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dir="ltr">Public libraries across the state of Illinois are cutting programs, staff, hours and forgoing the purchase of new print and other materials. Costs of running a library - everything from staffing to electricity to snow removal - continue to rise while their budgets remain static, forcing difficult cuts.
The main reason, says Diane Foote, executive director of the Illinois Library Association, is that public libraries are overwhelmingly funded by a single source: local property taxes. Relying on a single revenue source is never a good business plan, she says.
It is especially not good when the source is one that is already stressed to the limit: The state has the second-highest property taxes in the nation.
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While “library users know how good they have it,” she says, and statistics from the Illinois State Library show 66 million visits at libraries around the state in one recent year alone, the fact remains that “we all know in Illinois there’s property tax fatigue.”
Foote points out that some individual libraries have found ways to augment their incomes: Many, for example, have “Friends of” or other organizations that do fundraising for a local library. Others have been successful in acquiring grants, although most granting organizations want to fund new, not ongoing, programs.
As the state looks at new potential sources of revenue—these could include legalized gambling and legalized marijuana, for example—libraries see them as a possible source of funding down the road. But it would be a long way down the road, not any time soon, and every other strapped agency has their eyes on the same source of money, Foote says.
In terms of federal funding, this fiscal year Illinois’ 2,000 libraries shared $5.5 million allocated by the Library Services and Technology Act, which funds the Institute for Museums and Library Services. Although for the past three years the president’s budget has proposed eliminating IMLS completely, Foote says, Congress has been supportive of maintaining the agency.
She said the Illinois delegation unanimously—with the exception of three people who were not present for the vote—supported the current legislation that the president signed in January— testament, she says, to the fact that libraries are not partisan, they are for everyone.