Herald-Whig

Cash for libraries

Dave Hogge finds a book on a self-serve reference computer at the Quincy Public Library on Friday, Mar. 15, 2019. Anyone who has a library card is welcome to use all the resources the library has to offer such as video, book and audio check-out, along with study rooms, classes and computers. | H-W Photo/Katelyn Metzger
Katelyn Metzger1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 19, 2019 7:10 am Updated: Mar. 19, 2019 9:47 am

QUINCY -- Staffing reductions, purchasing fewer new books, cutting hours of operation, delaying building projects and flatlining budgets are common problems facing municipal public libraries in Illinois, officials with multiple libraries said.

Angela Campbell, Rock Island Public Library executive director, said librarians are likely "the most frugal group of professionals" because they want to stretch their allotted dollars as far as possible to reach as many people as possible.

Campbell said the Rock Island library has not seen its allocation of city funds reduced. Instead, its revenues remained frozen for five years, despite the expenditures growing by 3 to 5 percent in some areas of the budget, including health insurance, vendor contracts and the purchasing of new materials.

"It is a challenge," Campbell said. "You really can't expect any entity to run on the same money for years and years, while costs keep increasing."

The Rock Island library has about 10,000 fewer card-carrying library patrons who check out 490,519 fewer items than the Quincy library and its patrons but still manages an annual budget that is $500,000 higher than the local public library.

Six miles east of Rock Island, is the Moline Public Library, where the library's operating budget has declined, Library Director Bryon Lear said.

"We have seen a slight decline in the amount of money that we receive from the city over the last several years," Lear said. "We've not had to make any major sacrifices though. We've cutback on the number of new books or new items that we purchase for circulation."

Lear said the library has worked to try and prevent a loss of staff or the loss of operating hours.

In Moline, Ill., the library receives $2.9 million in funding from the city, which is $1.49 million more in funding than what the public library in Quincy receives from the city. Moline, a city of 43,489 people, has the same number of staff members as Quincy, though Moline's librarians are paid higher salaries. Both libraries have 31 full-time employees.

Moline's circulation pales in comparison to Quincy's. At the Rock Island County library, patrons checked out 348,468 items last year. In Adams County, Quincyans checked out 822,989 items during that same time period.

 

In Belleville, Public Library Director Leander Spearman manages a budget of $1.2 million in local funding and oversees a library that employs 17 full-time and 12 part-time staff members.

Spearman said that while funding has been stable for the last five years, he has delayed the implementation of new programming and the purchasing of new materials for the library.

"Programming for the public is something that we are always looking to add or change," Spearman said. "Purchasing materials is something else I would be able to do if I had more money. Print materials have also been the core of what libraries offer, but we are getting more heavily involved in purchasing new technologies and new materials that are not print based."

In Park Ridge, Library Executive Director Heidi Smith said that five years ago, the library's administration and supporters became entangled in a debate with Park Ridge City Council. The topic of the debate was securing stable financing for the library.

That public debate led to the library slashing its hours of operation, leaving vacancies unfilled and suspending certain programs and services.

Those actions eventually resulted in a 2014 referendum, which Smith said asked Park Ridge residents to approve a tax increase for the library.

"The language was very general but included both capitol and operation restoration language," Smith said. Voters approved the referendum by a wide margin, with 69 percent voting in favor, Smith said.

Since then, the library in Park Ridge has completed a $2.4 million renovation on its facilities, restored its hours of operation and implemented new programs and initiatives.

After the election day success, the Park Ridge municipal government has "a feeling that the voters have told them that they want the library to be a certain way and that this is how they are willing to pay for it."

Multiple library directors said the debate over how to fund public libraries in Illinois is not limited to Quincy.

"We certainly believe that libraries are essential services," Campbell said. "We may not be restoring life, but we are giving people hope who otherwise wouldn't have hope by helping them apply for jobs, complete resumes, answer questions, and providing new books. To us, those things are pretty essential."

 

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