Yogi Berra once famously said, “You can see a lot by observing.” These days, if you observe how public libraries are adapting to the times, and especially if you notice how much value Georgia citizens receive for every dollar spent on libraries, you’d see that public libraries are far from obsolete.
During fiscal year 2012, Georgians checked out more than 43 million items from their public libraries. Approximately 120,000 items circulate every day (about as many different items as carried by Georgia’s 133 Wal-Mart locations.) Georgia has about 10.5 million people—and 4.5 million Georgians have library cards. 2.8 million of those cardholders share the same PINES system employed here in Fannin County and the rest of the Mountain Regional Library system.
Don’t have an internet connection? Public libraries are the #1 point of access for people without home internet connections—and 100% of the 400 Georgia public libraries provide this service. Since many jobs now ONLY accept online applications, without this vital service from public libraries, even more Georgians might be out of work. In 2012 Georgia’s public libraries hosted over 13 million ‘in person’ computer sessions, plus an additional 2 million wireless connections.
Libraries are busy! In FY2012, Georgia’s public libraries hosted 33.4 million visitors…far more than the total of combined visitors to Braves games (2.5m), Georgia Aquarium (2.3m), and UGA+Georgia Tech home football games (956,000).
Would you make an investment in something that paid you more than six times what you paid in? The value of public library services (borrowing books, DVDs, books on tape and CD, E-books and internet) was estimated at more than $1.19 billion (or $114.15 per Georgian) in FY2012. The return on investment to Georgians is $6.65 for every dollar spent on libraries.
Library construction in Georgia continues each year (even in these difficult economic times) as everyone adjusts to the new age of computers, online job searching, cost of books, and e-books, etc. In fact, hard economic times may be an ideal time to invest in a new or upgraded library. Neighboring Union County recently did a total renovation and expansion of their library, and came in far under budget, as well as receiving more features for the library than had been originally planned.
Our own Fannin County Public Library is a full-service library serving at least 250 patrons per day (occasionally peaking to over 600 per day during the summer). Since 1938, the FCPL has faithfully served its citizens, growing and upgrading to meet our public’s changing needs.
Your Library Trustees recently had a survey done of Fannin County Library patrons. It revealed that people value the library for internet service, free DVDs, books on tape, as well as accessibility to books and E-books that are otherwise not affordable to many.
Why is the library asking for more money now? Simple—the state of Georgia “passed along” a tremendous, unfair increase in health care costs, an increase caused in part by the state lumping the costs of its indigent health care program in with the “pool” of library employees in the state. Deep, severe cuts in other areas of the library budget have been made to try to compensate for this. Is it unfair for the state to ask local governments to assume this burden? I personally think so, but until citizen pressure or legislative directives correct this injustice, the only recourse the library’s trustees have is to seek additional monies from our local taxing authorities, such as city governments and the county.
It is unfortunate that with a county population now over 24,000, the amount allotted in the county budget for the library has remained at $167,720 since 2009. Over the last five years (using Fannin County Commission’s own budget numbers), the recreation budget has increased 28.4%, animal control’s increased 15.2%, and the library increased only 6.4%--and every bit of that increase for the library was between 2008’s $157,650 and 2009’s $167,720, where it has been “stuck” ever since. Per citizen, Fannin County spends nearly $21 per person for recreation, over $8.50 for animal control, and less than $7.00 for the library.
(Unless otherwise noted, facts quoted above were obtained from www.georgialibraries.org or www.mountainregionallibrary.org.)
Keith Jones serves on the Board of Trustees for the Fannin County Library and also serves as one of Fannin County’s members on the Mountain Regional Library board.