Friday, July 23, 2010

I’m going to ask for a bit of patience here today.  When I first started this blog, I had no intention of dealing with the millage the library I work for is trying to renew, for the simple reason that I am extremely biased.  However, on Wednesday our local paper ran an editorial in support of the millage.  While the editorial itself was in support of the renewing the millage, some of the comments posted online were extremely misinformed, and quite frankly downright rude.  In response to this, I’ve decided to post my own little piece of info about the library system in question itself, as well as information about the millage.  Again, I am extremly biased.  I am also NOT an employee who is high up (I'm actually all the way at the bottom).  Some of the information below is observations from my own work experience, as well as taking a look at Board Reports and Budget Reports during my breaks.  I will provide links at the end to what information I know is located on the web.  Nothing in this blog should be taken to be reflective of anything but my own opinion, and should not be taken to reflect the opinions or political stance of the library itself.

I work for the Capitol Area District Library, which operates in Ingham County, Michigan.  We operate all public libraries in the county except for the public library in the city of East Lansing.  CADL was formed 12 years ago, as a way to combine all the public libraries under one umbrella, and thus save money in consolidation.  All the communities in the county voted on the proposal to do this (and the original CADL millage), and all except East Lansing approved it.  You might not understand how it saves money to have one giant library system instead of many smaller ones, but consider this: we all now have one Director.  We have one Human Resources, Public Relations, Building Management, Financing, Information Technologies, and Processing departments instead of many.  We maintain one singular website, and use one computer program to track our materials.  We buy all of our materials together.  CADL operates thirteen branches, so imagine duplicating all of those vital services thirteen times.

There have also been other positive aspects of combining.  Because CADL is one system, we allow our patrons to check out materials at any of our branches with their library card.  They can then return those materials to any other branch free of charge.  They can also reserve an item at a branch and have it delivered to another branch, usually within twenty-four hours again, free of charge.  This means that even though each library has control over its own collection (what’s ordered, what’s discarded), from our patrons’ point of view, CADL maintains one singular collection that is housed in thirteen locations.  So patrons living in Aurelius Township can go to the tiny Aurelius branch library, and still have full access to the downtown Lansing Library without having to drive an hour to get there.

I saw some questions on the editorial about how money was allocated within the system, and how much each community got back of the millage it paid.  And the truth is that almost the entire budget is centrally allocated.  Employees are hired by and paid by CADL itself.  Instead of saying that each branch gets this much money to spend on staffing, CADL takes a look at the size of the collection and the circulation numbers (in short, how much work needs to be done on a weekly basis) and assigns a number of hours to that branch broken down by department.  Each branch has a head librarian, other librarians, library assistants, circulation clerks, and pages.  Now, a theoretical example of why it’s not a set dollar amount could go something like this: the head librarian in Leslie has been at CADL since it started, and so has received a number of raises.  The head librarian at South Lansing has only been at CADL for a few years, and has received only a few raises.  Their base pay is the same, because they are doing the same job.  But South Lansing is a busier library than Leslie.  If CADL allocated staffing by dollar values instead of hours, the head librarian at Leslie at some point would have had to either accept a pay cap, or move to another branch with a bigger budget.  This may not seem like a big deal, but CADL tries to maintain ties between the staff and the community they serve.  Employees of CADL do not move between branches other than substitute shifts (someone is sick, on vacation, or there is a vacancy that has yet to be filled), or if they are moving up in the system (page to clerk, clerk to library assistant, etc).  The building maintenance budget is also central, and doled out as needed.  Otherwise, if a branch doesn’t need the money that was earmarked for that purpose, that money has not gone to waste.  Conversely, if a library needs more money than was earmarked for it, it doesn’t go wanting.  The only part of the budget that I know of that is allocated in dollar amounts per branch is the materials budget.  And as I talked about above, materials are shared throughout the system, so librarians are only controlling what is shelved in their library, not what their patrons have access to.

A big point a lot of people are chocking in is even with the cut, the 1.56 mills CADL is asking for will generate $10 million next year.  That seems like a lot to a lot of people, and it is.  Far and away, the largest part of the budget is staffing.  I can say from experience, that CADL employees have made sacrifices in the last few years to keep that cost from rising.  We’ve taken less pay raises, and smaller ones.  Those with health benefits are paying more of their own costs.  Vacation time has been lessened.  We’re also hiring fewer people to replace those who have left.  We have restructured, moving people sideways within the organization in order to eliminate positions we no longer feel are necessary.  But CADL still employs well over a hundred people (I’m not sure on the exact number, but it is large).  We have also made significant investments in technology, both in the form of public use computers, wifi in ever branch, and more sophisticated and faster ways to track our materials through the system.  Think about it this way: divide 10 by 13.  If all those communities paid the same millage, but it was evenly split between them (which it wouldn’t be due to population distribution), each area would receive roughly $769,000 dollars.  How far do you think you can stretch that?

Another assumption made by many people on the LSJ editorial comments is that CADL is only really supplying research materials, at which point people should either use the internet (more current) or school/university/college libraries.  I think the mistake here is assuming that most of CADL’s circulation is in research materials, or non-fiction materials.  It is not.  Far and away, our circulation is based in children’s, adult fiction, and audio-visual materials.  Most people come into CADL to check out novels/children’s fiction, movies, cds, and audio books.  Of course, the next complaint would by why am I paying for other people to read books for entertainment?  I think I’ll once again refer you to CADL’s Library Use Value Calculator.  It is far and away cheaper to buy collectively than it is to buy everything yourself.  If you were really interested in saving money, you’d vote yes on the millage and then use the library and save more money than you would have by voting no and not having a library.  I’ll post this link, among others, at the end of this.  For instance, my parents check out on average about 5 movies per week.  They save roughly $1,000/year by borrowing from the library and not a movie rental store.  The average CADL resident pays between $50-$80/year to CADL in the form of the millage.

The next assumption is that not everyone in Ingham County is paying for the library, and likely those saying this are pointing their figures at people like me, who are living in rental housing.  But here’s the fact of the matter, I pay money to the agency who owns my apartment complex.  They, as property owners, then pay all property taxes (including the millage) on the apartment I live in.  They include this cost of doing business in my rent payment.  So I do pay this millage, though it’s indirectly.  I’ll also point out that the likelihood of my rent going down as a result of the millage failing is low.

I’ll end this by saying a few facts about the millage itself.  It is on the August 3 ballot.  It calls for a straight renewal of the current millage, and is strictly for operational costs.  The operational millage accounts for 90% of our budget.  The millage calls for 1.56 mills, which will generate less than when this millage was originally approved in 2006.  TIFAs, or Tax Increment Financing Act, will be taken out of the millage, because CADL does not have the ability to opt out of them.

I’ll wrap this up with some links:
Ingham County August Ballot The CADL Millage is near the end of the page.  This is the official language of the millage to be voted on.
Support CADL The official website of the campaign being run by Libraries Now.


Anonymous said...

I have to say, this is well informed and does well at explaining many questions people might ask about the Millage. I was actually captured by this small but precise post and find it quite true. Though I do not use the library, I have always supported having libraries in any city I live in for the convenience of those who don't want to spend thousands of dollars a year and would rather be able to get them for less than hundreds.

Mers said...

Thanks very much for your comment!

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