November 2017 Elections Bring Large and Small Wins for Libraries

As the preliminary results from the November 7 elections emerged, the news from library ballots across the country was overwhelmingly positive. Of 36 library measures tracked by LJ and EveryLibrary, a national nonprofit political action committee for libraries, 27 passed, three failed, and six were too early to call at press time.
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Ballot by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

As the preliminary results from the November 7 elections emerged, the news from library ballots across the country was overwhelmingly positive. Of 36 library measures tracked by LJ and EveryLibrary, a national nonprofit political action committee for libraries, 31 passed and five failed. Many of the wins were significant ones, including the historic New Jersey Statewide Construction Bond, authorizing $125 million in bonds for library construction projects across the state. In addition, a $937 million city bond package passed in Denver that included $69.3 million for the Denver Public Library, and Houston voters approved a $123 million bond for libraries. Other successful measures included a $24 million bond passed for upgrades and expansion to the Geauga County Library, OH; $18.6 million to upgrade the Salem Library, OR, including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and making the building earthquake-resistant; and 20 years of ongoing tax revenue at the current 0.3741 mill rate, which is projected to generate $1.7 in the first year, for the Grand Rapids Public Library, MI. The Hudson Area Library increased its funding from $120,000 to $250,000 with the support of Communication Services, an advocacy organization headed by LJ Hotline Trustees' Corner columnist Libby Post.


In addition to a win for democrat Phil Murphy for the governor’s seat, New Jersey saw the Library Construction Bond Act approved by a solid 60%. As described on the ballot, the grant money—$125 million in state obligation bonds—will be used to “build, equip, and expand public libraries to increase capacity and serve the public.” The measure was supported by 40 state legislators on both sides of the aisle and had widespread grassroots backing from the press and the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA). This will be the first state money earmarked for library construction in 15 years. According to the League of Women Voters, a capital improvement survey of local public libraries conducted by NJLA in 2014 found that most libraries had capital improvement needs, from ADA compliance to space, electrical, or furniture upgrades. “This will result in creating better libraries and stimulating the New Jersey economy," said Patricia Tumulty, NJLA executive director, in a statement. Individual municipalities or counties will still need to match grant amounts through public or private funding. State librarian Mary L. Chute, in consultation with the president of Thomas Edison State University, will set eligibility criteria for individual grants.


The $937 million bond package passed in Denver is the city’s largest ever bond program, and the first on the ballot in a decade; it will cover more than 460 projects across the city. Line item 2E, which earmarked $69.3 million for Denver Public Library, passed with 70% approval. More than half of that—$38 million—will go to the renovation and upgrade of DPL’s Central Library. The rest will be divided among ten branch libraries in need of capital improvements, including the Athmar Park, Byers, Eugene Field, Pauline Robinson, Ross Barnum, Ross-Broadway, Ross-University Hills, Schlessman Family, and Smiley branches and the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. In Houston, voters approved a number of city infrastructure propositions by wide margins. Proposition E, for the issuance of $123 million in library improvement bonds “for the acquisition, construction, rehabilitation and equipment of the public library system and the levying of taxes sufficient for the payment thereof and interest thereon,” passed by 72.7%. As Houston libraries—among many other city services—struggle to recover after Hurricane Harvey, the support will certainly be welcome.


Of the nine measures supported by EveryLibrary this year, seven passed fully and one—the Greensburg-Hempfield Area Library, PA—carried two of the five municipalities voting on the 1 mill levy. Passage in all five would have averted a potential closure in three years, but the additional funds will help sustain the library while it works toward a permanent solution. The Hiawatha Public Library, IA, passed a $1.7 million bond vote as part of a $4.7 million funding plan for a new, larger library—the remainder will come from fundraising and a $1 million contribution from the city. Henrietta, NY, passed a $10 million bond as part of a $12.5 million project to build a new library in the heart of town. Friends of the Dallas Public Library spearheaded the campaign for an $11.5 million bond package to build two new libraries and make facilities improvements across the system. The bond was one line item in a $1.05 billion city package, but needed to pass on its own—and did so handily, with 76% of the vote. EveryLibrary’s advocacy helped move approval on several levy votes. The Kitsap Regional Library System, WA, voted in a system-wide .08-cent levy increase—which will add up to $3.45 million annually—for operations, collections, programs, services, and staffing. The town of Rochelle Park, NJ, which currently has no library or access to resources such as interlibrary loan, will benefit from a citizens’ grassroots campaign to set up a library with guaranteed funding of .3 mills, baseline for New Jersey libraries. And the St. Clairsville Public Library, one of the few remaining Ohio libraries to run on state aid, will benefit from a vote to establish a new district library and permanent levy funding. New districts were established under EveryLibrary’s watch as well. Moniteau County, MO, voted to establish a new library district and provide basic funding for expanded services, reversing a previous invalidation of the county’s old district in February. John Chrastka, EveryLibrary founder and executive director (and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker), attributes the successful campaigns to their ability to focus on the library’s measures and tune out larger political issues. “They spent the time talking neighbor-to-neighbor and voter-to-voter about the value system in the community that includes the library at the center,” Chrastka told LJ, adding that the advocates he worked with “were not just persuasive—they brought people along with them.”


Out of the campaigns EveryLibrary managed, only the Clearview Library District, CO, did not pass the $25 million bond to build a new central library. On other ballots tracked by LJ, Stony Point, NY, voters did not approve increasing the town’s contribution to the Rose Memorial Library budget by $255,000, and Santaquin City, UT, was unable to secure a hoped-for $6 million bond for a new senior center and library. Whatever the outcome may have been for individual libraries and communities, noted Chrastka, “because the national noise on politics is so divisive,” the need for strong advocacy in next year’s election will be more important than ever. Look for more in-depth coverage of the year in Library Budgets and Funding from LJ in February. If your library won or lost a measure that you would like to see included here, please add the results in the comments below.
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