Missouri Public Libraries: An argument with data and graphs. Part 2

Locally Sourced Libraries and State Funding Issues

In my last post, part 1 of the Missouri Public Library: An argument with data and graphs series, I tried to show through library coverage areas and usage how much Missourians, especially children, utilize the library when it is available to them.

But how much do all these fabulous services cost?   The average Missourian pays about $46.58 per year in taxes for the privilege of having a library in their community.  That is about 13 cents a day.  And that pays for 7.7 visits to the library, 11 checkouts of books or other materials, 1.3 internet uses and .7 reference transactions.  That is a lot of bang for your buck.
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At this point it’s pretty important to note how libraries are funded.  Keep in mind that I am discussing public libraries only, and not academic libraries, school libraries coving grades K-12 (although there are some public library drops and stops in school buildings), or special libraries like prison libraries, private libraries such as the Linda Hall Library, and presedential libraries. I bet you didn’t know there are so many libraries in Missouri!

The good news is that public libraries are some of the most cost effective public institutions in the country today. You can check the value of your favorite library here.

Public libraries are the ultimate locally sourced resource. As shown below, in 2014, about 97% of funding was local, and only 3% was from state and federal. But these numbers are lazy statistics and don’t actually tell the whole story (I included a graph anyway, because, well, never let a graph go to waste).

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For the 2015 fiscal year (that’s this year), the state legislature voted to decrease funding in state aid by about $3.3 million or 82%. Let me say that again. 82%.  14

This is a huge decrease. And Jason Kander, that guy I wrote about a few years ago?  He stepped up and supported/recommended that the full budget be approved. So he gets a librarian shout out: Hey Kander– good job!

What does this really mean? It’s actually part of a trend that started with the recession and has continued.  From 2009 to 2015, you can see library funding per capita dropping each successive year.  The median amount of state funds spent on libraries was $0.67 per person. In FY15, you can see this sad outlier on the bottom of the graph, where the amount drops to approximately $0.12 per person.

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But that’s ok, right?  It’s not like state funding has that much of an impact on library budgets, because it’s only 3% at most of the total budget.  Actually, it’s not ok, and it does have a larger impact on the budget.

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The devil is in the details. When you look at the distribution of library populations, you can see that the vast majority of libraries service a population that is under 100,000.  Only a few libraries services larger population areas. These smaller, rural libraries are small town America.  They are  less well funded because as the library populations are smaller, there are fewer people to contribute to the local tax base.

These smaller libraries disproportionately rely on state aid, up to an average of 4%, where the larger libraries rely on state funding as a percentage of their overall budget less and less on state aid as their population area increases. Ironically, the larger libraries get the larger portion of the budget, because funds are distributed per capita.

17Another way to see this is by looking at a scatterplot of the library systems. 

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Some of these smaller libraries with a total income that almost doesn’t scale relies on state aid for 25%, 21%, 16% of their overall budget. Below is the same graph that eliminates any library with an annual income greater than $1.5 million. And, by the way, check out how many libraries have an annual budget under $100,000 a year.

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Any cut in state funding will have a drastic effect on these smaller, local, and mostly rural libraries. These libraries may not close, but they will offer fewer and fewer services. They may cut their hours, not buy new books, or eliminate their computer services.  They may cut staff (who, by the way pay taxes and help keep the Missouri economy running), or eliminate programming.

There are few public programs that provide so much good for such a little amount. The state’s legislature failure to support public libraries is incredibly short-sighted, and ultimately reflects poorly on them. But it is not the state legislature that will suffer, it’s the next generation of Missourians who will not have the support structure their parents had when it comes to early literacy and learning to love reading.  It’s librarians and library staff who may find themselves out of jobs or with reduced hours who struggle contribute to the local economy.  It’s Missouri that will ultimately pay the price, as people move out of state in search of better opportunities.

Note: All of the data about Missouri Library usage came from this wonderful Missouri State Library statistics webpage. The data is provided in pdf AND excel format, so thanks Missouri State Library, for being so awesome. All graphs and charts are made from Tableau.

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About Ellie Kohler

I'm the Access and Learning Services Librarian at Rockhurst University, and was a founding member of the ILL Special Interest Group. My specialties include interlibrary loan, instruction, reference, circulation, reserves, and wrangling 40 (or so) student assistants. I continue to defy the librarian stereotype by keeping a cat-free household.
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