Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Library funding evolution

Seavey's article "Public Libraries," yes, very creative title, focuses on the evolution of library funding and structure (not physical structure but system structure) in multiple countries such as the United States, UK and China. As he says, in both countries, "Trends in population, economy, and political and social reform lead to the emergence of public libraries in the middle of the 19th century." While speaking of the development of library funding, he talks of subscription based libraries in which people had to pay a fee to belong and also talks of circulating libraries in which individual books or small collections could be rented out for a fee. Later he goes on to explain how statewide government legislation eventually allowed local governments to establish taxes to fund public libraries and this ultimately evolved into the funding systems we have in place today.

The original funding plans which the social and circulation libraries operated under, failed because:

1.) They both had limitations on how many people they could reach with their library services due to both lack of locations outside of large cities and class discrimination because only people with a good amount of disposable income could use the library.

2.) Financially they were both based on direct payment from the readers who, in times of economic trouble, were unable to provide a steady stream of $ for the libraries.

What I want to ask is: Despite their downfalls, is it possible these early funding systems had a good idea? With the lack of funding given to public libraries today, is it too much to ask for library users to give something in return? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe libraries should be solely for upper-class elites, but what exactly IS the role of a library: should it be to educate the people looking for education who probably have the money to do so, or is it more to educate people who don't have the means to educate themselves otherwise and probably also don't have the money to pay for using the library?

There are very few things in the world today that remain ‘free.’ Should the library be one of them?

9 comments:

Molly said...

I think that the public library should absolutely remain free to the public. The public library serves as an educational, informational, cultural, and community resource. The public library is one of the few places where everyone has access to the same resources (phone numbers, maps, books for pleasure, music, access to the internet, social outlets such as book discussion groups, and so on). While conducting a survey for the Madison entral Public Library last semester, one respondent said that the library was a place for everyone – including the common man - not like the overture center. I thought this was an interesting comment because anyone who has spent time at Central can see that all social classes can be found using that library. Someone who can’t afford to buy a ticket to overture can always listen to the music and see the score at the library for free.

I also don’t think that the role of the public library today is purely educational. I think that people also turn to the library to find information they can’t find elsewhere, to find entertainment, to discuss a book (a book that didn’t have to be bought), or to have somewhere to go to pass some time reading a newspaper or something of the sort. I think it would be almost impossible to try propose a financial “fee-based” value for such services. Also, I think that private funding of the public library like the early funding systems would enable the people pouring money into the library to feel like they have the right to have more control over the library and its policies. This would then eliminate the “public” (for everyone and any viewpoint) from the library. The “Public Libraries” article ends “Since the middle of the 19the century the tax-supported, open-to-all, public library has become a fixture in the cultural life of many nations.” I think this is a crucial fixture in US cultural life and that it must remain free in order to remain “open-to-all.”

megan bacon said...

Although I think it's a great notion to think of libraries as free, but I ask is anything really free these day? I don't think it's realistic to keep the public library free, I think if we want to further the advancement of the public library we need to "take action" and seeking funds in one way to do this. Most of the things in my life that have value have come with a price, either physical, mental, or monetary. As far as the public library being a place where people seek information for advancement of education, not in my local neighborhood. I live near the Hawthorne branch, you can find it in a strip mall, next to cash advance and a blockbuster. I often go there myself to check out material and just get a taste of what's going on in my neighborhood and it is very rare that I see people checking out anything other than CDs, DVDs, and VHS. For that matter the stacks at this library are far from a cry from educational. The books are so old and outdated on most subjects my only hope when browsing is to learn from books with pictures. I personally would be more than happy to throw a few bucks or volunteer some of my time (which is the most valuable commodity in my life) to better the holdings of my local branch or the overall Madison Public. In regards to the Hawthorne Branch specific I'm not sure educational books is really what it needs, but more a kick in the seat pants for the librarian/libraries to do more outreach and really provide their users with some education of some of the other attributes that can come from the library...

As far as the Overture Center, I personally view it as a public space, and I think its the fault of the arts, artists, the public and teachers (or lack of education in the arts) that it is not accessable to more people. I think its a shame that just because people or the "common man" doesn't get the arts doesn't mean they can't participate. My god if I didn't participate in everything I was afraid of or didn't understand I would not get much done in life....

Brendan said...

