the state to match 10% of local funding raised ? That way local communities that are prepared to give more to their libraries would get more e.g. a local community that was prepared to raise $10,000 would receive an additional sum of $1,000 as well.

    The argument would be that the most succesful and popular services would have already proven their worth to those providing the central funding.

    The drawback is that ‘to those who have, yet more shall be given’ and those services least supported at present would gain the least. . .

    Another alternative would be to ringfence certain funding areas (stock purchase or infrastructure, for example) and ask the state to top-up local efforts if the sums raised were below the national average per capita spending in that area of expenditure.

  2. North Dakota has a somewhat similar program, called State Aid to Public Libraries. Currently it is funded at $1 million, but we’re lobbying for $1.2 million this year. It hinges on local support–a city/county has to maintain or increase the mill levy and actual dollars in order to receive the State Aid check. Thus, if a city cuts the library budget in the amount of state aid, they don’t get the state aid the next year.

  3. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is. Since all money is already raised locally, 10% of costs is the same as 10% of funding raised. Most of these libraries are funded in the tens of thousands of dollars annually with communities that pay, on the average I think $28/year in taxes, some much more and some much less. I think part of the argument is whether you consider libraries a general public good and as such eligible for continued standardized funding at a state level, like education, or whether you think individual communities should be able to determine what they want in a library balanced against their desire to be taxed to support it.

  4. As they say in the art world: bigger grants, longer chains.

    One thing I’ve been concerned about is how public funding of libraries enables censorship of library materials and the hypocritical, conservative collection policies of all public libraries. Wait! Am I actually arguing that public funding of public libraries is a bad thing? Yes, I think that government funding of public libraries is problem and I’m not just looking at this through my anarchist glasses.

    There have been plenty of incidents where library materials have been removed and censored by library boards and by librarians who are afraid of public controversy. I think the main reason why libraries buckle in response to this pressure is the fact that libraries get their money from local and state governments. Yes, there are librarians who stand up to this nonsense, but the pressure causes librarians to censor their collections.

    For example, public library collections are notoriously vanilla and conservative. You will not find much in the way of radical political opinion in libraries. You will rarely find any erotica or pornography in libraries, despite the fact that these materials are popular among the public. Public libraries also unfairly restrict video borrowing for minors, often using the MPAA ratings which aren’t legally binding and are intended for *movie theaters* not libraries or other situations.

    I’d like to see public libraries move to a model where they are independent public institutions supported by the public. Uncouple public libraries from the government pursestrings.

  5. We would have almost no books or magazines without state funding. Our local governmental budget is enough to pay most of the staff and keep the lights on, with no money for extras. We pay for most of our supplies out of our photocopying and printout charges.

  6. What makes you think that private donors would be any happier with porn and erotica than public funding bodies? Personally, I think a great library is one that contains something to offend each person who walks in the door. I hate Danielle Steel, but lots of people love her (or those awful Robert Waller books). I don’t know of any library that restricts movies by age or ratings – we sure don’t (it’s against the state standards to discriminate by age in RI libraries). And I don’t buy too many political books because they don’t circulate all that much. But I have to admit we were forced to filter our Internet access because of CIPA – though we actively promote the knowledge that anyone 17+ can ask to have the filter removed.

    Anyway, in RI, we have a funding formula for state aid – it’s 25% of the previous year’s local support (actually 2 years previous because all the numbers have to be certified, etc.). It works very nicely, because there’s a lovely bit in the law that requires each city/town to at least level fund the library from the previous year(it’s the “maintenance of effort” clause) or the town loses the 25% match. There is also a match based on a percentage of endowment income a library uses to support its operating budget. So at least RI libraries have the comfort of being pretty sure of a continuing level of support. For more info, check out the state’s web site:

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