According to the American Library Association, there are over 16,600 public libraries in the United States. Further, statistics from the American Library Association show that in January of 2009, “over 25 million Americans reported using their public library more than 20 times in the last year, up from 20.3 million Americans in 2006. It is likely this trend continued or increased through the remainder of 2009” (http://www.ala.org/ala/research/initiatives/plftas/issuesbriefs/issuebrief_perfectstorm.pdf). This marked increase in library usage is thought to be largely the result of the economic recession in the United States. Rather than buying books, music, and movies, Americans have turned to libraries as a free source of entertainment and leisure. In addition, public libraries offer valuable resources for those who are unemployed and seeking new lines of work or for those who are investigating available government financial support programs.
Public libraries are funded in a variety of different ways from state to state. In most cases public libraries are funded through a combination of state and municipal revenue. The municipal revenue that is spent on public libraries tends to be a portion of property tax that is required by a state statute. Some have argued that this sizable dependence on property tax revenue results in significant inequities between libraries from municipality to municipality. This may be especially problematic given the public need for library resources and services. The irony of the situation is that the wealthiest counties and municipalities may be least impacted by cuts in state aid to public libraries; yet libraries in the wealthiest areas are used less as they do not have as many low and moderate income residents. In addition, some states are beginning to encounter serious issues with regard to using property taxes as a result property tax freezes. Some states, such as Ohio utilize a multi-faceted funding formula that seeks to balance inequities across jurisdictions by using an equalization factor to give further revenue to the counties most in need.
In an effort to confront this dilemma residents in some municipalities are working to pass referenda (http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/05/05/copy/voters-pass-levies-to-keep-books-on-shelves.html?adsec=politics&sid=101) that address the budget shortfall. These referenda would offer municipalities an increased tax levy that would be earmarked for use towards supporting public libraries in their community. Citizens in many states have initiated grassroots lobbying campaign to attract attention work to convince legislators to limit budgetary cuts to state aid to public libraries (http://savemynjlibrary.org/).
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