Thursday, March 1, 2012

I talked a little yesterday about what services libraries provide, and what a bargain those services are. Today, my library released our Annual Report for 2011 and included in that is some real statistics about library finances, which I've decided to talk about here. So again, this information is very specific and may not reflect the realities or experiences of other libraries. Any discrepancies between what I've posted below and the actual report are my own mistakes. Additional information to what is in the report should not be taken to reflect anything but my own opinions, and not those of my employer.

A little about my library: I work for the Capital Area District Library (CADL), which is a large district library located in Ingham County, Michigan. We serve twenty-three municipalities through thirteen branches, a bookmobile, and extensive online services. Our thirteen branches saw 1,578,043 visits last year, and we circulated 2,297,913 items. I can't even begin to enumerate the number and types of programs we put on, from toddler and preschool story times to concerts by local musicians. We provided free classes and lectures on materials spanning from English as a Second Language to computer classes to urban farming. To find out more information about CADL, you can visit our website.

In 2011, we spent $10.3 million out of $11.3 million in revenues. Most of that $10.3 million went to staffing, with the next largest expenditure being new library materials. We also allocate spending on professional services, building maintenance and utilities, technology, and basic supplies (can you imagine the amount of paper we use? It boggles the mind.)

Now, where did that money come from? $10.1 million of it came from the tax revenue of our millage that was renewed in 2010 and will run until 2014. $582,000 came from penal fines, which during 2011 were solely on our entertainment movie collection (informational films, such as documentaries, had no late fines). I believe this also includes charges for lost or damaged items. $223,000 came from fees, the major source of which is our non-residency fee which I discussed in yesterday's post. $116,000 came from aid from the state of Michigan, and is a source of funding that can go away without notice. Since Michigan, like many governments these days, must find ways to downsize and cut spending, that may happen. Finally, $273,000 came to us from other means. These are donations, grants, bequests, and proceeds from the used book stores our various Friends organizations run.

All of this sounds fantastic. That's a lot of money, right? And I won't argue; it is, and I'm glad to be a part of a community that values it's library services this highly. But here's the hard truth: property values all over the country are falling. While in some areas those values have bottomed out, and some may be beginning to climb again, Michigan is not so fortunate. Here's another real life example: in September 2011 a friend of mine purchased their first house. Since they had the down payment and a good credit score, it made financial sense in this market to buy rather than rent, as it will be cheaper in the long term. Just before the housing bubble burst, the house he bought sold for literally twice the amount he paid for it. Between January 2011 and January 2012, the city he lives in calculated that his house lost 15% of it's taxable value. While this is good for my friend, who will hang on to some more of his hard earned cash, think about his municipality, his school district, and his library, who all depend on those taxes. Not every property has lost this kind of taxable value, but as more and more houses are bought at current market value, that will change. And surprisingly enough, the housing market in my neck of the woods is moving, and moved fast this summer. Rent is relatively high, and houses are relatively cheap. For those with the down payment, like my friend, this is ideal.

However, just because housing values have plateaued (at least for now), that's only the beginning of CADL's worries. Every time a house changes owner in our service district, taxable value is reassessed to reflect current market value, and whatever calculation that is used for that means that the taxable value is less than what the property last sold for. As long as most people stay in their homes, CADL's millage is relatively stable. But as you can guess, there's been a high turn over in houses in the past year, a trend that will likely continue in 2012. So when you see that we banked $1 million dollars last year, we did it to cover expected revenue shortfalls in 2012. Maybe we'll get lucky, and we won't need it. But every sign we have indicates that we will need at least part of it, if not all.

And yes, new revenue sources are being explored and implemented. In April, CADL will do what it's never done before: charge late fines on all of it's materials. While this will hopefully encourage faster circulation by getting materials back on time and will generate additional funds, it has the potential of pricing library service out of reach of some of our patrons. It's a two-edged blade, and one we're not entirely happy about embracing. But, as they say, needs must. I also anticipate further cuts in staff, materials, and other expenditures to avoid disasters like furlough days, layoffs, or closings in 2013. 2014 may look very scary for us indeed, with anticipated revenue cuts and a larger millage to pass. It will not be easy.

I'll end this by again saying out how lucky CADL is. We're independent of any municipality, and are completely in charge of our own budget. We rely directly on voter support, support we have so far maintained. Many smaller community libraries are in much darker places than we are, in direct competition for municipal funds with police and fire departments. We have a dedicated and creative staff, willing to find every possible way to do things more efficiently and save money to ensure that our patrons receive the highest level of service.

If you wish to read the Annual Report for yourself, it is available online here. And once again, I encourage you to discover how your library is funded, and to visit the Geek the Library campaign.


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