Are public libraries really a “layer of fat” in city budgets?

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by library supporters. Really. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that there really are such things as non-supporters of the library. GASP! Really? Non-supporters?

I ran into one on a friend’s Facebook post about library privatization.

layer of fat

Sounds like a joke! On my tax bill the library is a taxing body. I walk by mine every day and it t filled to the brim with workers and no patrons — seems like a huge layer of fat and ripe for privatized corruption

I know. I had to pause and re-read it a couple of times. Was she being sarcastic? Serious? It read like the Onion, so I wasn’t entirely sure if that’s what she intended.

I Googled her name–it’s fairly unique in the Chicagoland area, so that helped. She lives in one of the suburbs of Chicago, at least according to the most recent records online, so I am presuming she is talking about her suburban library. Among the hits includes a comment from her about the property taxes on an investment plot of land, on (which is a org that is, among other things, dedicated to limited taxation).

She genuinely believes that libraries are a “layer of fat” in her city’s budget.

Unfortunately, so do many others. I know this from past experience in public libraries, and from the ongoing drama at other public library systems around the country.

So I dug around a little bit more. The more I know, the more I can help advocate for her library. Maybe her suburban library is particularly well-funded? They rely almost solely on property taxes, 2.891% earmarked for libraries. I’m concerned about the rather heavy reliance on property taxes. There’s not much diversity to help guard against lean years, or if the residents all decide to reduce that percentage.

Since she specified the number of staff inside, I took a look at the director’s salary. It’s a way for me to estimate whether they are paying their staff reasonably well, or whether they’re skimping on the wages. The director’s salary is a little less than the average and median, so I don’t think the “fat” is in the wages.

Wait– I found the meeting minutes for the discussion about health insurance. It appears they rely on the ACA to provide insurance to their staff–and they decided that next year they will NOT pay their portion for any dependents of the staff member to save money. Just the staff members themselves. That is going to become a problem in the long run with employee satisfaction and turnover, I’m afraid.

Where is the fat? It’s not in the collection, either, it seems–according to their strategic plan, a survey says that non-users of the library are dissatisfied with the selection of material.

Finally–she mentioned that it seems like nobody is using it when she walks by–it depends on the time of day. Does she see the weekend rush? The after school “my paper is due tomorrow” crowds? The daycare visits?

Library workers all know that the quiet times of the days are the times when we prepare for programs, update records, shelve books, do virtual reference interviews, buy and process material, etc. I know I loved shelving children’s books outside of peak kid times, when I worked in the public library.

We’re not sitting around doing nothing until retirement, like what Frank Pezzanite (founder of LSSI, the company in the privatization article) said. I think most of us might agree that we’re constantly wishing we had more time in the day to get things done.

I don’t know if this person knows all this–which is why I researched and politely pointed all of this out to her, referring her to my primary sources from the library itself. (Kudos to you, unnamed library, for posting minutes and the strategic plan online.)

It falls on us library users to advocate for libraries everywhere. (Insert shameless plug for EveryLibrary).





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