In response to Megan's post, I work at one of the other branches and the main problem with building the collection is definitely money (as it always is). But another reason many of the newer texts aren't on the shelves is because they are constantly checked out, with large waiting lists. Most new fiction and non-fiction books don't actually make it to the shelves until 3-6 months after they arrive at the library, due to the high demand. A book like The Da Vinci Code, which was immensely popular had a waiting list of over 1300 people for more than a year when it was published.

megan bacon said...

so if the problem is money, once again how do we build up these public collections without collecting some type of fee? I would hate to think that suddenly a large part of the librarians daily job would be fundraising...As far as the 1300 person waiting list my heart goes out to anyone with a number over 100...unfortunately I see no solution to this problem but patience.

Gillian D. said...

In regards to the recent/popular materials problem, I think some libraries have found interesting solutions. Some of them also help with funding, such as Madison's rental collection. I'd be interested to know how many books actually get rented.

In regards to other fees that might be tacked onto library services, this has caused lawsuits and other bru-ha-has in the past. Also public librarians continue the fight against people in the government that like to suggest the public libraries start charging. Just ten cents per book.

Library Legislative Day is next week, during which librarians from throughout the state descend on the capital to fight for this very issue, among others.

Katie K said...

Although budget cuts are certainly an issue, the idea of charging for materials seems like it would be turning our back on the values that have been established and been in place for centuries. I don't believe that we should be constantly glorifying ourselves and our mission (whether in our history or in our current state), but there is something amazing and worthwhile about not charging for any of our resources.

So many in our field are constantly worried that the role of the library is being downgraded. People talk about how people don't read anymore and that libraries are a place for people to check their email and the majority of budgets is spent on CDs and DVDs and fluffy popular fiction and so on and so forth. However, if we begin charging people for DVDs and other materials, then we're basically nothing more than a Blockbuster.

It's frustrating to be facing these issues but professionals in the field have faced huge issues throughout history (huh, we'll probably be learning about them soon!) and the most we can do is learn from history and be inovative for the future.

Nancy S. said...

I am so tired of hearing librarians (and fellow SLIS students) complain about budget cuts. I agree that money is a real issue but when are librarians going to start functioning and participating in the corporate world of 2006? Libraries spend millions perhaps billions of dollars a year and yet have not begun to cut deals with companies. Why haven't public libraries proposed business deals with Coca-Cola in which for a certain fee libraries will only have Coke Vending Machines for example? Why haven't libraries cut large deals with computer companies in which for a discounted price on PCs a state library system will only purchase computers from that company? Of course business deals need to be controlled so that libraries do not limit their collections and continue to collect a range of materials but I can't imagine that patrons would complain about Coke over Pepsi or Dell over Compaq.

Not to make this too long of a blog, but to add another point why haven't libraries gotten together for large fundraising events? Charity balls and the like are well attended by philanthropists who are willing to spend thousands of dollars a plate to support public institutions. There are tons of way libraries can raise money by teaming up with corporations as well. What about a book show (whatever type of collection)? Companies can sponser a display or advertising (etc.) while the library brings in more money and more public attention.

Rather than seeing librarians sit around and complain about small budgets I would rather see a more corporate attitude to fundraising which will only increase budgets and the libraries' waning visibility. In a consumer world it is necessary librarians participate or they will be left behind.

Deborah said...

I just read a summary of the 2003 OCLC Environmental Scan for another class and came across some relevant information. User fees generally comprise less than 5% of library funding. So in the grand scheme of library funding, user fees and fines are virtually a non-issue.

On the other hand, public funding (that means tax dollars paid by businesses and individuals at the city, state and federal level) makes up around 87% of library budgets.

To me, the legislation that made possible public funding (taxes) for libraries is fascinating. Seavey only devotes a couple of paragraphs to it and the Boston Public Library. I would like to know more about the political and economic climates and public opinions that made the legislation pass.

Gillian D. said...

In response to Nancy, libraries are already doing many of these things. There are often fundraising dinners and Friends groups out there raising money for the libraries. The Wisconsin Library Association just started a new thing called the WLA Foundation that was created to raise funds. Check out one such endeavour in the SLIS Lounge, in the form of the Desperate Librarians Calender.

Deals are struck with companies and businesses for product placement purchase. Co-sponsers are found for many events. Libraries have staff whose job is to find money from these sources.

Libraries are out there trying everyday to raise the money they need, but that can't be the sole source. Libraries, particularly public and school libraries, rely on tax dollars and other government money to stay open, to pay the staff, and to buy materials. Public libraries are public for two reasons: 1)They are open to anyone. 2) They are funded by the public in the form of taxes.