Someone “sounding off” in Potsdam, NY has some interesting comments on public libraries.
In response to “Potsdam Public Library Asking For More Taxpayer Support to Keep Open Hours” by Mix96, taxpayers should only be mandated to fund essential services. The Potsdam Library may be nice, but it is not an essential service. If it is not, or cannot be, funded by user fees close it! Close non-essential services that cannot be funded by user fees including Pine Street Arena and the Potsdam Museum. Taxpayers are broke and can no longer carry the burden of these non-essential niceties. People can support them by choice through user fees or donations.
I’ve never been to the Potsdam Public Library, but I’ll assume for the sake of argument it’s much like any other public library, and that there’s nothing special about it that screams non-essential any more than other libraries.
There are really two issues here, whether libraries are essential services, and whether taxes should go to support anything that isn’t an essential service.
The assumption that taxes should go only to “essential services” is contrary to the practice of just about every government that has existed in the past century, and perhaps ever.
Cultural and recreational sites and services that aren’t absolutely essential but that improve the quality of communities are ubiquitous throughout the United States. That includes museums, parks, civic centers, and sports stadiums.
Thus, there’s no precedent for the claim whatsoever that taxes should be used only for “essential services.”
The question of the library as an essential service is different. It’s definitely not essential in the same way that garbage collection or police services are essential. Towns do exist without libraries.
However, time and time again when people are surveyed, it’s obvious that most people wouldn’t want to live in those towns, even the people who don’t use public libraries.
Of the non-essential services, libraries might be the most popular of all, except maybe for sports stadiums. And unlike sports stadiums, libraries bring some positive return on investment. They’re almost like essential non-essential services.
Potsdam must think so, because according to this page the public library has existed there since 1896. That predates most of the Carnegie libraries in the U.S. and shows that Potsdamians have long liked their library.
Also, given the relatively small amounts most individual taxpayers pay for public libraries, the charge that they’re too broke to afford them doesn’t carry a lot of weight. That’s why in most communities where libraries ask for more money, they get it.
It must be frustrating for all the angry people who think libraries are dead or that they shouldn’t be publicly funded that the majority of people are fully in favor of publicly funding libraries, and that lots of people keep using those libraries. But there it is.