Treat libraries as both an asset and an investment
May 31, 2012
•Editor’s note: This editorial, published Sunday in the Las Vegas Sun, endorses a property tax increase in Las Vegas to fund that city’s libraries. Carson City is embroiled in a similar debate over the proposed City Center Project, which would include a new library and be partially funded by a local sales tax increase. The Nevada Appeal (which has neither editorially endorsed nor rejected the City Center plan) is reprinting the Sun’s editorial at the request of several readers.
With the sour economy, the Henderson Library District is facing a troubling time.
As Tovin Lapan reported in the Sun, the district has seen its budget, funded by tax revenues, drop from $10 million to $7 million. The district has made rounds of cuts, including closing its branches on Sundays, trimming hours and programming and shedding nearly a quarter of its staff. But it hasn’t been enough.
Now, library leaders say they can’t do more cutting without significantly harming services, so they plan to ask voters this fall for a small increase in property taxes to support the system.
The proposal calls for an additional 2 cents for every $100 of valuation, which would mean that a homeowner with a house worth $200,000 would pay an extra $14 a year. Thomas Fay, the library district’s executive director, said the request wouldn’t put the district back to its pre-recession budget, but it would maintain current services. Without the increase, officials say they’ll have to lay off more staff, further cut operating hours and close up to three of the district’s six branches.
The irony is that since the recession, the library district has seen an increase in demand.
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“A lot of people ended up rediscovering libraries during the recession,” Fay said. “They realize all the services we provide, for adults and children, and they won’t go back to their old ways once they find out what we do have.”
Libraries are an important part of this country. The American library system goes back to 1731, when Benjamin Franklin and a group of men each put in 40 shillings to buy books and pledged to pay 10 shillings every year to support the effort. Founded with the motto “To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine,” their library became a model for the American Colonies, and their small investment had huge dividends.
Still in existence today, the library became a center of learning, with a wide variety of books. Donors also helped by expanding the collection with other items, including ancient coins, models and fossils. The men used the library to expand not only their own horizons but the community’s. They discussed ideas about forming volunteer fire departments and public hospitals.
Unfortunately, libraries have lost some of the luster of Franklin’s day, particularly because many people think they can find anything on the Internet. Not only is that not true, but also it misses a larger point: Libraries provide a great benefit to the community, with an incredible range of resources. They provide people with access to books, recordings and items they can’t afford or find. They also provide public-access computers, research help and children’s programming, among many other things.
Libraries can provide help to every segment of the community, and taxpayers should see them as an investment. Like Franklin and his friends, we put in a little for a great return. Libraries deserve our continued support; they serve the common good.