Letter to the Editor:

The difference between book stores and libraries is obvious. Book stores sell their books. Libraries let you borrow books for free. But books, not to mention databases, computers, magazines, buildings, and of course library staff, are not free. Since we rarely ask customers to pay for anything, where does the money come from?

Bayard Taylor Memorial Library gets about half the money it needs to operate from the state, the county, and various other sources such as private donations. The other half comes from the eight municipalities we serve: East Marlborough, Kennett Township, Kennett Square, New Garden, Newlin, Pennsbury, Pocopson and West Marlborough. We found in the past, however, that simply waiting in line for a municipal handout at budget time wasn’t working; we almost had to close our doors for lack of funds.

Something had to be done.

So in the early 2000s, a consortium, to which members from the eight communities were invited, was formed to find a fair system for receiving money from all the municipalities. The consortium understood that it would be unfair to simply divide the municipality portion by eight. They were not going to ask a community with 1,200 people to contribute the same as a community with 12,000 people. The consortium’s solution was a formula to calculate an appropriate funding level for each of the eight municipalities in the library’s service area. The formula, called “the fair-share formula,” is based on use of the library, population and to a small degree, property assessment.

Not all communities are giving their fair share, based on the formula. However, before you criticize a community, you must understand the formula. Otherwise, if you look only at the raw numbers, you risk criticizing a community that is in fact supporting the library with its fair-share amount, based on use of the library and its population.

This happened recently in the pages of this newspaper: Newlin was wrongly criticized for not supporting Bayard Taylor, when in fact it is supporting the library at its fair-share level.

We’ve long had massive support from East Marlborough and Kennett Township. Now, all our communities are starting to make a greater effort to fund the library at a level that reflects their population and library use. In fact, in 2010 the library reached an important milestone – support from all eight municipalities for the first time, ever. Another sign of this growing commitment from our municipalities is the news that New Garden will consider a dedicated tax to support the library.

When Mark Twain wrote, quoting Disraeli, that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” he was pointing out that statistics can be misused and misunderstood. However, they can also be used to help us find fair solutions to problems as surprisingly complex as funding your local public library.

 

Donna Murray

Director, Bayard Taylor Library