Why Consider Public Library Districts?
Improved FundingStatistical data show that libraries that have a public vote on their trustees and their budgets are better funded than those that don’t. These statistics were cited in the final report of the Regents Commission on Library Services. Though funding levels should be determined by local needs, it is recommended that libraries collect information on the level of tax support received by similar-sized libraries to help determine an appropriate amount to request through a public budget referendum. This information can be found in a database entitled Bibliostat Connect.
Libraries that are well funded are better able to meet the needs of their communities by offering an array of customer-focused services. The more people use library services, the more likely they are to vote to increase library funding. This “cycle of success” is what every library should strive for. The ability of a public library district to raise operating revenue though a direct public vote contributes greatly to its ability to achieve success.
Funding obtained through a public vote is not subject to the ups and down of funding from towns, villages, school districts, etc. For example, a town board can reduce its appropriation to the library at any time, but funding determined by a public budget vote, once approved, remains steady until the library requests an increase through another vote.
Library boards elected by the public have much more control over library operations than those who are appointed by town or village boards. The library becomes completely autonomous and separated from the town or village government.
Libraries that have their trustees and budgets approved by a public vote are much more accountable to the public. Communities have more ownership of their library and are more inclined to use its services.
A public vote on the library budget provides a simplified funding stream. This means of raising funds reduces the need to obtain funding from multiple sources such as villages, townships, the school district, etc.
Elimination of "Unserved" Populations
Creating special districts has the potential to eliminate pockets of “unserved” populations. These are people who live outside the chartered service area of any library, pay little if any taxes to support a library, yet continue to use its services.
The boards of certain public library districts have the ability to place bonding propositions on the ballot for capital projects such as building renovation and purchasing computer equipment. This greatly enhances the ability of libraries to expand and renovate their facilities.
Board of Regents Policy
The New York State Board of Regents, which oversees library services in New York, has adopted a formal policy that encourages libraries to become public library districts. This policy is based on recommendations of the Regents Commission on Library Services.
Experience of Those Who Have Done It
Since 1999, more than 20 new public library districts have been created within New York State, bringing the statewide total to 150. Libraries that have undergone the transition are a good source of information on the process and the benefits achieved by creating public library districts.