What is your library worth to you?
The Unquiet Librarian
BY VIRGINIA ROBERTS
Rhinelander District Library Director
A clickbait list recently circulating on social media touts “19 secrets librarians won’t tell you.” So, of course, I clicked. It is not nonsense except there is little on that list librarians won’t tell you outright. Number 19 is probably the most important.
“Librarians appreciate when patrons do nice things for them, but the main way to keep your favorite library going is letting your local government know” how much you use it, need it, love it! Because a public library is not a business and cannot be run as one, it relies on local government funding to remain open. The public library is run for the benefit of everyone. Its sole purpose is to provide materials, programs, and services using a small amount of dollars per taxable property. The short simplistic answer is: for the cost of a family of four to go to a fast food restaurant once a year is what your library costs. That’s not per person. That’s roughly per house. But more on that in a minute—because it gets pretty complicated.
It is never easy to have a patron—a friend—leave this life. RDL has lost two amazing patrons in just the last week, and several others this year. They are missed, and the memories to fill that missing piece are rarely sufficient. Sometimes the deceased benefits the library monetarily, sometimes not, but they have always gifted the community with their presence. When things are difficult, and I wonder if there is going to be enough time or money to do everything the community wants and needs.
So, with that in mind, I will share just one story of one patron. As mentioned in past columns, the library in any community is frequently its living room and people who work here get to know everyone. This year, a young woman—not yet 18—died of a chronic illness. She was a chatterbox and personality to draw out the shyest classmate. She was a runner, a voracious reader, and a brilliant thinker. Despite the illness robbing her of her sight, she continued to read, to participate in sports, and to be active in school. Who, despite the loss of sight, worked with librarians to get the materials she wanted and needed, and was always ready to discuss books, movies, her favorite subjects—ours, too. Even though I am not there anymore, and live far away, I miss her.
Library funding seems simple by comparison. It’s not.
Of all the questions, “How is the library funded?” is one of the most complex. The Rhinelander District Library, as the name implies, is comprised of a district of four surrounding towns, Crescent, Newbold, Pelican, and Pine Lake, and the City of Rhinelander. This District agreement, set into place many years ago, is meant to reflect the area use of the library. It is ultimately distilled as a mil rate—which means the amount a property pays per $100,000 in value. The average mil rate is .3706 or multiplied by $100,000 about $37—essentially the cost of a family of four to eat at a fast food restaurant once a year. If your property is worth more, you pay a little more; less—then you pay less. It doesn’t matter if one or twelve people live there. As part of the District—your library pays for itself if you do just one of the following: check out an item or two, come to a program, ask a question or three, or use the computers or the wifi occasionally. It further pays for itself as an attraction for visitors and prospective businesses and employees to Rhinelander. Oneida also funds a portion of the library, for those townships whose taxes otherwise do not fund a library, but these folks use RDL. Also there are funds coming from neighboring counties for their patrons whose taxes do not fund a library in their community. So all of this municipal funding—along with copier/print and late fees—create RDL’s annual budget. There is a great deal of discussion between the library district partners and the library board regarding the amount coming from the municipalities, as levy limits at the state level take a toll on anything property taxes fund.
Most libraries have a Foundation, as RDL does, that will fund requests as able. The RDL Foundation always has the Holiday Book Fund—watch for this year’s request in the mail soon—or come to the library to make a contribution—which is quite necessary to keep up with the published works in all departments. Last year the RDL Foundation was kind enough to raise money for technology, this year for small building improvements. The Foundation has also matched grants and other gifts for furnishings, building improvements, and other assorted necessities not covered in that year’s fiscal budget. Speaking of grants, the library applies for as many grants as possible—but while grants are frequently available for stuff, they rarely cover building repairs and staff necessary to keep the building open and safe. Grants, gifts, and even fines and fees—the amount for which the Library is truly grateful, also cannot be counted upon from year to year.
If you haven’t come to see your library lately—you’re missing out—and you’re paying very little for a wealth of benefits offered. If you do use your library, tell us, and tell your local, county, and state representatives how you use the library and what you love about it. It’s really very important that you do.
Need an opportunity to tell your State Representative how much you appreciate and use the Rhinelander District Library? Representative Rob Swearingen will be at the Rhinelander District Library to receive his “Libraries Transform” poster at 11 a.m. Oct. 31, 2016.