October 29, 2021

For the Love of Libraries

We still check that book out regularly…three years later.

I think everyone who knows us knows one thing about us: our family loves books. The bookshelves line the walls to the point that there’s no room to hang art. There are stacks by everyone’s desk, on everyone’s nightstand, and (often) in the van. Naturally, something else comes with our love of books: a love for our public library.

The Lafayette Public Library is at an inflection point. One of its two millages is on the ballot November 13 – a millage that represents 38% of the library system’s annual operating revenue. Normally, this kind of millage renewal is almost a given. The same sort of property tax is used to fund police, firefighters, parks, drainage, and other civil services. But in 2018, Lafayette learned that public support for libraries could not be taken for granted.

In 2018, a new PAC was formed – Citizens for a New Louisiana. The PAC spent upwards of $20,000, including a direct mailing to Lafayette Parish residents, arguing that the library system had too much money in reserve to need this millage renewal.

The voters agreed — at least, roughly 650 more voters agreed than disagreed, in an election that had only 8% voter turnout. The result was a $3.6 million budget cut for the libraries. 

If that weren’t enough, voters also pulled $10 million from the library’s reserve funds and rededicated it to drainage and parks. Then property values dropped in 2020, delivering another hit to the library’s budget. The Parish council voted to adjust a remaining millage to make up for the short fall, since the library has not been receiving the full 2 mills the voters awarded them in the first place, but Mayor-President Josh Guillory vetoed the proposal.

All of which means that the November 13 millage vote is truly make-or-break for our libraries.

LPL helps me have a balanced reading diet.

Geoff Daily has a very clear run-down of the implications over at The Current, so I won’t go into all the details. But the important thing to know is that if this millage fails, some of our libraries will close. $4 million are on the line, and there is absolutely no way to save $4 million by cutting corners here and there. There are a couple of possible scenarios floating out there, but if you visit any branch other than Main, your favorite library is in danger.

This situation is especially depressing because of the steps Lafayette has taken to build its library system over the past twenty years. With the 2019 opening of West Regional Library in Scott, the city completed a project voters approved twenty years ago to renovate Main and build four regional libraries. Our system, in fact, was awarded the James O. Modisette Award for Public Libraries in 2020, recognizing the improvements made in the libraries’ service to the community. That’s the highest honor the Louisiana Library Association can give to a public library system. 

It would be a shame to throw away the work of the past two decades, work that has made Lafayette Public Libraries one of the premier systems in the state, because the citizens of Lafayette don’t want to contribute $20 per year per household.

Wait – what? You can see for yourself. The Library has set up a calculator to estimate how much property tax a household will pay for this millage. 

Our family pays $11.96 a year. Less than $2 a person.

To put that in perspective, one picture book costs roughly $17 these days. I gathered up all the library books in our house (that I could find – you know how that is!) and added up the total. We have $1,011 worth of library materials in our home at this moment. And since that’s not counting computer and printer access, programming, digital checkouts, take-home crafts, and use of the space (a couple of hours a month, at least), and assistance from librarians, I think we’re getting our money’s worth.

Most of that $1000 worth of library materials.

There are many more reasons you should vote to fund our libraries…but I don’t want to try my dear readers’ patience with a longer blog post. So I plan to finish this conversation next week. If you don’t already love your library enough to make you put up some home-made “Save Our Libraries” yard signs, hopefully next week’s post will convince you that you should.

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Christina is a writer and mother of five who usually has a book in her hands and dirt under her nails. Grab a cup of tea, and come join the fun!

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