During the 2016 election year, the American Library Association’s Office for Research and Statistics tracked 150 library referenda across 22 states. More than 81% of the measures passed, with 122 wins and only 28 losses. Big winners include Michigan (73 measures passed) and Ohio (12 measures passed). Issues at stake included continued operating funds and facility renovations. Residents in Winter Park, Florida; Lombard, Illinois; Jasper, Indiana; Sea Bright, New Jersey; and Narragansett, Rhode Island, passed measures for the construction of new library buildings.
This year we took a closer look at the population density of the communities that placed library referenda before the voters. The Institute of Museum and Library Services groups the nation’s 17,566 library outlets into four geographic locales: cities, suburbs, towns, and rural areas. While all public libraries strive to transform communities through innovative programs and quality collections, the locale often defines unique needs. Libraries in more populated areas may have longer wait times for computer use. Libraries in less populated areas, including many rural areas, provide less access to technology and less formal digital literacy training because of fewer staff members and inadequate broadband access. At the same time, rural libraries provide invaluable informal training and may be one of the few places left to offer the use of computers and internet without fees.
While nearly half of all public libraries are rural, the percentage of rural public libraries in a given state varies from 3.6% to 83.3%. Michigan is close to the national average with 84 (13%) urban, 156 (24%) suburban, 114 (18%) town, and 288 (45%) rural public libraries. We compared the population densities of Michigan’s public libraries with the geographic distribution of the state’s referenda.
The most successful referenda in Michigan were renewed and new levies in support of library operations. Herrick District Library in Holland is classed as a city locale and serves a population of 102,423 across the counties of Allegan and Ottawa. Voters were asked to restore a levy of 1.5 mills for 14 years (2017–2030). The tax will provide about $5.2 million in revenue each year. Homeowners will pay about $112 annually on a home valued at $150,000. The levy passed by a wide margin of 86%, with 14,557 votes for and 2,388 votes against. Herrick could have been forced to close within a year without the levy.
The Muskegon Area District Library (MADL), a suburban locale, encompasses 10 community libraries and one Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. MADL serves about 119,450 people across most of Muskegon County. Voters were asked to support a 0.5-mill increase in the current tax, from 0.75 to 1.25 mills, for 10 years through 2026. Property owners will pay $64.50 a year on a $100,000 home compared to the previous $37.45 per year. The levy passed with 54% of the 18,256 voters saying yes. The library had earlier conducted a survey showing that the highest-valued services include early childhood programs, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and lifelong-learning services. These programs will be favored in years to come.
The Holly Township Library, a town locale, is in northern Oakland County and has a total service area of 36.6 square miles, which includes 23,088 people in the village of Holly, Groveland Township, and Rose Township. Voters approved a renewal of 1 mill for five years. The measure passed with 1,005 (78%) yes votes and 290 (22%) no votes. The library holds 44,461 volumes and circulates 75,102 items per year.
Montmorency County, a rural locale, has a population of 9,765 within its 563 square miles. Montmorency County Public Libraries has three branches in Lewiston, Hillman, and Atlanta. Voters approved an increase of 0.6 mill to replace a millage that expired. The results included 2,176 (63%) yes votes and 1,260 (37%) no votes. The tax will bring in $388,190 annually.
- Fayetteville voters passed two referenda to increase the library portion of personal property taxes from 1 mill to 3.7 mills. The first, passed by 58.6%, approved 1.5 mills for the library’s maintenance and operations. The second, passed by 55.8%, approved 1.2 mills to help fund construction to double the facility’s existing size.
- In Pine Bluff, residents approved two millage increases to area libraries. The first measure, which will allocate $14 million to construct a new library, passed by 9,710 to 4,875. The second, which expects to raise $1.12 million to renovate three library branches, passed by a 5,380 to 4,957 vote.
- In San Rafael, voters approved Measure D, a special partial tax for nine years to add to the revenue from the city’s general fund that supports the city’s two library branches. Voting results were 12,879 (69.1%) for and 5,758 (30.9%) against the tax. The money will be used to extend regular hours, update collections, develop public programs, and maintain the library’s branches.
- Citizens of Oakley fell short of the number of votes needed to approve a parcel tax that would cover the planning and construction costs for a new library. The current library branch occupies a temporary space on the campus of a local high school.
- Residents of Bakersfield voted against a referendum question that would have raised the sales tax by one-eighth of a cent in order to fund extended hours, more library materials, and additional space.
- Sacramento voters approved a measure to renew a parcel tax adopted in 2004 that supports such additional library services as “programs for children, teens, and seniors; homework support for students; regular open hours; books; and technology.”
- A $68 million bond and parcel tax measure designed to fund improvements to Santa Cruz Public Libraries’ 10 facilities passed. Proposed improvements include repairing roofs and bathrooms, rewiring electrical systems, and expanding current facilities.
