Board and foundation leaders make case for more library fundingThe Hudson Area Joint Library does not compare well to other Wisconsin libraries serving communities of a similar size, according to its biggest advocates.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The Hudson Area Joint Library does not compare well to other Wisconsin libraries serving communities of a similar size, according to its biggest advocates.
A 2011 study measuring 28 libraries with service populations of 25,000 to 50,000 found the Hudson library at the bottom or close to it in most categories, Barbara Peterson and Jeff Zais reported in a March 16 visit to the Star-Observer office.
Peterson is president of the eight-member joint library board. Zais heads up the Hudson Area Library Foundation, a volunteer organization that raises money for library capital improvements.
Peterson and Zais presented the findings of a study completed by library consultant Bill Wilson.
Wilson reported that the Hudson library ranked last in the group of 28 in the number of hours it is open per week (50), as well as the size of its audio and video recording collections.
It was second to last in the size of its overall collection, third to last in print volumes and fourth to last in staffing and periodicals. It compared better in terms of Internet computers, 17th, and material expenditures, 16th.
The Hudson library’s service population was 30,661 at the time of Wilson’s report. The median service population for the group of 28 libraries was 34,332.
The Hudson library also came out on the low end of the stick in terms of expenditures and taxpayer support, whether compared to libraries of its own size or all 380 public libraries in Wisconsin.
The average per capita spending for libraries of Hudson’s size was $36.94. The state average was $39.42. The Hudson Area Library in 2010 spent $25.21 for each person in its service area.
According to Wilson’s report, the Hudson library’s level of spending makes it a sub-basic library compared to the rest of Wisconsin public libraries.
Wilson’s study used numbers from 2010, the most recent year for which library data was available.
The study also examined per capita municipal tax funding for library services in St. Croix County.
The four municipal partners in the Hudson Area Library had the lowest per capita tax appropriations for library services of all St. Croix County municipalities. The city of Hudson’s appropriation was $21.49 per capita; the town of Hudson’s, $21.48; the town of St. Joseph’s, $23.23; and the village of North Hudson’s, $22.49.
(The figures for tax appropriations are lower than those for library spending because the library also receives funding from other sources, such as the county library tax, donations and fines.)
Meanwhile, the eight other municipalities in St. Croix County with public libraries levied between $32.29 (Baldwin) and $80.59 (Roberts) per capita annually for library services.
The 19 towns and two villages without a library paid an average of $33 per capita for library services. The high was the town of Troy at $51 per capita.
As required by state law, the county levies a tax against municipalities not served by a library for their residents’ use of public libraries elsewhere in the county.
The municipal members of the Hudson Area Joint Library were exempt from the county tax until it was recently brought to light that they haven’t been funding their library to the level of the county tax, which the state requires.
“It doesn’t make sense that this library is so underfunded compared to the libraries in the rest of the state. We’re not that miserly,” Peterson said.
She pointed to surveys measuring community members’ support for the library that were conducted as part of Wilson’s study.
One thousand surveys were mailed at random to households in the library’s four member municipalities.
Two hundred eleven households returned surveys, and 86 percent of them favored at least some increase in tax support for the library. The majority, 66 percent, favored increasing support to provide either a moderate (23 percent), enhanced (24 percent) or excellent (19 percent) level of service.
The 1,124 respondents to a survey on the library’s website were even more favorable to increasing tax support for the library. Zais said that was to be expected since they were likely to be regular library users.
“It’s clear that the residents of Hudson want their library better supported than it is currently being supported,” Peterson said. “We would love to be in collaboration with the city of Hudson right now, talking to them.”
Peterson, a former director of library and information services for 3M Co., was appointed to the library board in May 2011. She represents the town of St. Joseph on the board and replaced Dan Gavin when he was elected town chairman.
She was elected president of the library board last December after the former president, David Smith, resigned because he had taken a job that required him to travel.
“I am very committed to the library. I decided to do this because I believe in public libraries,” Peterson said. “I believe strong public libraries are critical for a democracy and for a vital community.”
Zais wanted to clear up what he said were a number of misconceptions by those opposed to increased library spending.
One of those, he said, is the idea that library supporters should fund-raise to provide additional operational money for the library.
He called attention to a state handbook for library board members that says donations “should never be the occasion for reducing or replacing the community’s commitment to public funding.”
“Donors will quit donating and volunteers will quit working if they see their efforts are resulting in reduced public funding for the library instead of improved service,” the handbook titled “Wisconsin Library Trustees Essentials” states.
Zais said the Friends of the Hudson Library group, nevertheless, has been providing it with $15,000 a year in operational support.
The library has been drawing down its reserves at the rate of about $60,000 a year to cover expenses following the 2010 move to the new facility at First and Vine streets.
All of the reserve money the library can afford to spend will be gone at the end of 2012, Zais said.
If tax support isn’t increased, the library will have to cut programming, hours, staff and/or spending on materials. If the library funding is reduced, the cuts will be deeper.