It’s time to talk money. Library funding is complex, but please, stick with me, this is important. In a nutshell, your library is supported by both the City of Grand Rapids and Itasca County. (We were surprised to find out that many patrons thought the library also received ongoing support from the Blandin Foundation. It does not.) Both the city and the county have state mandated minimums that they are obligated to provide for library support. Without this support, the library would not exist. The City of Grand Rapids supports the library at a rate that is 79% greater than their minimum. (And they simply can’t continue to increase their support.) Itasca County provides support at their legally obligated minimum and no more. This amount has not increased in over eight years.
The Grand Rapids Area Library (GRAL), in partnership with the Arrowhead Library System, is asking for an increase in library support from the Itasca County Board of Commissioners. But, you ask, why should the county pay more than they have to? (Excellent question!)
First, and most obvious, there is no percentage increase built into the formula that the state uses to determine minimum funding levels. (If you are interested in reading the statutes pertaining to Minimum Levels of Maintenance, just stop in!) Simply put, everything we do, from purchasing books, to providing programs, to keeping the lights on and the rain out of the building, costs more than it did eight years ago.
But inflation is not the most compelling reason for Itasca County to consider increasing their library support. Indeed, most of our card holders from GRAL come from outside Grand Rapids. Thirty-nine percent of our circulation comes from city residents and 10% is Interlibrary Loan from throughout our region. The other 51% comes from residents of Itasca County who are relying heavily on the City of Grand Rapids to provide library services. There are about 20,000 library card holders in Itasca County, most from outside the Grand Rapids city limits. And, boy, do these patrons use our library! GRAL is the second busiest library in the Arrowhead Library System, second only to Duluth. Out of the over 250,000 items checked out in Itasca County last year, 75% were checked out of the Grand Rapids Area Library. You also may be surprised to know that we average, over the course of a year, over 50 visitors per hour at GRAL.
While all of those numbers are important, here is my bottom line: I do what I do, every day, for the young people of Itasca County. I help kids from Swan River, and Bigfork, and Ball Club. I talk to families who come to town once a week or once a month, ending their errands with a trip to the library to load up on the dozens of books they will go through until their next visit. When I look ahead, I am worried about not being here for these kids. Cutting our services will be our next, necessary step if our funding picture does not improve. So, where do we cut?
Do we open later, and miss those patrons who just dropped their kids off at school and need to come and talk about their reluctant reader? Do we lock the doors to those patrons who are coming in to read the paper, or those who have scheduled a morning meeting at the library? Do we close earlier and miss the kids coming from sports practice or cut off those families who might work shift work? Do we close on Saturday? That would not only completely eliminate a very important Story Time, but it would mean many families could not use the library at all. These are agonizing decisions.
Can we cut expenses? Already we have eliminated a staff position, and have taken on passport services, which brings in some critically important funds. Already, we have staff coming in on their day off to cover a desk during lunch. Already, we have a roster of over 80 volunteers who contribute more than 3,500 hours to the library each year. The reality is, though, that libraries are not now, nor ever were intended to be, money-making institutions. We question our expenses at every turn, but the fact that we need money to keep the library going is irrefutable.
We have so many patrons who rely on our services! Looking up, I count 19 patrons in the Children’s Area alone. This is where they get their books, their movies, their passports, their copies made. Here is where they send their faxes, and hold their meetings. This is where they come to a program to learn, or to be entertained. This is where it is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. This is where you are welcome, whatever your reason for being here. This is where you can find the stories of our lives, the stories that you pass on to your children. This is your library.
So many of our patrons, especially the children, don’t have a voice. Today, please, speak for them. I’m asking that you contact the Itasca County Board of Commissioners (if you need contact information, we have it for you at the library, or it is available online) and just let them know that you believe your library is worth it. That eight years is too long to go without an increase in funding. Ask them to, please, see beyond the minimum and really look at what is happening in this building. I had over 1,000 kids sign up for summer reading this year! Think of what that looks like…a thousand children! Please, be a voice for them. Maybe we can change the conversation from what we have to do, to what we can do.
This week at your library:
Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m. join Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux for a storytelling adventure!
Hear how Tatterhood battles a band of trolls, Manka solves impossible riddles, and Vasalisa dares to knock at the witch's door. Daring heroines reclaim fairytales as fierce, funny, and feminine. This program is intended for youth ages 7-12, but appropriate and enjoyable for teens, mixed age audiences and adults. Stories will likely be too long for kids younger than six.
Saturday, Aug. 17, at 9 a.m., it’s time for Yoga on the Lawn with Laurie Antonson!
Start the morning with yoga postures that help reduce stress, increase strength, flexibility, and balance. Bring a yoga mat or beach towel and a water bottle. For all ages!
Saturday, Aug. 17, at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m., it’s time for Saturday Story Time!
Join ECFE teachers in the Story Circle for books and songs, then move to the Community Room for a snack, a craft, and a time to play and visit. Families may earn one Baby Steps coupon for attending this Story Time.