Editorial: Speak up to preserve public library funding

At a time when more people than ever are using their community libraries, the funding gradually is being reduced.

A good library is essential in a community now more than ever when people cannot afford to buy books and more people are using its computers, downloading E-books and checking out audio materials.

At this time, advocates of local libraries need to protest some of these reductions during a time when services are most needed.

Counties are responsible for providing a library system.

Libraries get some revenue from the state while most of it comes from taxpayers in each county through special and general property tax levies.

In Anoka County, unlike other county libraries, the collection of materials has been protected and enhanced.

The library administration chose not to reduce materials.

Since 2008, there have been some reorganization and staff reduction.

Anoka County’s library system has a separate property tax levy. While operating with some reductions from the levy, the eight libraries are open six days a week, including seven hours on Saturdays.

No library has been closed. Hours of operation, however, have been reduced since 2008.

The number of library users is steady and officials are cautiously optimistic there won’t be a reduction in funds in next year’s budget.

Last year, total number of materials circulated was 2,886,929 and the number of users, including 45,967 who lived outside the county, was 336,491.

The Anoka County Library system’s total operating budget for this year is $7,574,835, compared to the previous year’s operating budget of $7,878,835 – a 4 percent decrease.

Throughout the region,the counties’ revenues are suffering because tax capacity is going down due to all the foreclosures and shrinking commercial tax base.

The state legislators have cut local government aid and are requiring counties to do more with less and mandating more expenses with no extra money.

The Minnesota State Auditor reports that cities and counties in the state cut public library operating budgets and capital outlay by 42 percent between 2005 and 2009.

Meanwhile, more people than ever are using libraries.

More students are going to the library, because school districts are short-changing their media centers, once called libraries.

Home-schooled children are using the libraries more.

Senior citizens are attending computer classes so they can use the library’s computers.

Of course, the economy and particularly reductions in local government aid from the state to the counties partly are to blame for the under funding and reduction in services.

Anoka County’s library system, supported by a county board of commissioners, has been able to maintain good service availability and a strong collection of materials.

While this is good, despite the challenges, residents should tell their county board members know how important a good library system is during these troubled times.

Editor’s note: Don Heinzman is editorial writer for ECM Publishers, Inc.