Is your library facing shut-downs on some days of the week?
How can you make sure your library keeps its doors open?
Multnomah County Library, in Portland Oregon, was facing this challenge in 2012. The Multnomah County Library was been struggling financially because of the impact of a local property tax cap and lower contributions from the county’s general fund. The library is the largest in Oregon and it serves over 35,000 people daily.
The library closed on Mondays, and faced reduced hours in many branches on other days of the week.
Today every Multnomah County library branch is open every day of the week.
How did they get the critical funding they needed?
In Oregon, some counties have voted to have such low property taxes that they no longer have first responders in their counties. Isn’t that awful? Can you imagine if they feel like this about first responders, how much they would value libraries? Not very much!
In Oregon, if you get enough signatures on a petition, you can create a ballot measure. What’s the law in your state? If it’s similar, then the path is clear.
Step 1: Create a petition. Since so many people use our libraries, getting librarians to help people sign a petition, having the petition by the patron checkout should be a no-brainer.
Step 2: Start marketing this initiative. Debra Askanase has done an admirable job of breaking down exactly how a volunteer marketing firm helped Multnomah County library market this ballot initiative
Step 3: Bring the issue up for vote: The issue got on the ballot in May, 2012, and passed, but that was not enough to create the funding for the library.
Step 4: Consider creating a county library taxing district, as Multnomah County voters did. What does this mean? It means that there’s a special tax that is taken out each year for county voters, to subsidize the library.
The exact wording of the ballot measure that people voted on was as simple as this.
“Shall there be a dedicated library district fund for Multnomah County library hours, services; rate limited to $1.24 per $1,000 assessed value beginning 2013?”
That doesn’t sound like a lot of money! And it isn’t.
But in a county as rich as Multnomah County, this is enough to get the library to stay open every day of the week.
What was the opposition to the ballot measure?
The City of Portland’s Office of Management and Finance recently issued a budget impact brief that said creating a separate library district would financially harm the city by costing $7 million a year in property taxes and cut the city’s children’s levy.
Basically this is bullshit. They have enough money to do other important things, there should not be a fight between “children” and “the library.”
We need to reframe the conversation from, “Children versus library” to, “Yes, We believe it’s important to fund both children AND the library.”
Then Multnomah county and the library ran a survey
The county and library officials ran an online survey asking for public input on whether to keep the current service or restore it through increasing the library tax levy or creating a new library district. About 20,000 people visited the survey; 61.5 percent said they would support the library district, 13.1 percent said they would support increasing the tax levy to support the library and 25.4 percent said they would support maintain the current tax levy and limited library service.
In November of 2012, Multnomah County voters approved a permanent tax base for the library system, which makes the library much more stable and able to be open seven days a week with new hours.
With the new schedule offering more choices to its patrons and with 40 percent more open hours each week, this new schedule reflects community input, based on specific preferences expressed in nearly 4,000 responses to a community survey earlier this year.
How can you recreate this for your library?
If I were you, here’s what I would do.
Go look at Deborah Askenase’s slideshow on this campaign
Ask Winning Mark about their strategy for the Multnomah County Library “Libraries Yes!” campaign.
Bottom Line: Doing a public awareness campaign and creating a levy or a library district ballot measure will put the responsibility for funding the library back where it belongs, aka in the province of the tax dollars of property owners who can afford it.
We know our libraries are tremendously important. If taxpayers won’t do the right thing on their own, then a ballot measure will help solve library funding issues.
Have you tried this for your library?
What were your results, if so?