- Other wins in California include approved sales tax measures in Loomis (Measure G), Pleasant Hill (Measure K), Stockton (Measure M), and Sonoma (Measure Y). A temporary appropriation limit increase measure was approved by voters in Ventura County.
- Proposals for the construction of new libraries in El Cerrito (Measure B) and San Mateo County (Measure N) were defeated.
- Voters approved six library-related referenda, including levies to support the library’s yearly operating budget in Mancos, the construction of new library facilities in Norwood, extended library hours in La Veta, and library facilities and services in Grand County.
- By passing Ballot Issue 5F, voters in Larimer County reaffirmed that the Poudre River Public Library District can keep all revenues from the property tax levy approved in 2006.
- The town council in Bloomfield rejected a proposal to renovate and expand Prosser Public Library, the larger of the two public library buildings in the area, by a 6–3 vote. This vote marks the third time in 10 years that a proposal to update the library has failed to make it to the referendum ballot.
- Winter Park voters passed a measure allocating $30 million to replace the city’s 35-year-old library building with a new facility that will also house an events center and parking garage.
- In a 4–1 vote, the Stockbridge city council allocated $10,080 from the general fund to Cochran Public Library in order to fund Saturday hours. Though the county library branch does not usually receive funding from the city budget, council approved the expense because current capital resources have not allowed nearly any of the county libraries to accommodate any weekend hours.
- In Meridian, a referendum to approve $12 million for the construction of two new library branches was defeated.
- Brookfield residents voted 4,808–4,303 against a $10 million bond that would have funded construction of a new library facility.
- In North Riverside, residents voted against a measure that would have raised the library district’s tax limiting rate by 29%. The library had anticipated using the additional $270,000 per year in property taxes to fund repairs and improvements to the library’s roof, sidewalks, and heating and air conditioning systems.
- With a 4,009 (63%) to 2,394 (37%) vote, residents of Bartonville passed an $800,000 bond that will fund renovations to the Alpha Park Public Library building. Some of the projects the library hopes to complete include replacing and rewiring the structure’s fire protection system, resealing two parking lots, and repairing the roof and sidewalks.
- Crystal Lake residents voted against a $30.1 million referendum that would have funded construction of a new library building. Supporters argued that the current facility is too small to accommodate community needs and existing collection materials, and requires major updates to the building’s HVAC system, wireless internet resources, and accessibility options. Of 19,032 total voters, 56% voted against and 44% voted for the referendum.
- A $3.2 million bond that would have funded renovation of the Fox River Valley Public Library in Dundee, as well as construction for a second library branch, was defeated by a 14,920 (66%) to 7,520 (34%) vote. The two facilities would have included better safety features, computer training labs, expansions to meeting spaces and children’s areas, a designated area for teens, and a maker lab.
- Lombard voters authorized a 0.22-mill tax increase to support a 20-year, $22.5 million loan for the construction of a new Helen Plum Library. The proposed facility will offer more meeting space and study rooms. A similar measure appeared on the 2004 ballot but was defeated.
- In Plainfield, residents voted against two referenda that would have funded the construction and operating costs for a new library. The first question, which asked for $39 million in building bonds, was defeated by 9,089–7,232. A second question, requesting to remove the tax cap for one year and increase the limiting property tax rate, was defeated by 11,241–4,907.
- In Will County, voters opposed two referenda that aimed to fund outreach services to older adult patrons, a new digital media lab, and extended library hours at the White Oak Library District’s three branches. The first referendum, put before voters in March, failed by a 9,032 (66%) to 4,717 (34%) vote. The second, on the ballot in November, failed by a 12,189 (59%) to 8,407 (41%) vote.
- In Cook County, a petition to create a new library taxing district in Elk Grove Township that would have allowed some 12,000 additional residents to apply for library cards was withdrawn by its chief sponsor.
- Jasper voters passed a referendum to fund construction of a new library and cultural center. The new building will be financed by a 15-year bond for an amount up to $6.5 million. This approval comes after an unsuccessful 2011 referendum and more than 15 years of community discussion.
- In Natoma, 133 voters approved a measure to establish and maintain a local library. The measure received 12 votes against.
- Residents voted to renew the Lafayette Public Library System millage by 58% to 42%. The millage, first approved by voters in 2006 and scheduled to expire after 10 years, funds library operations.
- By nine votes, residents of Rockport defeated a measure to allocate $2 million for the construction of a new library. The final vote tally was 1,151 votes in favor and 1,160 against.
- Voters approved a measure that will allow the library to collect $6.8 million through a local option sales-and-use tax to expand and remodel the Fergus Falls Public Library. The proposed new facility will feature an expanded children’s area, improved accessibility, new meeting rooms, and more seating.
- In Cambridge, residents voted against a referendum to approve an $8 million bond for the construction of a new public library and library headquarters. The bond would have been supported by a 0.5% local-option sales tax.
- By 240–149, residents of Longport elected to leave the Atlantic County Library System. The town intends to look into options for establishing its own library or joining with another independent library. A similar referendum appeared on the 2011 Longport ballot, but was defeated by 7 votes.
