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Want to increase tax levies for your library?

Voting booth
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik via flickr.

How much do you know about library ballot measures? Libraries depend on local library ballot measures to independently advocate for specific library initiatives among the voting public. Around the country, library revenue is mostly based on property taxes, which are sometimes referred to as “levies, “millages or “parcel taxes.” Regardless of their titles, these taxes are the local community’s support for the libraries in their city, town, or county.

A new preliminary report by EveryLibrary, a political action organization focused on local library ballot measures, found that nationwide, at least $230,000,000 in tax revenue and bonds was at stake for libraries since January of this year. In all, over 530,000 Americans cast a vote for — or against — libraries in elections all across the county. The report identified 69 local library elections that took place where voters were asked for new or renewed funding, or new authority as a district library. The library ballots were somewhat successful–libraries, and the communities they serve, won in 41 of these elections. In 19, voters said No to new funding for the library (and vote reports are still pending in nine jurisdictions).

“When library taxes are tied to sales, use, or another special tax, the question before the voters is the same: Do you know enough about a modern library to value it, and to vote yes for it?” wrote EveryLibrary Executive Director John Chrastka. “As an industry, libraries need to look at the well-deserved victories in Richland Co., S.C. ($59 mil), Round Rock, Texas ($23 mil), and Tolland, Conn. ($2.6 mil) for inspiration and [Get Out the Vote] guidance, but not with an ‘on balance, we won there’ approach.”

A few highlights from the ballot report:

  • Of the 69 elections, at least 13 were bond measures intended to remodel, renovate, or build new buildings. These 13 bond measures had a pass/fail rate of 53% to 46%.
  • In the 37 levies, millages, and other funding measures that were not construction bonds, 30 passed and 7 failed with at least 3 results still pending publication
  • Well over $71 mil in library funding was at stake in either new or renewed levies in 2013. By way of perspective, the entire federal appropriation for libraries in $147 million and that is intended to support over 9,000 public libraries through 51 state library agency grant programs.
  • Of the winning levies, at least $67.6 million was secured for library operations, collections, programs and staffing across these 30 races. For the failed levies, at least $4 million was voted down.

EveryLibrary will continue to conduct additional analysis on the ballot measures throughout November. Keep up with the organization on Facebook and Twitter.

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

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