Amid celebration, library dealing with budget shortfall
Appeal Staff Writer
Employees at the Carson City Public Library are busy preparing for National Library Week, which begins Sunday. The theme is “Hollywood at Your Library,” and there will be an array of special events, including classic movie screenings – because many movies are based on books.
The Carson library won’t be open for the first day of the national celebration, however, because their operating budget doesn’t allow for Sunday hours. Residents have asked for years that the library be open every day, but funds just haven’t been made available.
Public libraries often end up in the role of underdog when it comes to receiving government funds. Locally, funds for even basic library operations have been tougher to come by in recent years.
“I’ve read about the budget and the need for matching funds,” said Adrienne Freeman, a Carson resident and retired teacher who has been using the library once or twice a week for years. “I would be willing to see the money better allocated in the city budget. The library is pretty important and it was pretty well neglected last year.”
Last month, City Manager Linda Ritter told the Board of Supervisors that this year’s upcoming budget might be best described as “flat.” The city estimated at that time it will receive less than $55.6 million in revenues and require about $55.4 million in expenditures. The city’s Budget Team will not be making a presentation about the budget to various department heads until the end of April.
The department heads can appeal the allocations to the Board of Supervisors in May.
The Library Board of Trustees last month, dismayed about the budget for the coming year, opted not to approve it. This board wields more power over the library’s operations than the Historic Resources Commission has over the Planning Division, for example. While pay to library employees comes from the city’s general fund, the board can fire those same employees, according to state law.
Board members are required to submit an annual budget containing detailed estimates of the amount of money necessary for the operation and management of the library, the law also stipulates. Approving it as it is would have been “irresponsible,” said Chairwoman Leslie Danihel, during the board’s March meeting.
The supervisors have the ultimate say about the budget.
The state requires public libraries to devote 10 percent of their total budgets to obtaining books and other materials, and the Carson library’s proposed allocation is short by roughly $27,000 – too little to qualify for an array of state and federal grants that pay for all or portions of most programs.
The Carson library’s proposed budget of nearly $1.7 million would require about $170,000 in materials spending to reach the minimum amount, according to Sally Edwards, Carson’s library director.
A special meeting of the board is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on April 11 at the library to discuss the issue.
“Much poorer counties are making their 10 percent,” said Sara Jones, division administrator, Nevada State Library and Archives. She allocates state money to Nevada’s public libraries, among many other duties. “Storey County is making it. Elko and Winnemucca are making it. Pahrump is facing a lot of challenges, but they’re making it.”
“It is a bit about priorities, I believe,” Jones said.
Some reasons why
One reason why finding money for libraries is becoming harder is that some people believe public libraries are going the way of tea kettles and record albums because of the Internet. Foot traffic, however, has increased in recent years, Edwards said.
In 1999, the library received more than 238,800 visits, and in 2004 was subject to more than 277,700, according to records compiled by staff.
Librarians have been changing their collections to keep up with demand by adding different media to the mix. Books are still important, of course, but just one type of offering. Demand for computer time to view the Internet has skyrocketed, Edwards said.
“Not everyone has access to a computer, and not everyone can afford to pay for Internet access,” she said.
The primary job of the public library is to collect information – whether it’s for learning or considered entertainment – “and provide it to the public for free,” she emphasized.
“I’m supportive of the library,” said Supervisor Robin Williamson.
Such services as fire, police, health, human services all are primary responsibilities of local government, which means these needs are at the top of the budget list, she said.
The library, however, “is not fluff, but in terms of financial demands it always comes up on the short end of the stick,” Williamson said. “Realistically, it’s not going to be fixed overnight. That I’m certain of.”
The library board’s interest in looking at a variety of funding methods, however, has allowed Williamson to be optimistic about the operation’s future outlook, she said.
In an effort to bring more money to the library, its board of trustees has started to consider placing a fund-enhancement initiative on the ballot in 2008 – a decade after a previous initiative attempt failed by roughly 350 votes.
Some people mistakenly believe the library is a function of the Parks and Recreation Department. In Carson City it’s a separate entity, though in many other communities across the nation it’s another recreation-based function. Carson City voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax called Question 18 for parks and open space in 1996. This is one theory why the library proposal didn’t go through.
Another theory is that the 1998 initiative was convoluted because it asked for a tax increase and bond issuance.
Jennifer Stern, a legal expert on Nevada ballot initiatives with Swendseid & Stern, told the library board that creating a simple initiative is best because too many details make voters more likely to not buy in. She also added that voters tend to prefer bond measures over tax increase proposals.
Edwards said she is glad to see that board members were willing to try again – and that they were starting to think about it much earlier than was the situation in 1998. That attempt had “a much quicker pace.” A longer timetable might allow voters the chance to become well acquainted with it, and boost its chance of being approved, she said.
“Public libraries are a place where everyone can learn. It’s the people’s university, Jones emphasized. “It’s always available and offers people all kinds of things. They don’t exist just to enhance quality of life, but to make life better for everybody.”
• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.
Questions asked at the Carson City Public Library during a recent Friends of the Library book sale:
Would you be willing to pay more to upgrade the library?
Do you think the library is adequate for a city the size of Carson City?
Gilles Galhaut, Carson City: I would. It’s very useful for us. We come here once or twice a week. I used to buy books, now I try to pick up new releases at the library. My son (Logan, age 41Ú2) is in the reading program. We also rent tapes and DVDs. It’s a fair-size library.
Debra Williams, Carson City: I would like to see more computers and more computer time. It cuts off on you. The programs are good. I came here from the San Francisco area, and I used to go to that library. It was OK there, too.
Kim Eberly, Minden: They probably need a bigger library. I pick up general books for reading pleasure. It’s not adequate, size-wise, but there are a good variety of programs for young to middle-school age students. I think they need more selection. You can get a lot of the same things on the Internet.
National Library Week events
Carson City Library
900 N. Roop St.
On the Net
“Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of The Were-Rabbit” will be shown – 3:30 p.m.
Family Night program – 6:30 p.m.
The movie “Desk Set” will be shown – 7 p.m.
The documentary “March of the Penguins” to be shown – 3:30 p.m.
“The Misfits” – to be shown at 7 p.m.
The 2005 movie version of “Pride and Prejudice” – 7 p.m.
A showing of Oscar-winning film “Memoirs of a Geisha” – 7:30 p.m. at the Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall, 511 W. King St.
Young Adult film fest – 2 p.m.
Personal appearance by South Lake Tahoe resident Becca Gardner, costar of “An Unfinished Life”