- Voters in Sea Bright approved two referenda questions that allocated $1.4 million and $3.6 million respectively to fund the construction of a new community center, which will house a new library. The town’s earlier library was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
- In Bernalillo County, voters passed a measure to issue a $1.5 million bond to upgrade its library; 192,162 (74.5%) residents voted in favor of the library bonds, and 65,925 (25.5%) voted against.
- In June, residents voted against a $15.8 million bond referendum that would have financed the demolition and reconstruction of the Hampton Bays Public Library facility and added approximately 100 additional parking spaces. It was defeated by a 719–507 vote.
- Potsdam voters approved a measure to add an additional $8,000 to the existing library budget to fund the acquisition of new laptops. The vote tally was 183–79.
- A tax levy that would have added $850,000 to the James Prendergast Library budget in Jamestown was defeated by a 1,306–856 vote.
- Voters overwhelmingly approved a measure for an additional $22,700 to the Shelter Island Public Library budget. The added resources will be spent on updating collections, supporting community programming, and funding staff salaries. The final vote was 129 in favor and 31 against.
- Residents of the Town of Rhinebeck approved a tax levy that will add $30,000 to the Morton Memorial Library’s annual budget. The added funds will be used to maintain library operations. The measure received 2,110 yes votes and 1,120 no votes.
- Residents voted to increase the town’s contribution to the Patterson Library from $135,931 to $873,583 annually. The added funds will be used to extend evening hours, maintain regular operations, and meet the cost of New York State–mandated wage increases.
- By a narrow 4,619 (50.7%) to 4,485 (49.3%) vote, residents approved a tax levy that increased the annual library budget of Onondaga County Public Libraries from $475,000 to $700,000. The added resources will allow the library to increase full-time staffing, finance building improvements, and maintain regular library operations.
- Durham County voters passed a referendum in support of a $43.3 million bond that will fund remodeling and expansion costs for the main library and corresponding parking lot. It was approved by a 117,956 (80.6%) to 28,422 (19.4%) vote.
- Measure 10-145, a proposal to establish a special funding district in Douglas County, was defeated by a 55% to 44% vote in November. Creating the district would have added funds to support regular operating expenses for branch libraries in 10 towns, many of which have had to limit their operating hours.
- Voters in Allentown struck down a special library tax that would have allocated $14 million for the construction of a new Parkland Community Library in South Whitehall Township. The new facility would have quintupled the current library’s size, adding a community room, children’s area, young adult sections, group study areas, rooms for tutoring, a garden, a local history room, and a café. A similar proposal appeared on a 2013 ballot and was also defeated.
- In Jeannette, residents approved a tax levy that will add approximately $65,000 annually to the public library’s regular operating budget. The final results were 52% in favor and 47% against.
- Narragansett voters approved a bond of up to $5.8 million to finance the acquisition and construction of a new Maury Loontjens Memorial Library. The bond question passed by 4,513 to 2,173.
- Residents of Dorchester County authorized the issuance of $30 million in bonds for the design and construction of two new library facilities in Summerville and North Charleston. The proposal passed 26,346–17,021.
- In Falls Church, residents approved $8.7 million in revenue bonds to renovate and expand the Mary Riley Styles Public Library. The final count was 4,902 (66%) in favor and 2,578 (34%) against.
- Voters in Henrico County approved a $419.8 million bond referendum that will fund 26 capital projects, including $24 million for the construction of a new Fairfield Area Library. Voting results were 33,061 in favor and 9,235 against.
- By a vote of 26–5, voters approved annexing the city of Kahlotus into the Mid-Columbia Library District. Residents will pay 37 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, shifting the financial obligation from the city’s general fund to the library district.
- Orcas Island residents approved a measure to increase the town’s levy limit in order to fund an expansion of the Orcas Library. Expansion plans include creating more space for children and teens; adding additional quiet spaces, meeting rooms, computer areas, and patios; and supporting wireless internet areas.
- In Point Roberts, a measure to allocate $300,000 for the construction of a new library was defeated by a slim margin. The referendum, which required 60% approval, received 406 (55.2%) yes votes and 329 (44.8%) no votes.
- A tax levy that would have generated an estimated $46,548 annually for the Upshur County Public Library in Buckhannon failed by a 4,500 (51%) to 4,276 (48%) vote. The library is currently struggling to maintain regular operations after facing local and state budget cuts.
- Evansville voters passed two measures to expand the Eager Free Public Library. A 10-year levy of $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value received 1,523 yes votes and 1,184 no votes. A 20-year levy of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property won with 54% of the votes.
- In Three Lakes, residents voted in favor of an advisory referendum to approve $900,000 for the expansion of Demmer Memorial Library by an 817 to 718 vote. A second referendum, which would have allocated funds to build a complex that would hold the new library as well as the police department and historical society, was defeated by 12 votes (773–761).